Commercials are almost all sweet and uplifting—“Fly the Friendly Skies,” “Have a Coke and a Smile,” “Be All You Can Be.” No matter what the product, the message is always the same: Buy our products, achieve eternal happiness.
Madison Avenue hasn’t gone entirely soft, however. Now and then, New York’s product-hawking industry can still crank out a smart and edgy ad. Take “Try Not to Die,” the campaign created for the cell-phone company Amp’d Mobile by the boutique agency Taxi New York.
The campaign’s best spot, which recently climbed to No. 1 in AdAge’s weekly rankings, is called “Senator.” The scene opens in a seedy motel room where a half-naked hooker is frantically trying to revive the gray-haired politician who has apparently just suffered a heart attack in flagrante delicto. As she pumps violently at his chest, you’re thinking, “Wait, am I actually watching this guy shuffle off his mortal coil in a commercial?” A few chest thumps later, the spot is over, the tagline—TRY NOT TO DIE. AMP’D MOBILE IS COMING—rolls, and you’re laughing. A second TV spot focuses on a comatose rock musician who has just overdosed, and there are a series of hilarious print ads: One shows a teenager taking a leak on high-voltage wires, and another has a kid hanging out in a pumpkin patch, with the funnel clouds of a tornado forming over his shoulder.
“Try Not to Die” has another unusual twist: The purpose is to get people to not buy something. Amp’d Mobile’s teenager-targeted cell-phone service, which will include the capability to download music and videos, won’t be available until January, so the company wants to discourage potential customers from buying new cell phones until then. “It’s basically promising that Amp’d Mobile is going to be so amazing you better be alive to witness it,” says Paul Lavoie, the creative director of Taxi New York. “But it’s not about death. We’re hoping to prevent people from dying.”