Commentary

Smarty-Smart GE Flaunts Its Science Savvy With 'Unimpossible' Stunts

I don’t care what the incoming heads of the EPA, CIA, FDA, NIH, NSA or Departments of Energy, State, Health and Human Services, Commerce, Education and Interior have to say on the matter: Science is A-OK in my book. It might even be real! I have great confidence that we will continue to turn to our scientists to help us navigate the most perilous waters in which we sea-fare. Nothing will change this, except maybe the appointment of several “Real Housewives” to positions of leadership within NASA.

It nonetheless feels like somewhat less than a coincidence that GE chose this particular week to unveil the latest episodes of “Unimpossible Missions.” The series, which debuted last year, takes the brand’s “Star Trek”-sounding credo (“to push back the boundaries of what’s possible”) and brings it to life via the depiction of witchcraft… er, I mean, scientific examination. The first season’s episodic slate included attempts to evaluate a snowball’s chance in hell and to actually catch lightning in a bottle. There was no more on-point brand-booster programming in the video world last year.

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GE ups the ante in the two “Unimpossible” vids that debuted this week. In one, it fights fire with fire (spectacularly successfully, with nary a skin graft to be performed in its wake). In the other, it unrings a bell (fantastically, humanity-affirmingly successfully, per the still-sleeping baby positioned within the immediate gong radius).

The vids are ambitious in a way that most such explorations aren’t, too. GE’s chosen bell is the renowned-for-its-foundation-shaking-loudness Ka Lay Wa Bell in Myanmar, as opposed to the one that Auntie Dee uses to summon dim cousin Henry for supper. While both clips plug the relevant GE technology (used in a subsea acoustic leak detector and a next-gen mammogram device, presumably among other things), they do so without dummyheading it down in the interest of cheap virality.

That, in fact, might be the greatest triumph of “Unimpossible Missions.” Most videos that seek to blind us with science adopt a jokey, punny tone that too often comes off as patronizing. It’s the spoonful-of-sugar approach: This here brainy science will go down the hatch a whole lot smoother if administered with allusions to Bob The Builder and “Saved by the Bell,” etc. GE, on the other hand, proudly flashes its knowledge, throwing out concepts like “destructive interference” without over-explaining them for the halfwit set.

The production values are similarly a notch above what we’ve come to expect from such exercises. Yeah, GE can afford it, but still: Usually when a brand aspires to a degree of excellence within the video realm, it’s funny for the wrong reasons. Tacking “Films” onto a brand’s name (“Sears Craftsman Films Presents: 21 Meditations on the Band Saw”) isn’t going to capture the imagination of the Cahiers du Cinéma editorial board, you know? But when GE credits the “Missions” videos to its “GE Theater” arm, you don’t scoff. Moral of this story: Spend the extra money to make these things look like something not-unimpossible to create on your MacBook Air.

Some part of me wishes GE would pay tribute to the legendary Ralph Wiggum and retitle the series “Unpossible Missions,” but that would undercut the non-jokiness of the endeavor. Beyond that, this is one for the this-is-how-you-do-it file. By proudly wearing its brain on its sleeve, GE hits brand pay dirt.
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