This has been linked from everywhere ad nauseam, doubtless, but since I’m frighteningly busy I’m somewhat behind with the blogosphere again. Plus, I have something to add: Sony have a new advert out for their latest Bravia LCD TV (which I saw on Tottenham Court Road the other week, and is indeed quite lovely in a ‘why would I conceivably want something that large in my lounge?’ sort of way). The ad involves a quarter of a million bouncy balls being released down a street in San Francisco, all filmed in glorious superslowmo and almost certainly hi-def too. There were lots of Flickr posts about the event at the time (surprisingly hard to find now – interesting) and a post on BoingBoing, and now the secret is revealed. It’s a lovely ad, and is probably being hailed as the best thing in ad breaks since that Honda spot a couple of years ago where one thing knocked another thing, and so on.
I don’t personally think it’s that good an ad – certainly not in the Honda league. But that’s a personal thing. The longer version is distinctly better than the shorter one, fair enough, but even then… it just doesn’t quite hang together for me.
This is partly because it has something else in common with the Honda ad, apart from being ‘event’ advertising – it’s not an original idea. The Honda ad was, famously, inspired by an old German art film called ‘The Way Things Go,’ which has its flaws but is basically magnificent. This Sony ad was clearly inspired by a whole genre of experiments done by avalanche researchers, who have a penchant for saving vast amounts of computer time by… er… chucking ping-pong balls down dry ski slopes. Here’s a paper from 1997, and a whole bunch of other articles. And yes, that last one is on BoingBoing, from January 2004.
What I find a tad frustrating is that Sony’s repetition of the experiment replaces the ping-pong balls with latex superballs, and to my mind the result is less photogenic. The effect is to spread the balls further apart – in model terms, they behave more like a gas than a liquid – and I just don’t think it’s as pretty. I can see why they’d have thought it would be better, but really, I believe it was a bad move. There’s nothing like the complexity of flow front and detail that the ping pong balls produced – it’s just a bunch of balls bouncing down a street. Sure, it’s a lot of balls bouncing down a street, but the beauty of the ping pong balls lies in the unexpected complexity and subtlety, all of which is lost in Sony’s ad.
Sure, it’s beautifully shot, but… nah, I’m sorry, I’ve been wanting to do that for two years, and (a.) they’ve ruined it for me now, and (b.) I’d have done a better job of it than they did, dammit!