Polaroid ads show flash of brilliance

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Friday, January 12, 1996

Advertiser: U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism
Agency: Lowe & Partners/SMS, New York
Rating: 3 stars (out of 4)

WASHINGTON--Little known fact: The Ad Review staff lives here. We prefer it that way, for not only is the nation's capital situated far from the rough and tumble of Madison Avenue, it is also convenient to the American Pork Producers Association.

Or, as you may know it, Congress.

Anyway, with our fair city buried under a frosty blanket of both white water and White-water, the staff's thoughts have drifted toward more hospitable climes--prodded by seasonal visitors-bureau ads trying to lure us southward. Among them: the U.S. Virgin Islands, where the staff happened to repair last year and where we have a more than passing interest in the tourism campaign.

It happens that last January our hosts solicited our opinion on how the USVI might differentiate itself from other Caribbean destinations. Though we seldom presume to prescribe ad strategies--it's far more rewarding to scoff at the hard work of others--we didn't want to be rude. And, besides, the answer was obvious.

St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix are genuine tropical paradises, with all the white sands and blue waters of their competitors. But as U.S. territories, they are also assuringly familiar: same language, same currency, same political stability, etc. So, for the wary traveler seeking relaxation and a touch of adventure, the USVI is just exotic enough. Foreign and familiar: the best of both worlds.

Now comes the new USVI campaign from Lowe & Partners/SMS, New York, and all we can say is ... good thinking! Themed "They're your islands," the campaign features actor Olric Carrington describing, in a singsongy calypso lilt, the multiple splendors of Virgin territories. One spot speaks of the three islands' distinct personalities. One (the wordiest, least lyrical and by far worst of the three) is a brand-benefit checklist capped by a gratuitous slur against New Jersey. And the third emphasizes the English-spoken-here, passport-free familiarity of our Caribbean--the strategic fulcrum more or less just as we prescribed, fleshed out in what is for the most part a very appealing way.

Dark-skinned and white-bearded, Carrington is a cheerful and charming advocate for the enchanting sights and sounds, colors and rhythms, tastes and textures of island life. Indeed, he may be a bit too cheerful. Not only is his accent occasionally impenetrable, there's something slightly disturbing about his persona. One part Geoffrey ("Ahhh, the Uncola nut!") Holder and one part Uncle Remus, he recalls a certain portrait of black quiescence--as in, "Come to the Virgin Islands. See our happy-go-lucky Negroes!"

No such stereotyping was intended, we're sure, but let's just say it goes to the edge. Meantime, though, the vivid photography and canny cutting portray the islands as having it all: unspoiled beaches and quaint sights right alongside exciting shopping and nightlife. (Provided your hotel of choice is still standing, which, in the wake of Hurricane Marilyn, it quite possibly isn't.)

For those fleeing the East Coast, Lowe's campaign can't help but entice--though for some storm-weary travelers, the Caribbean isn't quite distant enough.

With snow, litigation and certain documents precipitating the way they are, for instance, President Clinton is headed for Bosnia.

E-mail Bob Garfield at EFPB35A@prodigy.com.

Copyright January 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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