Draftfcb’s sitcom spots work for new Cox-TV account

Life goes on.  Even at DraftFCB/Chicago.  No one needs to be told that the ad shop — which not that long ago could lay claim to being the city’s largest — has been hit again and again by misfortune the past couple of years — primarily in the form of major account defections.  

Those kinds of blows can knock a lot out of agency.  But for now, at least, DraftFCB appears to have hunkered down and decided it will carry on no matter what.  Such determination will be necessary to get the shop fully turned around.

In the meantime, DraftFCB chief creative officer Todd Tilford and his team have, among other things, turned their attention to one of the agency’s newer accounts, Cox Communications, which was picked up after S.C. Johnson and MillerCoors packed their bags and left. 

The TV work that DraftFCB has been doing for Cox certainly doesn’t feel like a lot of the more corny advertising that clutters television nowadays.  That may be because Tilford and his crew brought in recruits from Chicago’s Second City improv troupe to help them fine tune their thinking about the campaign and the scripts that have been written to promote a variety of Cox services, including Internet and phone service.

Possibly the first ad-based TV sitcom

The initial idea was to craft a single commercial about the Hattery family and the father, Paul, who had a strange way of using the constant buffering-related interruptions in the family’s Internet service to develop deeper bonds with his son Tyler.

That spot, which some might have dismissed as simply weird work that was trying to be funny, apparently struck a chord with enough viewers to prompt DraftFCB to think about expanding the story and introducing more of the Hattery family.

That is indeed what happened, and now DraftFCB is touting this as what may be the first advertising-based TV sitcom — in this instance a sitcom about the Hattery family and their changed relationships with each other since the family changed to Cox Communications for their Internet and phone service.

We have long contended comedy-based advertising — above all other styles — is something that everyone responds to personally and differently.  Some of us could chortle endlessly at something apparently intended to be funny, while others might stare and shake their heads, annoyed by it all.

Mixed reactions to humor in two spots

We could see the latest Cox TV spots featuring the Hattery family easily prompting either reaction, again depending on the viewer.  Not intending it as a cop out, we have to say we found ourselves straddling the fence on the latest two commercials in the series.  Particularly the “Whole Home Partay” commercial, where most of the effort required to sell this spot falls to Paul, the father.

When he discovers that the Hattery family can now view their recorded shows in any room in the house, he lapses into something resembling a zombie or robot even as he is running about mouthing the line “whole home partay.”

 Hattery father, Paul, in "I Called Them"It’s the kind of performance that takes a skilled actor to even begin to pull off, and this actor nails the effect.  We just couldn’t personally get to the point where we were in hysterics over the performance and the point he was trying to impress on both his family and viewers.

A second spot, “I Called Them,” is just a bit more low key and more satisfying to us.  Father Paul still is at the center of the action as he can’t stop calling other family members and even wrong numbers just to tell them he’s saving $10 a month with Cox digital phone service. 

This spot rather amusingly touches on the idea of obsession. And we could relate a bit to Paul’s state of mind, which made us smile at his antics and his family’s increasing sense of frustration.

Kudos to the actors who pull difficult performances

Whether or not one likes it, the style of acting the father exhibits here is tough to do well.  But he does it quite well.  As do the other performers who pull off the equally difficult task of responding to Paul’s antics with expressions that convey the craziness of the situation, but that still allow for the fact Paul is a real human, albeit an exceedingly weird one.

We don’t know how much of a hand Second City may have had in picking the actors and getting all of this very particular performance style just where it needed to be, but the end result shows some effort was made to get it right.

Still, as we said, whether or not one thinks DraftFCB got it right will, in large part, depend on what kind of sense of humor one brings to the work.  If Draft and Cox decide to extend the run of their Hattery sitcom via more TV spots, let’s hope they are able to keep the original cast.  

Any change there could quickly derail the entire effort.

Agency credits: Todd Tilford, CCO; Chuck Rudnick, EVP/GCD;

Susan Betteridge, SVP/CD; Ron Lazzeretti, Tim Mason, Sue Salvi, writers; Mike Wegener, senior art director; Erika Heine, senior copywriters; Berk Wasserman and Todd Durston, VP/CDs.  Snake Roth, executive producer.   

Production credits:  Production company: Company; director, Fred Goss.  Editorial: Inside Job, Draftfcb.

Contact Lewis Lazare at LewisL3@aol.com