BENETTON, LEE TRY NEW IDEAS, BUT THEY END UP A BAD FIT

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Benetton and Lee. Two apparel advertisers with new TV campaigns. Two stylized and evocative approaches. Two sets of unspectacular results. And yet, in the end: one godsend and one profound disappointment.

The most striking of three new Benetton spots from Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif., features a severe-looking model with a tattooed upper body and crudely chopped hair, posing and dancing in an otherwordly infinity of white. She is wearing a plain satiny slip of a dress-indeed, it looks more like a slip than a dress-and looking very funky, very Warhol, very downtown. Then, in voice-over, we hear her thoughts:

"Your best dress. It's the one you want to wear-the one that makes you look good, the one that your mother really hates, the one you wish you had in six other colors, the one you sometimes think you love more than your boyfriend. But let's not get started on that one."

Let's not, because this adolescent sniveling is so very mundane, very Fox TV, very Sherman Oaks.

The juxtaposition between the West Village pictures and the West Valley words is not the only dissonant chord here. It's also odd to see a company that so self-righteously flaunted its respect for human values now so insipidly flouting them.

But that's OK. We're not complaining. We're delighted to see a nice, garden variety, shallow and affected fashion statement from Benetton. After all, the company hitherto had been notorious for its global campaign combining brand image with social protest. A dead soldier's bloody uniform in one spread. The family huddled over a freshly expired AIDS victim in another. A white wrist handcuffed to a black one. A priest kissing a nun.

We were supposed to credit Benetton for its bold and courageous and socially responsible denunciations of war, racism and disease (as if The Gap, for example, by merely showing hip people in cool clothing, were somehow to be deemed in favor of war, racism and disease). But Benetton's banal expressions of moral outrage were not bold, but transparent. Not courageous, but cowardly. Not socially responsible, but socially irresponsible-a cynical publicity gimmick contrived to horrify the many in order to sell pricey T-shirts to the few.

So, for these new spots, for this precious gift of unabashed superficiality, we are ever so grateful.

Would that we could say the same for the introductory spot for Lee Authentic Clothing from Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis. It's a vignette showing a taut young woman, in the midst of a nighttime interlude with her boyfriend, peeling off her new Lee Authentic Clothing and diving into a lake. The gimmick: The action is entirely in reverse motion.

Lee Apparel Co. and Fallon say they have intentionally departed from the style of their hilarious and pointed "The brand that fits" campaign, forsaking what is probably the best ongoing example of how advertising humor can cultivate a brand image while simultaneously dramatizing the brand benefit. Instead they're going for sultry atmosphere and sex appeal, but saying almost nothing about their line of clothing.

Saying nothing and showing nothing. The spot is so dark and the editing so oblique, you can barely see the garments being introduced.

Benetton's cinemaffectations are a welcome relief. But Lee's propel the ad, literally and figuratively, in the wrong direction.M

Ad Age Bulletin Board on Prodigy, or by Prodigy e-mail at EFPB35A.

Client: Benetton. Agency: Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif.

Ad Review Rating:(2 1/2 stars)

Client: Lee Apparel Co. Agency: Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis.

Ad Review Rating: (2 stars)

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