"Would you really want to buy a computer based on its color?" says Jay, before unleashing another round at a stricken iMac, hung up like a paper target at a shooting gallery. The iMac takes four bullets and some heavy criticism in a TV ad for the Epinions consumer ratings site -- an ad that'll never make it to your TV.
Epinions doesn't seem afraid of controversy. Other cinema viriti-style ads it plans to air include a woman demonstrating a mechanical breast pump on her own breast and a snowboarder trying to break into a skier-only resort. The ads, which started airing last week, star regular-Joe consumers who wrote provocative reviews on the Epinions site, and caught the eye of Goodby, Silverstein and Partners, the San Francisco advertising agency who brought us the "Got Milk?" campaign.
But the handgun violence of the anti-iMac ad rubbed folks the wrong way. "People in the company were concerned about the message," says Mike Spieser, Epinions co-founder and marketing director. "So we took a poll on the site and our users told us that this was not the right time to run it." Visitors to the Epinions site posted around 350 comments about the literal iMac attack running the gamut from praise to derision, but a common thread was that commercials starring guns are not appropriate. "Things that used to be funny are not funny anymore," wrote a poster who goes by the screen name "donnatheo." "Go and ask the parent of a dead Columbine High Student if they think this commercial is funny!"
The controversy surprised John Runner, who, as "Jay," blasts away at Apple Computer literally and figuratively. "I thought it was really cool. I like firing handguns -- it's a hobby of mine. I have a rifle, and a pistol that I take out to a shooting range every once in a while." But it wasn't a gun that inspired the ad -- it was his scathing review of the iMac, titled Macintosh's Dying Breath. "The ad agency [read it and] asked me, what would you think about shooting at [the iMac] to express your anger. I said that sounds pretty good to me."
Runner, who is a first lieutenant in the Army chemical corps, remains a staunch gun supporter and iMac hater, but the group input has moderated his feelings about the ad. "I don't have kids myself, but I empathize with the people who have kids and don't want to see it on family TV." It looks like that won't be a problem -- unless those kids are surfing Epinions from their WebTV.