April 10, 2008
Viral Video and Cadbury's "Trucks"

Last weekend, Cadbury launched the "sequel" to its hugely successful "Gorilla" dairy milk advert. The original "Gorilla," launched in August 2007, features a man in a life-like Gorilla costume drumming passionately to the Phil Collins hit "In the Air Tonight" and consequently spawned numerous mash-ups, remixes, and spoofs. The ad got roughly 7 million youtube views and launched 70 community groups on facebook, according to the Telegraph UK, and went a long way in restoring Cadbury's reputation after the Salmonella controversy in 2006.

The sequel, "Trucks," which hopes to garner similar viral success, features pimped-out luggage trucks drag racing down airport runways set to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now." The design of the trucks is great -- they look like an 1980s version of what cars in the future should look like (brightly-hued and somewhat demented and in complete defiance of any consideration for aerodynamics) -- and the lighting is lovely, but one has to wonder if it'll live up to its considerably less elaborate predecessor.

So far, the comments on blogs and youtube postings have been significantly more mixed than the "Gorilla" video, some criticizing the song choice, but most of the criticism suggests that it simply isn't as good as the original. Part of this might be attributed to the fact that "Trucks" is visually and narratively more complex than "Gorilla," which may work against it as viral content. "Gorilla" worked largely because it was so straight-forward in its delightful absurdity: it's a Gorilla drumming, and the surprise and pleasure of the ad comes simply from the strangeness of the juxtaposition of two unexpected elements. On the whole, it's has elements of parody and nostalgia and gestures to some pop culture clich├ęs that might lead to deeper levels of reading, but those are an added bonus and work as easily as cultural touchstones to help keep the surreal content within the bounds of comprehension as they would as access points for deeper consideration. "Gorilla" works without a lot of work on the part of the viewer, but it also leaves its message broad and generous enough allow for an active engagement in creating meaning if the viewer so chooses.

I don't want to go into a lengthy close-reading of the video, but in comparison to "Gorilla," "Trucks" seems a lot more muddled. It opens with a relatively lengthy build-up of introducing the individual vehicles with well-timed lights and shots of them rolling out of hanger onto the sunset-drenched lanes. The second half is the race itself and by then, night has fallen. Both inside and outside the story world, the rolling out of the cars seems to take a lot longer than it should. Then the race features several insert close-ups of parts of the cars, luggage spilling out over the road, and even a slow-motion jump taken by one of the larger trucks which serves as something of a climax. The whole thing lacks a central focus (though on one of my viewings, I thought maybe it was the little orange car) and in comparison to "Gorilla" seems unnecessarily visually complex (you don't get a clear shot of the layout of the race until the end) and jarringly paced.

Added to that are a number of insert shots from inside the cars, reminding us that there are drivers present, which I found somewhat odd. From the way the cars are designed to look like strange, but sentient, creatures and the way the footage is shot, the cars themselves seem to be the central characters, and the reminders of human drivers seems to undercut the focus even further. It also undermines the surreal fantasy tone of the video as a whole, which may be one of the reasons a number of comments have cropped jokingly linking this to the painfully mundane luggage fiasco that recently went down at Heathrow (which has resulted in a remix). Unlike the "Gorilla" spot, where the ambiguities are in how we can interpret what the content means, the ambiguities here in focus seem to compromise the video's ability to work on a more direct level.

However, this isn't to say that "Trucks" won't be yet another viral phenomenon. It's too difficult to say whether the more complex content will have a direct effect, because ultimately, the problem with "Trucks" is that it's a sequel, and can't play off novelty value. But despite what may be a problematic context to launch a campaign, a glass and a half full productions has smartly scaffolded the viral process, creating an interactive website where a letter searching game leads to a "vault" that contains individual clips from the video, all set for remixing. It'll be interesting to see what happens, and to see how much anticipating and actively encouraging certain types of user-behavior will pay off.