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Ad Review Rating:3 and 1/2 stars MCI PORTRAYS DIGITAL AGE CONCRETELY VIA GRAMERCY ADS

By Published on .

If you have watched any TV recently, by now you've probably encountered those MCI commercials featuring Gramercy Press, a funky boutique publishing house with an eclectic list, a nosy receptionist and one hell of a phone system.

A funky fictional boutique publisher, that is, as our alert Ad Review staff instantly understood. Even when the intentionally ambiguous teasers first broke, we realized these were make-believe characters-and not necessarily because we are breathtakingly astute observers of the advertising scene. Had these Gramercy Press people been real, after all, they would have rejected our novel long ago.

So, no, we were not fooled. But we were intrigued by this creation of Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York, because it is advertising about the miracle of digital communication that is as good as the agency's last advertising about the miracle of digital communication was bad.

Only a few months ago, networkMCI was introduced with Anna Paquin, the child actress from New Zealand, spouting off incomprehensible cyberplatitudes about the coming of the information superhighway. The copy was abstract and philosophical and nobody had the slightest idea what she was talking about.

Now, thanks to Messner Vetere's compelling serial campaign, we are finding out. The digital age isn't some amorphous, distant fantasy. It isn't a bunch of technogibberish. It is something quite concrete: easy-access online databases, for example, and paperless direct marketing and multimedia conferencing and e-mail. And it is here, right now, for small businesses like Gramercy Press.

As ensemble dramas go, nobody will confuse these folks with "L.A. Law," but it is a reasonably interesting group of characters. Among them: the laid-back, enlightened young president; the slightly sleazy head of sales; the dyspeptic and technophobic senior editor; and a few others, introduced to us by the engaging, unaffected receptionist/narrator named Darlene.

"So, Ellen e-mails Peter that `The Cove of Aphrodite, Part 2' is ready," Darlene says in a spot that illustrates the virtues of electronic messaging. "Peter [whom we see sprawled on his bed at home, typing into a laptop] says Part 1 sold 810 copies; he'll have to think about it. Then Reggie e-mails Peter that Nicole St. Germain's agent will be in Friday. Peter immediately writes back that, uh, he doesn't feel he needs to come in Fridays anymore. Then Curtis `The Curt Man' Bruno e-mails me an offering of ... a personal nature. [We see on Darlene's computer monitor the sales manager's latest persistent attempt to secure a date with her, which, grinning, she quickly expunges.] I love that delete key."

All this, as in all 12 spots, to a simple, organ rendition of a song you eventually realize is, pointedly enough, "Don't Fence Me In."

This is simply ingenious advertising, incrementally involving us in the politics of an office we scarcely have reason to care about-all the while dramatizing the manifold, manifest benefits of networkMCI.

Like the serialized saga of that insufferable Taster's Choice couple, the continuing mundane goings-on at Gramercy Press will be irresistible. But unlike any ridiculously contrived mating dance over instant coffee, every bit of interaction here goes directly to the product.

It is impossible not to pay attention, and impossible not to be impressed. Ad Age Bulletin Board on Prodigy, or by Prodigy E-Mail at EFPB35A.

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