Miscues overshadow the singular triumphs

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Think back, for a moment, to Jimmy Carter. About 5 minutes into his presidency, he brokered the Camp David accords. Peace between Egypt and Israel!

Remarkable! Triumphant! Historic!

Then Bert Lance, the president's budget director, resigned in a financial scandal. Then came the disastrous "malaise speech," about the nation's supposed loss of moral courage. Then American hostages were seized in Iran. Next thing you knew, Carter was retired to pro bono carpentry.

The point being, if you do one thing right, and several other things wrong, catastrophe can await, such as defeat, humiliation and 12 years of the Republicans.

So, too, in advertising, where too many campaigns consist of one remarkable, triumphant, historic commercial that is overshadowed, or corrupted, or at least diluted, by several Bert Lances.

7 UP; Dr Pepper/Seven Up. Y&R Advertising, New York.

The idiotic "Are you an Un?" campaign has mercifully been euthanized, but eight of the nine spots in the new effort suggest meager progress. "Make 7 UP yours." Huh? What an awkward phrasing of an uninteresting proposition, and a lot of stupid jokes to go with it. (1 1/2 stars.) But wait. Then there's the remaining spot, stealing a gag from the film "Notting Hill."

One side of comic Orlando Jones' T-shirt says "Make 7." The other says "UP yours."

Oh, now we get it. Distasteful, yes, but it will make 14-year-old boys--i.e., the target market--laugh till their Pepsi comes spurting out of their noses. Since the strained and unfunny majority of the campaign clearly has been backed out of this one joke, they should just chuck the amateurish rest and stick with vulgar purity. (3 stars.)

Philips Electronics. Euro RSCG Worldwide, New York.

Here are two young women, watching a movie, weeping and a guy between them, unmoved. Where have we seen this before? Everywhere, friends. Everywhere. But then the guy starts to cry, too, because they're not at the movies but at home, watching a cooking show . . . on the Philips high-definition TV! And the TV chef is peeling onions! Oh, the hilarity!

Not only isn't the spot funny, but it is much too fanciful to sell the "lifelike picture" claim that spawned it. Kill it. (1 1/2 stars.)

On the other hand, a second spot shows a funky, downtown young couple looking for the perfect place in their apartment to put their ultra-flat Philips TV.

Words are useless to describe how the cha-cha music, acting, direction and editing come together in this spot, which is paid off by the couple in bed and the TV mounted on the ceiling. This is a small, brilliant gem. (3 1/2 stars.)

Jeep; DaimlerChrysler. FCB Worldwide, Southfield, Mich.

One spot, showing the hand of God creating Earth and all living things, is an impressive production with a wry, but predictable, final touch: a Jeep divinely placed atop a desert rock formation. Two more--one set in Tarzan's jungle and another in a supermarket cart jockey's mind's eye--are slight and forgettable. Ditch 'em. (2 1/2 stars.) Ah, but the fourth.

It begins with the Grim Reaper approaching a terrified hatchling, which he takes in his grizzled hand . . . and replaces gently in the nest. Eventually we see Death blissfully skipping stones, whistling and using his scythe as a golf club. Then, a question so trenchant it should be the centerpiece of the campaign for a decade: "Jeep. How will it change you?" Superb. (4 stars.)

Copyright September 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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