Hey, Big Brother, Zachary Quinto is watching you.
During Sunday’s Academy Awards telecast, the Star Trek actor appeared in a stark black-and-white commercial for Amazon’s Audible audio-book service, reading a passage from George Orwell’s 1984.
“If he were allowed contact with foreigners, he would discover that they are creatures similar to himself, and that most of what he had been told about them is lies,” Quinto reads. “The sealed world in which he lives would be broken, and the fear, hatred and self-righteousness on which his morale depends, might evaporate.”
You know, for someone who famously derided advertising as “the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket,” Orwell was a pretty fair copywriter.
1984’s dystopian vision of fear, paranoia and twisted truth has found a whole new audience since last year’s presidential election. Orwell’s message resonates anew in our strange age of “alternative facts,” and Quinto’s words rang out as an attack on the new administration’s temporary travel ban and incendiary views on immigration.
Of course, Amazon chief Jeff Bezos also owns the Washington Post, a media outlet that’s been especially critical of Donald Trump’s White House, so perhaps the pointed tenor and tone of Audible’s new campaign should come as no surprise.
Another ad, which also aired on the Oscars, features Homeland’s Claire Danes reciting from Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. “Society is to blame for not providing free public education,” she begins, “and society will answer for the obscurity it produces.”
Well, that bit about uneducated souls abandoned in sinful darkness was certainly a grisly declaration. Perhaps too much for some folks to bear—namely, much-maligned education secretary Betsy DeVos, widely viewed as an enemy of public schools owing to her support for charter programs?
Elsewhere, writer/actress Lameece Issaq transforms a (not-so) “dirty” line from Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights into what sounds like a rallying cry for “nasty women” everywhere:
More spots in the series, shown below, feature James Chen, Mike Colter, Alan Cumming and Jim Dale, among others, reading from classics including The Art of War, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Each passage acquires an urgent dimension when viewed through the lens of today’s politics, though at the top of each ad, Audible states it merely intended to “celebrate the performers whose voices bring books to life.”
“We wanted to celebrate the performances, and they truly are performances, of well-composed words that garner Audible so much loyal listening from so many people,” says client senior vp of global communications Matthew Thornton.
Actually, many of the campaign’s artists don’t voice audio editions of the books they’re shown reading. For example, Quinto doesn’t narrate any version of 1984 available on Audible. (Sorry, Simon Prebble, but when Spock’s available, you book Spock!)
That quibble aside, the campaign seems especially well-timed given the charged social climate. And the no-frills approach, with narrators simply reading into microphones, lets the words really resonate.
Changes in pitch and inflection convey subtly shifting shades of meaning. We’re prompted to carefully consider the lines being spoken, to weigh their value in the context of our daily lives.
This in turn supports the brand proposition, perhaps even rekindling memories of childhood story time, but with a grownup twist and an urgency propelled by current events.
“Hearing a book is a different experience than reading it,” says Thornton, “and we are happy that the spots have caused so many people to think about the power of words and engage with texts on a different level.”
Senior Vice President of Brand: Barbara Thall Ward
Senior Creative Director: Kari Niles
Producer: Radical Media
Director: Morgan Neville