The lowly DNA of Zack Tampax

In many ways the attempt to go viral with a product-placement movie for Tampax is indeed brilliant. As a father of 4 daughters and companion of one woman through 432 periods, I found it hilarious. As a video producer I felt the production values were balanced just right for a piece that is meant to live on the web… the lighting was restrained but certainly cinematic. The acting was good, which also means the director Randy Krallman did a very good job in casting, managing the shoot, and picking the most authentic takes. Technically, it was flawless, and the script introduced just enough humorous twists to give dramatic structure to a very simple story.

As a promotional vehicle, the Zack Johnson story from P&G also measures up well against the Chip and Dan Heath test (Made to Stick):

Is it Simple? You bet. Boy exchanges one body part.

Is it Unexpected? Entirely.

Is it Concrete? What could be more linear and substantive? Le River Rouge…

Is it Credible? Of course not, but even here, the production did a good job of selling an implausible premise by keeping the impact on Zack and his friends feeling authentic most of the way.

Is it Emotional? Absolutely! In fact, while some have questioned choosing a story about a boy as a vehicle for influencing the buying habits of girls, I would say girls will love this story more than guys. Girls will find Zack cute, for starters, and lines like “guys are pigs” and “uh oh” are huge points of resonance for that audience. It effectively dramatizes a very serious emotional issue for all girls, which guys are largely insensitive to. And it’s emotional for guys, too… because it comically portrays how difficult life would be for guys if they had to deal with that monthly routine. In fact, Emotion and Unexpectedness are the two greatest qualities of the Zack Tampax campaign in my view.

Finally, is it a Story? Why yes, that’s the whole point. Who would watch a story about a girl having her first period? But make it a guy, and suddenly it’s a story lots of folks are drawn to.

So Zack scores well on the Made to Stick scale.

“Is it Terrible or Awesome?” as Jessica Evans asks in the Thinkers and Doers blog. In spite of its technical excellence and devilishly clever execution, I’m going to say “Terrible!” Here’s why:

Look behind the story and the humor, and what you have is the feeling that you’ve just had a joke played on you. It’s not fiction; it’s product placement. It’s not art; it’s science wrapped up to look like art. Look into Zack’s DNA, and you find, not a hermaphroditic gene but the same double helix of 1950s materialism that gave us Ozzie and Harriet and Soap Operas. Or the 60s promotional genius that gave us The Monkees.

Zack’s DNA is the simplistic 30-second melodrama that has always cheapened broadcast advertising, and as Neil Postman warned, contributed to a TV pattern of “amusing us to death”: the notion that a complex human problem can be solved instantaneously by a material product. Whether we’re selling Charmin or Pampers or Tide or Tampax, the message is always simplistic and demeaning: your life can be turned around in half a minute by this Amazing Brand.

The appeal of the internet, and of YouTube videos in particular, has been that in spite of their primitive technical quality, they are at least authentic. Matt really is dancing in those places.*  Susan the dowdy spinster really can sing like that. So while the guys who put together Zack are no doubt the smartest guys in the room, the aftertaste from watching a kid with a significant problem walk out of class, glowing with contentment because he’s discovered Tampax, is not unlike the feeling of being “had” that I got when I learned how Enron worked. When we see smart people using their intelligence in a way that simply manipulates people’s emotions (fear of electrical blackouts; fear of bloody clothes) to get them to buy our product which, in reality, is no different than anyone else’s product … well, to me that’s a very lowly kind of DNA, and it’s not the kind of influence I appreciate seeing propagated on the internet. To me it’s more of a virus than an enlightened viral strategy.

*(Yes, there’s an equally discreet product sponsorship that came after Matt invented his own authentic, viral, shtick — but that’s the difference between The Monkees and The Beatles).


2 Responses

  1. […] See the article here: The lowly DNA of Zack Tampax […]

  2. I like your analysis and, overall, found the clip interesting; however, it seemed to take a while to get to the payoff. I judge it similarly to any movie I watch in the theater… if I look at my watch before it’s over, it’s gone on longer than it could hold my attention.

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