Why Worry? Y2K Is Funny Fodder for Ads


It is the first dark day of the New Year.

A solitary jogger runs down the street, through riots and traffic jams, past ATM machines spouting cash, under a streaking missile. Finally, another jogger passes him, running the other way. They nod briefly in greeting, and each continues on his way. The message? “Just do it.”

The Nike commercial, called “The Morning After,” is the latest way some advertisers use or spoof the supposedly looming Y2K disaster. After more than a year of Y2K hysteria, the uncertainty caused by predictions of power outages and food shortages resulting from malfunctioning computers has given way to skepticism.

“My general impression is that Y2K works best as a humorous element, not as a scare tactic,” said Mark Dolliver, an Adweek columnist who reviews new commercials.


“Y2K is like the comet Kahoutek. After all the hype, it could just turn out to be a blur in sky.”

Scott Reams, communication manager for Nike, says “The Morning After”, created by Weiden & Kennedy and directed by Spike Jonze, is another way to look at the company’s successful slogan.

“It’s not an overt message. It means different things to different people. With all the predictions and doomsayers, no one knows what’s really going to happen,” Reams said, adding that the attitude now seems to be that it’s time for a reality check. “We’re hoping people will look at it the way we do. Whatever happens, happens, and there’s not much at this point that anyone can do about it.”

It is one of the surprisingly few TV ad campaigns to take note of Y2K; there are even fewer movies on screens big and small (with the notable exceptions of “Y2K: The Movie” on NBC in late November, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “End of Days” movie now in theaters).

Another ad campaign using Y2K is DeBeers’ “A Diamond Is Forever” commercial, which has a man and a woman in Times Square at midnight. The lights go out, but no matter. The happy couple is oblivious. The man has presented the woman with a diamond.

Print ads, too, employ the new millennium. Hunter Douglas, makers of fans and window treatments, ran an ad in the Wall Street Journal showing a living room window shade with the caption: “Windows compatible, Y2K ready.” The idea was to attract upscale single men.

“It’s just a way of bringing some lightness to the subject,” said Donna Labosco, account director at Ferrell Calvillo, a marketing and communications agency. “I think most people assume it will affect someone, but probably not them, so they are not that worried about it.”

You have to be careful who you lampoon, though. Earlier this year, bankers lobbied Polaroid to withdraw a TV ad for its Popshot disposable cameras. In the commercial, a bank customer snaps a picture of his bank balance at the stroke of midnight. Suddenly, the balance disappears and then returns, this time in the millions of dollars.

American Banking Assn. officials complained the ads could undermine consumer confidence in banks. Despite explaining that the ad was intended as lighthearted, Polaroid withdrew the ad.

Bankers also bristled at an ad by car company KIA Motors America. The ad, called “Bank Run,” shows anxious people waiting outside a bank to withdraw their money before Y2K hits. A cheerful car salesman walks by, reminding the nervous Nellies that Y2K “really means ‘Yes to KIA.’ ”