That's not too complicated. Under the Merriam-Webster definition, a breath mint is refreshing. A bright-eyed ingenue is refreshing. A candid politician is refreshing. But, for example, a new, stimulating urinary tract infection isn't.
And, there's no emphasizing this enough, the first-ever global TV campaign for Swissair-taglined "World's most refreshing airline"-is not refreshing. Oh, it's new, all right. And it's stimulating. But it isn't refreshing.
It is grotesque. Bizarre, nightmarish and strangely, unaccountably, most unrefreshingly grotesque.
There are three spots from Advico Young & Rubicam, Zurich, the only inoffensive one of which depicts a field of sunflowers swaying in the gentle breeze and turning to face a passing Swissair jet. That commercial might actually be rather pleasantly stimulating were it connected with nearly anything but what it is connected to.
But a second spot shows an Academy Award presentation, with actress Geraldine Chaplin dispensing an Oscar not to Jack Nicholson, Liz Taylor or Cher (whose uncanny lookalikes wait expectantly), but to .*.*. Gregor Fisher, a fat, unattractive businessman. Turns out he's dreaming it all aboard Swissair.
b Get it? It's all a dream! Ha!
A nasty, dark, angular, claustrophobic dream, by the way, with disconcerting swoops of perspective. But as creepy as it is, the weird Academy Awards non sequitur has nothing on the centerpiece spot of this campaign: a surrealistic, Fellini-esque look at a Swissair cabin as passengers complete their morning ablutions just prior to a red-eye arrival.
Here's a woman, in a gross close-up, brushing her teeth. Here's a twerpy, goofily narcissistic little guy using breath spray. Here's a man trimming his nostril hair-his nostril hair-all in the same dark, ruddy, bleeding colors of the Oscar spot, with the added irritant of a variably slowed soundtrack. The effect is sickening. Febrile. Delirious. About as refreshing as coming out of anesthesia. And it gets worse.
As these garish people leave the plane, we are treated to an ultraclose-up of the flight attendant's left eye as she blinks and mechanically chirps a "good morning" to each departing passenger. Here again, distorted sound as they each reflexively reply. But listen .*.*. the voice on that one tall brunette passenger .*.*. awfully deep. Now a further swooping close-up. Ah ha, an Adam's apple. And a refreshing, transvestite good morning to you, as well!
Why the agency affected this queasy style is a mystery, because the print and collateral portions of the campaign are quite good, using fairly conventional headline, copy and art treatments to highlight individual amenities, from draft beer on board to fresh espresso to an inflight mending service.
These commercials cater only to the egos and misguided ostentation of the agency and production company. For this advertising is certainly new. And most stimulating. And as offputting as is imaginable. Which no doubt the folks at Lufthansa, Alitalia, British Airways, Air France and KLM will find most .*.*. refreshing.
To submit TV campaigns for review, send 3/4- or 1/2-inch NTSC-format videotapes to Bob Garfield, Ad Age International, 814 National Press Building, Washington, D.C. 20045-1801, USA.