A new TV commercial for iRobot's Roomba automated vacuum cleaner succeeds in making a viable home appliance look like a cheap toy.
Consider the gizmo "repositioned," courtesy of the branding gurus at The Gate, of Burlington, Massachusetts, who were I'm sure also happy to skim from the $1 million the client wasted buying media in the first half of 2007. Interestingly, there's no way to easily locate these gurus online, so clearly they're expert at keeping brands secret.
Anyway, Roomba is a Frisbee-shaped gizmo (not the robot appearing above) that rolls along the floor vacuuming of its own volition. Sans dirt bag, handle, or power-cord, the thing makes a Dyson look like a nuclear weapon. iRobot has sold over 2 million units, though, so they're not just selling a novelty. I've never used one, but I suspect the Roomba does a passable job with light cleaning, and the idea that it does it on its own is truly remarkable.
Only I've got it wrong, according to the new commercial.
Entitled "Animal House," the spot casts family members as various barnyard animals, so the mom can complain that cleaning up after them is a constant chore. Pigs jump on a white couch. A donkey drinks out of the fish tank. By using Roomba, she can delegate all that effort, and spend more time relaxing with her, um, ass (yes, the donkey is her husband). Get it? hah hah hah hah hah!
You see, Roomba is a toy. It's a useless gadget you'd buy at Brookstone and watch it work a few times before the batteries crapped out. I know this because of two broad qualities of the spot:
First, it visually looks like a toy, especially when contrasted with the animals running and bouncing off of things. Here's this little thing that chugs along, almost getting kicked out of the way by a pack of pigs. It doesn't glide along the smooth floor like you'd expect it to, but does so rather furtively, like a mini-Daleck on smaller casters.
Secondly, there's no possible way this little thingee could clean up after those stinky animals, let alone do it for a domesticated dog, cat, or human family member. We're talking a donkey-pulling-drapes-down-to-the-floor-mess, not an errant crumb or wisp of lint.
Even the tagline -- "Let a robot do your dirty work" -- is a gross over-reach that sounds more like a line from a sci-fi movie ("A better life awaits you in the Off-World Colonies...").
If only there were a robot that actually did the heavy-lifting cleaning chores. Roomba isn’t that robot. C3P0 is that robot. As far as most viewers are concerned, it's all make-believe. So earning mindshare for this invention isn't worth it without addressing some reasonable (and, yes, creatively memorable, if you must) preconceived notions and needs of potential consumers.
For starters, I expect a robot to have arms and legs.
There must have been many rounds of Kool-Aid drunk in the boardroom as this creative was pitched and sold. iRobot's marketing guy credited the agency with "...uncovering product benefits and new market segments that we can own," as if he actually believed that the spot made good on either.
I'm sure they confused one another with blather about awareness and positioning, all the while working over-time to creatively confuse, obfuscate, and ignore the real prompts that would engage potential Roomba-oids. It would have been a lot easier to focus on what and how it really is a real addition to a household's cleaning arsenal.
Since there's no call to action at the end of the spot -- only the inert URL listing -- I'm sure this campaign will soon be forgotten. The secretive branding agency will win a creative award for it (if the award givers can find them), and then go on to pitch a half-dozen somewhat similar would-be clients on similarly wasting their hard-earned money on branding.
And then maybe iRobot can get back to marketing its product as an appliance, not a toy.