P&G's "Pick Them Back Up" May Not Be Ambitious Or Clever But It's Full Of Charm
Caddyshack II. Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles. The Whole Ten Yards. These sequels are a treasured part of our cultural canon not merely because they answered the burning questions left unanswered by their predecessors, but because they contributed indelible joys of their own. Where would we be without the relentless whimsy of Son of The Mask, or the spit-specked intrigue of Basic Instinct 2? A world that never knew the neo-Swayzean grizzle of Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights is a world not worth knowing, friend.
So you can imagine my delight upon viewing the sequel to what I consider to be one of the most perfectly calibrated brand videos of all time, Procter & Gamble's "Best Job" tribute to the mothers of Olympic athletes. "Pick Them Back Up," which debuted on Monday, is a sequel in every sense of the word. It similarly uses Olympic sports (this time, the upcoming Sochi games) as its topical/temporal hook. It similarly tracks the athletes chronologically, from their days wobbling down the bunny slope to the moment of their grand-slalom triumph. The soundtrack, the subtitles, the small-to-big arc, the stories that parallel one another - same, same, same and same. The only thing missing is a "2" somewhere in the clip's title ("Best Job 2: Dadz," etc.).
In short, there's nothing especially ambitious or clever about "Pick Them Back Up." And you know what? It doesn't matter. P&G isn't attempting to hitch a ride on the coattails of a towering creative achievement like I Know What You Did Last Summer. Rather, it's hoping to unleash another viral outbreak of the warm-n-fuzzies, and maybe sell some soap in the process.
Let's face it: brand videos are fungible. The genre has its highs and lows just like any other, but given the way such clips are consumed - on postcard-sized mobile screens, while toggling between 32 other online activities, etc. - they register far differently. They rarely resonate beyond an initial viewing. Their beyond-tomorrow impact - with rare exceptions, like Kony = Bad - is almost always negligible.
As of this writing, "Pick Them Back Up" has been viewed 4,249,708 times on YouTube. If you asked those viewers whether or not they'd seen "Best Job," I'd bet the overwhelming majority would answer something along the lines of "ummm… maybe?" For anyone who has watched "Best Job" hundreds of times, "Pick Them Back Up" may come across as derivative, a slavish imitation, a second visit to the same destination. For most everyone else, however, what's old is new.
With that particular caveat, then, the charms of "Pick Them Back Up" are plentiful. The footage of infant-era Junior falling on his little tushie, only to be immediately propped up by mom, elicits the expected "awwww!" The sequences in which mom comforts Junior in the wake of physical or competitive setbacks prompt I've-been-there-man nods of recognition. The finale, in which victorious Junior and mom unite in a hard-won embrace, makes you want to issue your own mom a lifetime voucher for hugs.
Just as I did after viewing "Best Job," I gave mom a call after I watched "Pick Them Back Up."
I thanked her for encouraging the writing thing and for putting up with, in no particular order, the sloth, the bad music, the cursing, the sister-baiting, the mud-tracking and all the rest of the generic teenage hooliganism. I told her I love her, as I often do. Then I spent 70 minutes attempting to fix her Internet router from afar, and prayed for death's sweet embrace.
In the end, "Pick Them Back Up" isn't complicated. It's a lovely way to pass the next two minutes, nothing more. Brand-wise, it stirs up the right feelings and triggers the right associations… unless you were mothered by Joan Crawford or Livia Soprano. If that's the case, well, Unilever has some nice web videos, too, I'm sure.