It's also a reunion of sorts for Wieden & Kennedy copywriter Jim Riswold and director Joe Pytka, who teamed on some of the most legendary Nike ads to come from the agency's Portland, Ore., office.
Messrs. Riswold and Pytka, who collaborated on Nike's famous "Bo Knows" campaign with football/baseball player Bo Jackson back in the '80s, haven't worked together for several years. But when Mr. Riswold and Wieden President Dan Wieden came up with a commercial they wanted to use in their pitch for the $125 million account, they turned to Mr. Pytka.
The result was three spots, all shot in one day, that Mr. Riswold said helped the agency win the business. They broke last week
on NBC's World Series broadcasts -- with no changes made by the client, it's worth noting -- and are the centerpiece of a seven-spot, all-Pytka TV campaign that positions the newly souped-up AltaVista as a font of interactive knowledge.
The ads star an attractive yet smug woman who keeps getting pulled over in her Porsche, whereupon she eludes tickets by overwhelming the poor cops with her clearly superior, Alta-Vista-acquired knowledge of the unreliability of radar guns -- and then rattles their cages even more by asking, "By the way, do you know that radar guns can cause testicular cancer?"
In addition to humorously illustrating AltaVista's expanded search capabilities, other spots in the campaign plug the company's new AltaVista Live! personal news and information portal and its Shopping.
com online shopping and buyer information service.
In an ad for the former, bombshell actress Pamela Anderson coos over an ordinary Joe named Steve who rescued her from a mud slide in his monster truck; apparently, Steve saw the AltaVista Live! news item on celebrities stranded in Malibu.
Budgeted at a whopping $100 million in advertising alone, the effort also represents a new beginning for Mr. Riswold. After two years as executive creative director of the Portland office -- and 15 years of working on Nike, during which time he may have won more awards than any other copywriter in the industry -- Mr. Riswold said he's relishing getting back to a hands-on creative role in his new post as CD on AltaVista.
"I realized this is what I like to do best," he said.
Mr. Riswold said the strategy that Wieden developed for the campaign is "all summed up in the tagline, 'Smart is beautiful.' " The line articulates the emphasis AltaVista is putting on giving users access to more information on the Web than any other search engine.
At a lavish Manhattan press event where the campaign was introduced last week, AltaVista President-CEO Rod Schrock cited a memorable scene in the film "Good Will Hunting" in which Matt Damon's character, a working-class genius, bests a snotty Harvard boy in a debate about economics, to illustrate the power of knowledge in people's daily lives.
The analogy rang true with agency Art Director Rob Palmer, who was co-creative director on some of the spots.
"In an intellectual bar fight," he said, "you want to be the last one standing."
The TV work is accompanied by an expansive print campaign built around riveting images, many culled from the archives of National Geographic. As with the TV spots, they're accompanied by graphics that resemble the on-screen fields used when searching the site.
In one, an exhausted physician sits next to a prone body in an emergency room; the ad reads, "Is there an afterlife?" Page ads with long copy -- several written by Mr. Riswold -- follow each visually arresting spread to explain in more detail what's new about AltaVista.
Regarding the TV part of the campaign, Mr. Riswold said the creative, which is relatively straightforward in its approach, represented a conscious effort to avoid the current trend of weirdness for weirdness' sake seen in so much dot-com advertising.
Mr. Palmer noted that one major difference between this advertising and ads for new dot-coms is that AltaVista already is an established Web brand with a loyal user base. The site was the eighth-most-visited Web site for the week of Oct. 17.
"We're not inventing anything here," Mr. Palmer said. "AltaVista is already known as a smart place to go to look for information."
From an executional standpoint, the choice of Mr. Pytka to direct the spots was part of the creative strategy, Mr. Riswold noted. "Because of all the odd stuff you see in so much dot-com advertising, it was clear to us who should do this. We just asked Joe to give us classic Joe."
The spots are shot with a wry tinge; the casting is diverse and realistic (especially in a spot where a round-faced pre-teen boy stumps chess grand master Garry Kasparov); the humor is easily accessible; and the music choices are inspired.
The AltaVista campaign has been accompanied by an apparently new willingness on the part of agency executives to comment on the work. Famously aloof for years, Mr. Riswold explained the change.
"The partners here have done a lot of soul searching," he said, "and we feel we