Bob Garfield's Ad Review for Over the Top Phone Book Ad

DDB Brussels Effort For Phone Book Is Still Fun

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Jacques Brel is alive and well and living in the Yellow Pages.

The Belgian phil-osopher-composer, who searched for meaning in the follies of life and love, explored relationships from every angle but somehow neglected in his lifetime to consult the telephone directory.

But his sensibility lives on, thanks to DDB, Brussels, and its wistful spot for Belgian Directory Services. The spot opens in a handsome flat, where an attractive young woman searches her phone book for a sauna.

"I was looking for this sauna," she says, in interior monologue, to commence a flashback within a flashback. There we see her flipping through the directory. "Let's see...schools, swimming baths, hmmm, it's been ages."

As she thumbs through the directory and encounters the "swimming baths" listing, we notice that the accompanying photo is her, in her swimsuit, walking along the pool deck. And as she flips the pages, the image moves, cinemato-graphically, like the flip books we made when we were kids.

But this flip book is a documentary one, featuring a film record of her momentous day a year or two earlier. "At the swimming baths," she recalls, "there was Paul. He took me to the movies. Then he gave me flowers."

The film images are of the two young people frolicking and clowning and hitting it off in a very big way. Oh, look! He's handing her a bouquet! Such a charming boy. "That was sweet of him," she thinks, giggling at the fond memory. "There we were, by ourselves, just like that, on a rainy Sunday, for better or worse. That's what life is like, isn't it?"

And then, back in the present, she rushes from the bedroom to the nursery, because her baby is crying-Paul Jr., we are to presume, because this was one hell of a date. Then the voice-over:

"Follow the Belgacom Guide. Life will never be the same again."

Oh, yes it will.

Notwithstanding this woman's ad-provoked reminiscence of her Olympic-sized good luck, there's really nothing life-transforming about a phone book. While the BDS book no doubt makes con-sumer life easier, no telephone directory is a portal to romance and excitement-at least, not since the cops took Heidi Fleiss' Rolodex.

So here's a plainly preposterous ad claim, and a narrative actually undercutting an adver-tiser's message. This woman's good fortune, after all, resulted from a chance occurrence, precisely the sort of arbitrary experience Yellow Pages are designed to mitigate.

But never mind any of that, because it doesn't matter.

This category of advertising, ostensibly targeted at consumers, is really aimed at prospective phone-directory advertisers, who demand that the medium be promoted to the end-user. What counts therefore isn't the claim, or the message, but the visibility of the advertising-and visible this will be, because the flip-book effect is so tantalizing.

It's ironic, actually, at a time when so many sophisticated, dig-ital effects are thrown at com-mercials in a vain effort to wow the viewer, that what catches the eye is this nostalgically primitive nickelodeon-in-a-phone book. No, the ad has no substance, but it is, as Jacques Brel himself put it, "cute, cute, cute in a stupid-assed way."