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'Be an Engineer,' Exxon Mobil Tells Apathetic Young People in Equally Apathetic Ads


Let's imagine a world without engineers. What does that look and feel like?

It's upon this thought experiment that BBDO New York embarks in "Be an Engineer," an effort by Exxon Mobil to motivate young people to ... well, use your engineering prowess to complete this sentence.

Five spots so far imagine how we'd work around various staples of leisure, transport and safety if an engineer hadn't been around to give life to what's missing. Meant to capture the fluttering attentions of a tween in the first few seconds, each follows a dead-simple formula: Familiar scenario. Something's off about it. What's off about it? Punch line. 

The most straightforward example is "Helmet," starring a boy preparing, with some trepidation, to try a new skateboarding ramp. Why so nervous, kid? Then his mother pops her head out of the house and shouts, "Put his melon on if he's going off that ramp!" You can imagine what happens next, almost as if you've seen the ad before.

Another example that likely came out of the "first ideas" pile is this scenario between a car buyer and a dealer. Hey, what's the horsepower on that model?

Drat, we've already said too much.

The work gets more interesting when it explores how we'd replace the leisure conveniences that so effortlessly fill our time, as with these two staring at not much at all:

Or this one of a runner, who substitutes a Fitbit—and Facebook—for a boy with big lungs: 

The best spot features carrier pigeons and some deliciously underhanded copy, delivered in perfect deadpan: "You seriously need to upgrade your pigeons."

What we've got here is classic, passable fodder: A first-brainstorm kind of idea that takes a low-hanging premise and carries it to an improbable extreme, the excuse being that that's what makes it funny! Dry, matter-of-fact style and restrained punch-line music, brought to you by PULL, holds it all together. 

The real question is whether it actually motivates kids to pursue a future in engineering, and that's where the weakness of its foundations really show. The punch lines are neither deeply imaginative nor all that funny; once you've seen and understood one, you can live without seeing the rest. Or worse, seeing the others, even for the first time, might feel like irritating repetition.

What's disappointing is the work's failure to capture the real pleasures of engineering: the sense of discovery—the spark!—you feel when you've conceived of something that solves an everyday problem, and the consequent pleasure in imagining how it would look, feel and function in a world full of people who somehow manage to be both habit-driven and utterly unpredictable in their end uses.

Because the quality that truly defines a nascent engineer is exactly the opposite of the assumption that "Be an Engineer" makes about kids: It's curiosity, not boredom. 

Client: Exxon Mobil
Project: "Be an Engineer"

Agency: BBDO, New York
Creative Group Heads: Greg Ketchum, Tom Godici
Producer: Brad Powell
Creative Directors: Mark Girand, Paul Laffy
Copywriter: Ryan Lawrence
Art Director: James Kuczynski
BBDO Music Producer: Rani Vaz
Account Persons: Jill Kramer, David Ritter, John Chleborad

Production Company: Radical Media, New York
Director: Steve Miller
Director of Photography: Eric Schultz

Music: PULL, New York
Composer: Mitch Davis
Executive Producer: Scott Brittingham

Editorial: Friendshop!, New York
Editor: Tim Wilson

Online: Co3, New York
Colorist: Tom Poole

Audio Post: Heard City, New York
Engineer: Eric Warzecha

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