"Meet the Media Savant – Hawk Hawks Software"


This section of the Foopsite will be the approximate equivalent of some other personal sites’ “Rants” department, but, since I do hope to occasionally express positive opinions on some subjects, and even, in admittedly rare instances, provide coherent and logical arguments, I didn’t think the term “Rant” had the right connotation. I made an attempt to tie in to the site’s name by calling it “The Swell and the Swolen”, but the title’s oppressively high cuteness factor actually prevented me from pursuing it further without constant monitoring of my blood sugar levels.

After much soul-surfing, I realized that I have willingly spent most of my life to date in a state of near-total immersion in various mass media (including, but not limited to, TV, radio, newspapers and the Web), and recognized that one of the best possible web-based models for me to shamelessly copy was Clark Humphrey’s Misc Media (which not only successfully pumps out a few hundred semi-coherent words on a single topic on an almost daily basis, but does so in a format that incredibly re-creates on a web page the look and feel of an op-ed column in a circa-1970 “elitist media” magazine), therefore, the title must include the word “Media”.

Then, in a moment of epiphony not unlike Avery Brooks’ IBM commercial, I realized that while rambling, frequently digressing (over-embellished by parenthetical comments such as this one here) and deeply encrusted with pop-cultural references like the one earlier in this interminably long sentence, my writing style (or lack thereof) was to serious critical thought the equivalent of Dustin Hoffmann’s idiot savant character in “Rainman”; a tangled mess of seeming idiocy occasionally revealing bursts of mathematical purity… or something like that. Anyway, I thought the phrase “Media Savant” sounded kind of cool.

Speaking of IBM commercials, I have for the last several years been highly entertained by the formerly-dominant computer maker’s 30-second filmed attempts to climb onto the latest tech buzzword bandwagons. From the web design team transfixed by the “spinning flaming logo”, to the Dr. Suessian verse of the search through the distribution channel for the “box of socks” (“We got clocks”… “It ain’t at the docks”… and ending with a Scottish shepherd exclaiming “I just saw a fox!”), the recent IBM spots frequently fell into the cliche’d category of “more fun than the shows they interrupt”.

And the advertising genius who created the spots’ distinctive design of a black-and-white widescreen frame letterboxed with obvious “IBM blue” borders must have earned a corner office for that inspiration. I can’t be the only one who mutes the TV during commercial breaks, then spots the “IBM look” in the corner of my eye and clicks the sound back on to see what those wacky computer people are doing – can I?

But I, with deep regret, must inform that Fortune 500 company that their commercials’ ability to make me chuckle has not added a single penny to their bottom line. Honestly, I cannot recall a buying opportunity I have personaly had in the last ten years where an IBM product was one of the options. And if I were ever in a position to select the inventory management software for a tangible goods manufacturer, I definately wouldn’t go to my boss saying “We gotta use IBM… Remember their commercial with the socks and the fox…?”

Which is probably why now, when I turn the volume back on for an IBM commercial, I’m getting a much more serious sell. For the business-oriented software spots, they’ve made another brilliant move in using Avery Brooks to do the pitch. Brooks is part of the second generation of African-American actors with deep, booming voices and classical diction to follow James Earl Jones and Paul Winfield into the big-money deep-end of the commercial voice-over pool. But IBM is also banking on Brooks’ strong image, earned from playing strong characters, when it puts his voice and face behind its message. Anyone who accidentally tuned in five minutes of “Spenser for Hire” still remembers Brooks’ powerful presence and “street cred” as the enigmatic/streetwise/dangerous character known only as “Hawk”. (Based on the previews I’ve seen, Samuel L. Jackson’s “Shaft” seems to have gotten a lot more of his “cool” from Brooks’ Hawk than anything Richard Roundtree ever did) And, of course, when you’re selling computer software, what would be more appropriate for a spokesman than someone who put in seven years on a “Star Trek” series? (Although I suspect somebody had to bring up the issue of brand confusion, since his character was named Cisco). And while I miss the obvious comedy of IBM’s old spots, the hard-sell copy behind Avery Brooks’ hard-sell delivery still has more wry humor than most:

“You’ve got all these different platforms and you you’ve got a lot of overworked, underpaid, under-appreciated people who just want it all to work when they come in…”
“When you discovered the difference between boys and girls, that was an epiphony!”
“How many of Libraries of Congress per second can your software handle?”

And the reference to data measured in “yottabytes”… or was that meant to be “Yoda-bytes”? I’m not sure, but I suspect that the copywriter for those spots didn’t really understand much of the technology he was trying to sell, but he bluffed it well, and it never hurts to have Hawk on your side.

On the other hand, a new series of IBM spots for consumer-level products and services has gotten off to a bad start. The first example I saw featured their other new spokesman (a stand-up/VJ/Ben-Stiller-type I don’t recognize) hard-selling an IBM notebook computer while flanked by a “guy from legal” who is supposedly there to keep him from over-promising the product. How many times have I seen that premise used in past commercials? A dozen? A hundred? A yotta?

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