- Friday, Nov. 3, 2000
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It's a testimonial: "My father always did his shopping…" recalls a young woman, addressing the camera, "After the … stores had closed." Ah.
Cut to the dark interior of a home, where a boy and a girl watch as two men lug a television set up the stairs. When the boy demands to know where it came from, their father growls, "It fell off the back of a truck. Now get outta here!"
The young woman readjusts to the present and explains why she loves shopping on Lycosﬂ the customer reviews, the service …
But best of all, she notes as she stands on her doorstep to receive another Lycos delivery, "Everything comes with a receipt!" She waves the proof of purchase in the air, suddenly framed by a zoom lens.
"You got nothing!" the woman shouts to a van parked across the street. Inside, two menﬂFeds hooked up to wiring devicesﬂslump in their seats, defeated. Clearly, clean living has its rewards.
"Wise Guy," out of Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos (HHCC), Boston, is part of a package that also includes "Skeet" and "Poor Kid." In the campaign, Lycos shoppers reminisce about their childhood traumas, and the implication is that Lycos helps these damaged people deal with their resulting obsessions. It makes for a highly atypical customer referral.
According to HHCC creative director/copywriter Joe Berkeley, "I think a lot of ads show 'shiny, happy people.' We believed a more modern approach would show people who are just a little disturbed by something in the past that they haven't quite gotten over." Indeed.
The resulting combination of modern-day interview and cinematic flashback segments makes the spots both direct and funny. Creative director/art director Dave Gardiner noted, "This particular structure allowed us to say something straightforward—it's a testimonial technique, but we turned it on its head," thanks to the Lycos fan's unusual childhood.
"The strategy behind the campaign is frankly summed up in the voiceover line: 'Whatever you're into, dig into it deeper on Lycos,'" said Berkeley. "We're trying to get people to think of Lycos as something beyond a search engine; there's a whole network of locations to spend time on."
The deadpan approach, which suggests that Lycos provides a balm for psychic wounds, took shape as the campaign evolved, Gardiner recounted: "I think we presented about 25 different campaigns, and some of the stuff that we had presented earlier was tested with 18- to 34-year-olds. People were saying, 'If you're going to make it funny, you've got to make it edgier.' By using these people who were somewhat obsessed, it allowed us to take the humor to a different place."
Because "Wise Guy" highlights two very different time periods and situations, directors Chuck & Clay (Chuck Bennett and Clay Williams) of Crossroads Films, bicoastal and Chicago, had the opportunity to explore different shooting styles. Williams explained, "The documentary part is straightforward and really based on the performance of the actors. … It was really a minimum of cuts; it's not the multiple camera stuff or extreme angles that you typically see in a standard commercial."
This was balanced by the more cinematic techniques used in the flashback sequence, offered Williams. "We had the opportunity to get much more cut-y in the flashback. The production was much more intense in terms of setups for that sequence."
As Bennett recalled, "We wanted the flashback sequence to feel much more graphic, and almost surreal. We tried to have a signature shot in each of the flashbacksﬂin 'Wise Guy,' it's that big shoe on the staircase. There's this moment that introduces you to the character, and at the same time is graphic and hyper-real."
The music that graces the flashback sequence came from composer Todd Schietroma of bicoastal Elias Associates. The musician was Dominic Cortese, who is, according to Schietroma, "the quintessential Italian accordion-player." The composer commented, "We actually started with a larger ensembleﬂthe accordion was the lead, but there was also some bass and drums and other instrumentation." When they brought in Cortese, however, plans changed. The musician has appeared in several films, including Moonstruck, another Italian family piece. Cortese's playing was so impressive that the rest of the instrumentation was dropped.
The part of the spot that looks the simplestﬂwhere the narrator surfs Lycosﬂactually required considerable work. Tim Crean, Inferno artist at visual effects house Nice Shoes, New York, explained, "It's very difficult to shoot film of a computer and have all the color and animation look exactly the way you want it to. Sometimes it's just easier to create all those elements so that we have control over all those variables—animation and color."
Editor Eric Pomert of MacKenzie Cutler, New York, concentrated on pacing to convey "Wise Guy"'s emotional nuances: "We were going for that nostalgic moment that makes painful things in the past look amusing," he said. So Pomert spent a lot of time determining the fine line between irony and sorrow: "When the woman says, '…After the stores were closed,' that was probably one of the most-looked-at scenes," he recalled. "She had different pauses—some were so long, it was painful." The other major timing issue was the introduction of the agents who are observing the Mafia daughter. "That was a question too: How long did we want to delay that joke?" said Pomert. "But for the most part, the process was pretty easy because the footage was nicely thought out."
So Lycos provides satisfaction not just for customers, but for the people behind the "Wise Guy" production. As Bennett concluded, "We really liked the twisted take on things, because at heart, these are damaged-goods personalities. The characters have had odd traumas in their lives that have shaped them and linked them to the Lycos product."