The images are etched into my memory.
The images are vivid. Rafts. Life jackets. Tears. Fear. Anguish. Relief. Men. Women. Children. Old folks.
The refugees clamor out of the rafts.
One youngster has an inflated inner tube over his head and under his arm.
You can hear waves, and you can see them rushing for the rocky beach.
They scramble and splash and hug and cry.
WHICH TELLS YOU ABOUT THE POWER OF THE HUMAN MIND
It can fill in the blanks.
It can make motion happen, and remember sounds that were barely there.
60 seconds. 70 fleeting still photographs. One voice.
"I see fear, I see desperation, but I also see hope.
"Thousands of people are arriving every day.
"Just think about how bad it must be in their country, that they would pick their families, their children, put them on a raft that barely floats, risking their lives to find a place to live, and find a place to be accepted.
"When you find it you recognize it, and that's when you really start pressing the shutter.
"I feel it's important to take photographs that are gonna make a difference.
"I'm Tyler Hicks, photojournalist for the New York Times."
It actually gives me a chill just seeing those words on the page.
WELCOME TO "THE TRUTH IS HARD TO FIND"
This is one of two TV commercials from the Gray Lady's anti-fake-news campaign that ended up on ADWEEK's list of "The 10 Best Ads of 2017."
If you were here last time, we looked at ADWEEK's #10 entry on that list, a sinister, brand-unfriendly creep show of a commercial for Halo Top called. "Eat The Ice Cream."
It was haunting, alright.
But not in any way that makes you say, "Hey, let's rush out and get some Halo Top!"
Instead, it leaves you with an unsettling feeling that robots are going to sequester you away in a sterile room and force feed you some fake, vegan approximation of ice cream.
HEY, THERE'S A COMBINATION FOR WINING FRIENDS AND INFLUENCING PEOPLE
On the flip side, this commercial for the New York Times is haunting in a different and more productive way.
In the week since I first viewed it, it keeps coming back to me.
I keep seeing video footage that doesn't exist.
I keep hearing sound effects that do exist--but for only a scant four seconds at the very beginning.
The 60-second commercial is a montage of 70 still images, most in sequences of three consecutive photos. There is lots of black screen in between the image sequences.
The only audio is the aforementioned four seconds of sound effects, which is waves breaking on a beach and agitated human voices. Then, during the voiceover by Tyler Hicks, there is the muted sound of a camera shutter clicking away as the images click past your vision.
THIS IS SOME EXTRAORDINARY FILMMAKING IN THE SERVICE OF THE BRAND
The filmmaker is Darren Aronofsky.
You might know him for his theatrical efforts, like the Jennifer Lawrence psycho-thriller, Mother!, or the Academy Award-winning Natalie Portman psycho-thriller, Black Swan.
I'm always reminded of his 1998 feature debut, Pi. (Yes, the mathematical constant, not the baked dish with a pastry-dough casing.) Featuring themes like chaos theory, the golden spiral, non-linear dynamics, complex game theory, Jewish mysticism, the Quran and, ultimately, insanity, Pi is an unsettling, black & white mind-bender made for a budget of $68,000, and which thrashed the competition at various film festivals, and has grossed about 5,000% of its production budget.
Doesn't sound very much like this TV commercial, does it?
But there is a glimmer of a parallel in Roger Ebert's comment about the movie Pi, which he awarded three and a half stars. He bashed cookie-cutter Hollywood thrillers that follow a predictable playbook, that they are not thrilling, and said of Pi, "I am thrilled when a man risks his mind in the pursuit of a dangerous obsession."
THIS COMMERCIAL IS ABOUT PURSUIT OF AN OBSESSION
Mr. Aronofsky said in a statement also published in ADWEEK, "Photojournalists risk their safety, their minds and often their lives in order to capture what is really happening in the most tumultuous parts of the world. They rush face first into war, disease and human plight to capture the horrors that are unfolding on and to our planet. Many of their images end up changing us and how we treat each other."
An obsessive dedication to finding and presenting the truth in a hostile climate is a worthy goal for a newspaper brand.
And for a heritage brand long considered the nation's newspaper of record, this Aranofsky-helmed message about the pursuit of truth certainly raises the bar on the tagline, "All the News That's Fit to Print."
IT ALSO DEMONSTRATES THE POWER OF YOUR MIND TO CHANGE THINGS
I defy anyone watching this commercial to not remember motion and sound that doesn't actually happen.
The four seconds of sound effects in the opening of the message, accompanied by a black screen, is a powerful cue.
In some ways, it demonstrates the power of radio. There is no literal picture. But right away, you know something important is happening on a beach.
Then, you see still images of something important happening on a beach.
You also see lots of black space, where your mind gets to further fill in blanks with images that aren't there.
There's the sound of the camera shutter.
There's the voice of the photojournalist.
AND THERE IS PLENTY OF OPPORTUNITY TO INSERT YOURSELF INTO THE VIDEO SPACE
And why not?
After all, this message is not about the New York Times.
It's not about how hard it is to be a photojournalist in the wild.
This is a message about you.
It's about you, the customer, and your relationship to the truth.
It's about the one way you should feel about the brand.
THIS MESSAGE IS ALSO ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE
It's a little bit about the seasonal brand being peddled right now.
No, it's not about Christmas. Not on the face of it. Heck, it first aired in April.
But Mr. Hicks, the photojournalist, says, "I see fear, I see desperation, but I also see hope."
In an age when the Christmas brand has become about consumerism run amok, it's nice to find some small reminder of what the Christmas brand really is about.
And the Christmas brand, with its story of wise men seeking a baby in a manger, is ultimately about one thing: It's about hope.
Finding this commercial on the ADWEEK website was like a little Christmas present come early.
CALL ME A COCKEYED OPTIMIST
The Fabulous Honey Parker does.
This commercial is good enough that it gives me hope for advertising.
It gives me hope for my country and its people.
It gives me hope that we will all come to our senses.
And it gives me hope that you might get to share a little hope this holiday season.
Whatever holiday you celebrate in the season of hope, here's wishing you a merry, merry, happy, happy.
To see "The Truth Is Hard To Find - Tyler Hicks" visit https://youtu.be/zs4-rb0f7HI
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.