Why I’m not volunteering to fight in the Format War

Austin-based ad agency GSD&M Idea City just won a piece of business from DreamWorks Animation to promote the emerging HD DVD format. The agency wouldn’t disclose billings, but would only say that it was more than $1 million. The spots, which launch today, feature a faux Jeffrey Katzenberg taking complaints from Shrek characters who say the HD DVD image is just too sharp. Gingerbread man Gingy says he looks so tasty in the new format that he wants to eat himself.

The work is cute and funny, and it deftly avoids the self-defeating syndrome many ads for High-def have where they try to show you an HD screen on your so-NOT-HD television (One very senior consumer electronics executive once told me he dreads these more than anything, calling it the “box-in-a-box” syndrome).

Good for Idea City, but I’ve got to say it’s painful watching all the money being poured down the drain on the DVD format war. Neither side has made a compelling argument why it’s worth picking one today and taking the risk now. Sharper picture isn’t the key emotional driver here - American consumers always like to upgrade. It’s risk.

Did Sony really think that tacking a Blu-Ray player onto the PlayStation 3 for a couple hundred more bucks would entice more people to sign up? If forced themselves to take an outsider’s perspective for a second and asked the classic old business school question, “What if my competitor were doing this?” they would have seen how they were doubling up the of risk in a consumer’s mind. What if I end up buying a Betamax player duct-taped to a Colecovision?

We all know the image is sharper on HD DVD and Blu-Ray than our DVD players. But why buy now? That’s what I’m waiting for.

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