The Buzz

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Recycling Bin

New York seems to be alphabetically challenged of late. In outdoor advertising around the city, ads for H&M and for FX Network include words missing key letters. "W_at's _issing in Soho?" announces the billboard heralding H&M's newest location, while signs for FX read, "Bagels and Lo" with the tagline "Life is strange without the X."

Freaky Tiki

Animation house Will Vinton wants to send you to Vegas, and all you need to do is answer a few questions in a Web game (see www.tikichallenge.com). The challenge is to identify four CG items in a short video of a low-lit tiki lounge, filled to the brim with ambiguously CG/real objets that will drive contestants crazy. "We've been a player in CG for a number of years but people thought of us mostly for our character animation," explains Rich Durkin, VP/executive producer. The studio is offering a trip to Sin City, or $50,000 off the winner's next Will Vinton project.

AI Confidential

Ask Steven Spielberg to explain the internet game/hoax/marketing ploy surrounding his summer blockbuster-to-be, AI, and he will say he doesn't know anything about it. Neither he nor most of the employees at Warner Bros., producers of the film, have been fully briefed about the workings of AI's promotional web. In one of the most subtle, and effective, viral marketing schemes ever, a clue was hidden in the AI trailer (aimovie.com) in the form of a credit for Jeanine Salla, "sentient machine therapist." Within moments of the preview's release, web junkies were entering the name into search engines and discovering an incredible network of fake websites ostensibly from the year 2142, when robots outnumber humans on the planet. The sites include personal profiles, a made-up university, and the homepage for the anti-robot militia. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the promotion is that it's hard to tell what, exactly, the game is. Is the point to solve the murder that is frequently alluded to? Or is it to discover the masterminds behind the sites? No one is willing to say. One of the game's creators (contacted via a name from allwhois.com, a site that gives server information for domain names) explains, "There are about five people at Warner Brothers who know the whole story. We wanted people to be able to deny, in good faith, that the AI game exists." He promises that the jig is up at the end of May, when he will reveal himself and his company.

K9, K10

You don't meet a French-speaking, luxury-loving Great Dane every day, and Elizabeth Elkins wants to keep it that way. Elkins is the owner of a Great Dane named Jean Lafitte and the author of the Jean Lafitte travel series, a kind of Zagat's for dog owners. The guides feature canine-friendly stores, the best dog runs, etc. Now Jean has company: Elkins was taken aback by the new all-Francophone Lexus commercials, a campaign that includes one spot with a young woman and her Great Dane ogling the Lexus while the VO chatters on en fran‡ais. "I don't even watch television, but my friends have been telling me about it," says Elkins, annoyed that Jean Lafitte is not the only chic chien around. "I don't know where they got the idea, but maybe they should use Jean Lafitte, the real thing, in the next commercial."

Spoofed: The Baddest of the Bay

In San Francisco, creatives desperate for prizes cook up various award-mongering schemes. That includes work from tiny or improbable clients, ads that never actually ran, and submissions in traditionally weak categories like direct mail. How do we know this? The humurous posters for the San Francisco Show, the city's local award extravaganza on April 26, tell us so. "People are always trying to find things that are risque or disgusting," explains GMO/Hill Holliday CD Rob Bagot, creator of the campaign. "Like animal cruelty, for example, always a scream." The posters show faux entries for clients like a dog brothel or a forensic make-up artist. The entry kit also includes a section entitled "Entry information for phony ads done on behalf of make-believe clients," with instructions like "Materials may be submitted by both agencies and clients. That is, if the client actually knows about the work." Comments Bagot: "A lot of people do the work in advance of getting their clients in the loop. Not that I would know any of this first-hand, of course."

The Crying Game

Chances are, the last time you saw Cyd Strittmatter, she was crying. Strittmatter has established herself as the go-to gal when a campaign requires Streep-level sobbing skills. The L.A.-based actress lends her gravitas to the current Sarafem campaign, plus, she plays the static-stricken wife of a cell phone user for Sprint. Strittmatter has also turned on the waterworks for Nike, H&R Block and the Missouri lottery; but with "the combo of Sarafem and Sprint that are highly visible, it's been like, `Oh my god, you're the woman who cries,"' she muses. The 12-year acting veteran also appears in some dry-eyed work as Joe Isuzu's wife, and in guest spots on Judging Amy and Any Day Now. Sprint did not require her to actually cry for its humorous couples therapy spot, Strittmatter says, but the extra commitment got results: "One person told me they actually changed and went from AT&T to Sprint." Behold, the power of tears. (Christina Nu¤ez)

Survey Says

(Reported in the LA Times)

Number of copies of Nick Drake's "Pink Moon" album sold in 1999 in the U.S.: 6,000.

Number of copies sold in 2000, the year that VW used the song for a romantic Cabrio spot: 74,000.

Tag, you're hired!

Who knew that dating a creative could have benefits aside from, say, an advance cut of the new shampoo commercial? Jennifer Rhode, fiancee of Cliff Freeman's Adam Chasnow, got a valuable freebie when her beloved designed this clothing-tag business card for her new career as a wardrobe stylist. So far, the client has seen results; Rhode has worked on Staples and ESPN, and the tag itself has been accepted into the D&AD annual. Chasnow is also masterminding Rhode's media placement: "I know some of the people who throw those dumb after-parties for AICP and stuff," he says. "We are thinking of having the coat check girl stick the tags on people's coat labels."

Hate Us? Buy Us!

This month, 500 potential advertising clients received mail from Macallum Sepulveda Blatt Vamallsky E.G.S.R. Worldwide, "a very large office on the fiftieth floor of a very sterile Madison Avenue skyscraper." The card reads, "The key to our success is storyboards: lots and lots of storyboards," and explains that the company produces work "treating [consumers] like the mindless cretins they are." The payoff, and the real pitch, explains, "If you want inspired ideas that really sell, call an agency like DiMassimo Brand Advertising." Mark DiMassimo, president and founder of the small New York agency, claims he didn't intend to target a specific advertising behemoth with the sarcasm. "We didn't have any single agency in mind, but we see ourselves as the alternative to big, bloated, predictable, safe-choice-making agencies," he says, though clearly anyone familiar with the industry would see this as a direct hit on MVBMS/Euro RSCG. "I don't actually consider Messner as a major sinner, but they had the funniest name," he explains. DiMassimo knows that this attack on the big agencies will cause some annoyance, but he's not overly concerned about the backlash. "If they hate us, they can always buy us," he laughs.

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