Garfield's AdReview

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It's Degeneres. It's DeNiro. It's de-lovely.

But is it da advertising?

Ogilvy & Mather, New York, has crafted two wonderful 60-second films (the :30s don't work at all) for American Express and each is irresistible. DeNiro's is a lyrical paean to New York, the city of his heart, directed tenderly by Martin Scorsese. The other is about comedian Ellen Degeneres dancing-in various steps to various genres-like a happy fool. It's buoyant, funny, charming and simply delightful from the very first frame.

Don't bother looking for product benefits, or even attributes. This is what the financial crowd might term "a pure celebrity play." It could be called the "You Do Know Me" campaign, existing solely to transfer our affections for Degeneres, DeNiro, Scorsese and the living, breathing Gotham to the advertiser.

Let's start with Scorsese's piece, so gritty, so elegiac, so exquisite.

"My oldest friend," DeNiro says, over unsentimental documentary images of people and neighborhoods, landmarks and skylines, his very own Tribeca Film Festival venue and the barren World Trade Center site. "My first love. My east. My Far East. My west wide. My private side. My heartbreak. My heartbeat. My life happens here. My card is American Express."

Wait..."my card?" Kind of a non sequitur, no? After such a magnificent lead-up, what kind of raging bullshit is that? Still, we're inclined to give everyone the benefit of the doubt here. This campaign-called "My life. My card"-seeks to demonstrate how something integral to celebrities' lives can also be integral to yours. And it's easy enough to see how an AmEx card is as much a part of New York living as blaring taxicab horns, a subway farecard and an overcoat collar upturned against winter's chill.

The Degeneres spot is a different matter.

She's a marvelous comic and talk-show host well known for her casual attire, whiter-than-white teeth and surprising inner funk. This she displays while dancing to her clock radio, a stray mobile ring tone, passing car stereo, elevator music, etc., in steps ranging from robotic to a Steve Martin-esque "happy feet." It's a hoot. So, yeah, we love Ellen, and we'd credit her preferences on a whole range of things, including but not limited to sneakers, toothpaste and media.

But her AmEx card? Dancing/celebrity/consumer credit-these just don't connect. Yes, Ellen is beloved by the middle-class women this advertiser so covets-but that's because she's loveable. A credit card cannot be loveable. This is interest that cannot be borrowed. The only actual brand presence comes in the last three seconds, with her perfunctory, "My life is about dancing to my own tune. My American Express card always backs me up."

Oh, please. How labored can you get?

Presumably these first two spots are the leading edge of a long campaign pasting famous faces onto the Green Card's surface, which over time will paper over the strategy's fundamental emptiness and irrationality. In other words, as Cole Porter put it, "It soon is plain. You've won my heart and I've lost my brain. It's delightful, it's delicious. It's delovely."

But, for the time being, it's mainly just decoupage.

American Express

Ogilvy & Mather, New York

Ad Review Rating: 2.5 stars

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