When the Kevin Bacon EE 4G mobile network commercials first came out at the cinema, the auditoriums (or at least the ones I sat in) were awash with laughter. Tightly scripted, informative and amusing to boot, they were a breath of fresh air and just the change in pace that the industry needed.
Fast forward a year or so: I'm sitting in another cinema and Robert Downey Junior appears on my screen – advertising a mobile phone this time rather than a mobile network. He's the new face of the $1 billion campaign for Taiwanese phone manufacturer HTC, the phone that's being called one of the best smartphones ever.
And once again, it's a LOL ad – a laugh out loud.
The strapline for HTC is 'it's anything you want it to be'. RDJ appears as a sort of forward-thinking Tony Stark-esque genius – one that is so attuned to what the mobile phone market wants and needs that he's been tasked with establishing what HTC actually stands for.
With deadly serious RDJ eyes, he breathes in sharply and says: Humongous Tinfoil Catamaran. A mixture of 'what?' faces around the boardroom, and then finally... 'BUILD that catamaran!' enthuses an aged board member.
The ad then unfolds to play out all sorts of HTC options. From Hot Tea Catapults to Hipster Troll Carwashes, the ad is insane and insanely creative. The copywriters involved must have had an absolute ball coming up with the options – many of which we don't actually hear because they subtly appear in the background. 'Hold That Cat!' urges a supermodel, dumping a cat into RDJ's arms, as he stands in front of a sort of mood wall of HTC options. It's quite fun to pause the YouTube video below to see what other options you can spot. Hungarian Tuba Concerto was one of my guesses!
And therein lies what some commentators see as the problem. The critics are saying that it's nothing but a slightly weak effort on the part of HTC to make a viral video; that it completely misses a trick by barely showing any of the new HTC One's superb features. It does show that it has the best speakers on the smartphone market during the Hipster Troll Carwash, but very little else. Certainly not the ability to act as a TV remote control, for a start, which is quite a natty feature. On the high street, it has the chops to rival the iPhone 5 and newest of the super-Samsungs. And yet the features aren't mentioned at all.
An entirely valid viewpoint, I agree, and yet...and yet...
The ad is just SO good and SO entertaining that it makes me think that it doesn't matter. Let me draw a parallel: the Orange adverts where various A-list stars pitch their new movie ideas to the Orange board. From Rob Lowe to Juliet Lewis to Darth Vader, nobody really remembers what the features of the network are which differentiate it from the others. They just remember how funny the ads are and they talk about them around the coffee machine at work.
So perhaps the old adage is true: there's no such thing as bad publicity. And ultimately, don't people go into mobile phone shops to look at and play with phones up close and personal before they buy them anyway? Or if you're like me, you read techie reviews before committing to two years with a new smartphone.
For me, this is the crème de la crème in a world of slightly dull mobile phone ads. I may be an O2 customer myself, but I really can't get my head around the current 'bemoredog' campaign. Personally, I can't wait for the next HTC commercial featuring RDJ and a whole lot more wackiness.
'What does it all mean?' asks RDJ's sidekick at the end of the commercial, echoing what the critics will say. With steely focus, RDJ replies, 'Happy Telephone Company'.
You can watch the commercial here. Tuck in your tailpipes. Subversive thinking has arrived...
Ashley is a blogger, copywriter and editor
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