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Summary:

SoftBank’s endearingly weird ad campaign is crossing the Pacific. Sprint is recreating the commercials’ Shirato family in an American mold, introducing the multi-ethnic and multi-species Frobinsons to U.S. TV sets.

Tom Frobinson, the hamster patriarch staring in Sprint's new Framily ad campaign (source: Sprint)
photo: Sprint

Ever since Japan’s SoftBank took over the reins of Sprint, we’ve been hoping it would bring its clever and quirky commercial ads — featuring the multi-species Shirato family – to U.S. TV sets. Well we got our wish … sort of.

Sprint is reshaping the ad campaign for U.S. users, creating a new family called the Frobinsons, but parallels between the Frobinsons and the Shiratos are obvious. Instead of Otosan, canine patriarch of his (human) family, we get Tom Frobinson, a grumpy talking hamster, who interacts with an odd set of relations (also human) in a series of commercial episodes.

Yes, it all sounds ridiculous if you haven’t seen the original SoftBank ads, but the campaign has been an enormous success in Japan. SoftBank has invested heavily in the campaign, featuring U.S. celebrities like Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones in some of the spots and bringing in film auteurs like Wes Anderson and Spike Jonze to direct them.

Otosan, SoftBank Mobile's popular TV mascot in Japan

Otosan, SoftBank Mobile’s popular TV mascot in Japan

The SoftBank ads are inventive not because they’re cute, but because they’re just plain weird. And Sprint’s brand agency Figliulo&Partners definitely seems to be doubling up on that weirdness. Andrew Dice Clay stars as the voice of Tom Frobinson, while daughter Anna speaks only in French and is inexplicably accompanied by a trio of animated songbirds.

The campaign is aimed at selling Sprint’s new Framily plans, so they bring in an odd assortment of friends and relations outside of the nuclear Frobinson family. Sprint has also promised cameos from famous actors and athletes in forthcoming commercials.

Sprint has produced two ads so far that will begin airing tonight, and for now I’m intrigued but still reserving judgment. Even if the Frobinsons prove as quirkily endearing as the Shiratos, there’s no guarantee that this kind of humor will translate well to the U.S. audience.

And just to give you an idea, here’s one of the original SoftBank ads, featuring Quentin Tarantino:

  1. Pretty cool. I can’t wait until these are aired.

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  2. Wow!! EPIC fail. Sprint has never had a very effective add campaign and after seeing these videos is not getting any better. These are terrible.

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  3. The ads are insulting to American. Yes, the original Otosan ads are great. The father is a beautiful dignified dog and the contrast with the dialog is hilarious. Then Softbank decided that Americans want their dad to be a hamster in a bowl? Do they know anything about Americans? Both sets of ads portray Americans as idiots. This is what happens as we let foreign companies take over all the American companies. They think of us as hamsters.

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  4. Floyd Johnson Monday, April 7, 2014

    I think the term is “Dadaism”

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