Garfield's AdReview

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One fabulous thing about the Online Media Marketing and Advertising Awards is that you don't have to fly to France to see them. They're held right in New York City, where maybe the beaches leave something to be desired, but at least the waiters don't hate you.

Plus, it's only a two-block walk to the WWF Smackdown Restaurant. And the atmosphere is better-a sort of "Isn't it cool to watch this industry develop before our very eyes?" vibe, vs. "I am too cool for your pitiful eyes."

Maybe the humility and sense of wonder won't last; these people are about five minutes from taking over the world. But it's refreshing-especially considering the fact that many of the entries were pretty damn cool in their own right, and the winner simply wonderful.

That's simply wonderful. Not complexly wonderful. Not extravagantly wonderful. Just simply, strongly, inexpensively, amusingly, strategically unassailably wonderful.

The grand prize went to the relaunch of Napster online music service, from Venables, Bell & Partners, San Francisco, and Mediasmith. It's a decidedly primitive but extremely witty and engaging flash-animation serial announcing Napster's transition from law-flouting international file-sharing conspiracy to legitimate downloading service.

Which is to say, an awkward sell.

After all, the target audience is the universe of young people who for so long gleefully ripped off The Man-i.e., record companies-by trading digital music files among one another free of charge. Not only is Napster now asking these kids to pay for downloads (which are still available free via other channels of dubious legality), it can scarcely position itself as renegade-turned-sellout. The solution: fanciful storytelling that slyly clings to its outlaw image.

So a series of episodes begins with Napster's cat leaving jail. He does not leave through the gate, having paid his debt to society. He busts out, shinnying down a rope to freedom. But, like Napster music files themselves, he's no longer exactly free. Just at large.

Also intermittently hilarious.

In prison, this cat's only belongings are a toothbrush, a set of headphones and "Soul on Ice." The only thing he takes with him are the headphones.

Next he wanders into chaotic music-industry negotiations featuring chair-throwing, arm-severing violence. From this he emerges, somehow, with a legal contract. Later, he takes on the persona of various music genres, notably hip-hop. In another wry detail, mimicking an MTV video, the bling-bling dangles from his neck but a brand logo on his shirt is pixilated away.

Unlike much of the rich media that passes for online creativity, these ads don't overtake your screen and grab your attention by force. Instead, they rely on wit and storytelling to seduce you, suck you in and cultivate whatever dormant seed of Napster affection is still buried within you.

And they do so, of course, in the very e-alleys where Napster cats prowl. So is there a more worthy grand prix? Not that we could think of. Or, as the French like to say...

Bob Garfield's book, "And Now, a Few Words from Me" is now out in paperback from McGraw-Hill.


Venables, Bell & Partners, San Francisco

Ad Review Rating 3.5 stars

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