You may have seen Jeff Goldblum in an eccentric General Electric light bulb ad that’s making the Internet rounds this week. Playing a Wayne Newton-esque charmer named Terry Quattro, Goldblum lounges in a hot tub and surrounds himself with babes while hawking the benefits of the GE Link connected LED bulb.
The ad’s virality has worked out well for GE, who probably realized that selling a product as mundane as light bulbs required an unusual approach. That’s why they hired Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, best known for their Cartoon Network show “Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show, Great Job!” Common themes in “Awesome Show” include intentionally poor video editing, diarrhea, father/son relationships, awkward line delivery, and the use of eccentric people as extras. Tim and Eric have a cult following, but it seems unlikely that a century-old Fortune 500 corporation like GE would be among their fans.
What’s even less likely, though, is is Tim and Eric’s willingness to create advertising for a multinational conglomerate. The pair are outspoken critics of modern advertising for its patronizing, ineffective, and often just stupid tactics. In a 2008 interview with The Believer, Tim said:
We both despise advertising and marketing. You can’t avoid it, and it’s always so inane. There’s a new Pizza Hut commercial, speaking of pizza, with a slogan that goes something like “Get more, not less!” Or that McDonald’s campaign: “I’m lovin’ it!” What the hell is that?
He echoed that sentiment in an interview on the podcast “WTF with Marc Maron” last month, saying “Most things are garbage. Most products…are mostly garbage, and mostly patronizing to us.”
Awful corporate marketing is a favorite topic of skewering in their work, usually through CINCO, a fake corporation in the Tim and Eric universe. CINCO products include a combination bat/owl that’s “perfect for throwing away” and a brooch for men that screws into a hole into your chest and requires extraction of all your teeth. Jeff Goldblum appeared in a CINCO ad for Wait-mate, a pill that puts the user to sleep for a few days so they can wake up in time for an event they’re excited for.
But in spite of their hatred for bad advertising—or perhaps because of it—Tim and Eric have been behind some of the most memorable video advertisements of the past decade. They directed the legendary Old Spice commercials with Terry Crews. They wrote, directed, and starred in “A Vodka Movie” with Zach Galifianakis, one of Tim and Eric’s most-watched videos that’s actually a paid commercial for Absolut Vodka. The backstory: Absolut gave Tim and Eric the funding and complete creative control, so long as they mentioned Absolut vodka. As Eric described it, Absolut basically paid them to make an anti-ad, and it performed phenomenally.
By the time the GE opportunity came along, Tim and Eric had worked with Jeff Goldblum for years. Rumor has it that Tim and Eric heard that he was a vocal fan of their work and contacted him about collaborating. Since then, he’s been in their shows and their 2012 film, “Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie.” Fans affectionately call him Chef Goldblum.
Tim and Eric’s advertisements have millions of views. People quote them. They aren’t the things you suffer through to get to the content; they are the content. You have to watch ads before you can watch their ads on YouTube. As of the writing of this piece, hundreds of publications had covered the GE ad, titled “Enhance Your Lighting.” That’s a lot of press for a light bulb. Content marketing is critically important to the marketing industry, and Tim and Eric have cracked it.
Is it hypocritical that two guys who hate advertising are making ads? Maybe not. They know how to make great ads because they obsess over the terrible ones. They respect their audience enough to take risks and be interesting. They don’t accept projects that restrict their creative input. If anything, they offer a model for other advertisers to imitate.
The ad illustrates GE’s willingness to take a risk, too. It’s hard to imagine a GE boardroom full of executives analyzing Jeff Goldblum selling their product alongside his gold chains and chest hair, but they approved it. It’s time that more companies try anti-ads. Tim and Eric have proven that they can work.