BOB GARFIELD'S AD REVIEW;DIET COKE OPTS FOR SINGING OVER SELLING

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Fire eaters and marching bands. Bellhops and greasers. Lots of Generation Xers being young and attractive. Plus, of course, the usual irresistible jingle. As these SweetCam montages go, the new Diet Coke campaign from Lowe & Partners/SMS, New York, is certainly top drawer.

It's all so bright, vivid, quirky and energetic. These spots are bursting with life and cinematographic interest, with each frame a discrete study in (mostly primary) color and composition. And still the syncopated whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In fact, if you listen real hard, you'll even find the strategy.

Just for the thrill of it.

Just for the chill of it.

Just for the taste of it.

Just for the feel of it.

The pure appeal of it.

This is the place for it.

Di-i-et Coke.

This is the best of it, forget the rest of it.

Just for the taste of it. Diet Coke.

Got it? A taste-driven brand message, aimed younger than the brand has aimed before. But here's a conundrum: if a brand message falls in a jingle, and nobody is paying enough attention to register it, does it make a noise?

There's no faulting the Coca-Cola Co.-or, as we've come to think of it, "The Coca-Cola Co. Starring Sergio Zyman"-for skewing its Diet Coke message down in age. But where is it written that speaking to the MTV generation demands pictograms? While the use of rapid-cutting and funky camera tricks, lighting and editing is reasonable enough as far as it goes, who says that's as far as you dare go?

When did "under-30" become synonymous with "non-verbal"? If you're trying to speak to people ages 18 to 29, where is the harm in actually speaking?

Not singing. Speaking.

As it is, the most compelling single moment of the jingle is an odd little laugh-not quite a chuckle, more like a guttural "hyuk"-just before the last mention of Diet Coke. Yet, if we are to take his public statements at face value, Zyman expects viewers to get past the hyuk and somehow miraculously divine the brand's universality, authenticity, personality, Cokeness, non-Cokeness and special place in everyday life. How much easier a time we'd have if the ads would state those propositions outright. While Lowe has turned out a handsome and buoyant campaign, we continue to await soft-drink advertising that isn't afraid to make its case. Instead of hoping an entire generation of soft-drink consumers will agonize over every jinglified second as if it were the Rosetta Stone, the marketer might have considered actually talking-i.e., not lyricizing-about taste. Copy. Persuasion. Ideas. Selling.

As opposed to wrapping paper.

Volkswagen, for instance, is looking more or less at the same marketplace with no reticence whatsoever about articulating, repeatedly and verbally articulating, the VW driving experience. The Janus mutual funds are on the air right now with a campaign no less hip, youthful and visually arresting than Diet Coke's, yet one that talks, talks, talks about investment strategy.

Compared to cars and investments, soft drinks may not suggest much to say. But because nobody ever bothers-outside of jingle lyrics and jargon-filled press handouts-to verbalize the characteristics and benefits of Diet Coke, everything that can be said remains to be said.

Someday, somebody ought to give that a try.

Hyuk, just for the hell of it.

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