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the product. Not Barilla pasta. Rating: *** DIRECTOR LYNCH SERVES UP BARILLA PASTA AD WITH TWIST

By Published on .

Celebrity advertising is too often a mere vanity. Hire a famous movie star or athlete to front for your product, and save yourself the trouble of contriving an idea. For, verily, in most cases the celebrity is used not in support of a sell ing message, but rather in place of a selling message.

Thus, by all rights, the TBWA de Plas, Paris, campaign for Barilla pastas, starring film star Gerard Depardieu, should be a spectacular disaster.

But it isn't.

Because there are two circumstances when celebrity advertising makes a great deal of sense. The first is when the famous face has a specific relationship to the brand, such as Michael Jordan for Nike basketball shoes. The other circumstance, harder to come by, is when the celebrity's image, personality and meaning to the public can be made to coincide with the image, personality and meaning of the advertised product.

Such is the case with the Barilla campaign. Beginning with the 1992 spot directed by Ridley Scott, and carried through in a new spot directed by David Lynch, Depardieu's presence somehow imbues the brand with his own brand of sex appeal, romance and coarse charm.

We last left Depardieu in a Roman villa, where his quietude was disturbed by a quarreling couple, whom he temporarily calmed by lovingly, preparing the lady a meal of Barilla spaghetti. The quiet restored, Depardieu resumed his reading-only to have the young boyfriend ask, accusingly, "Who's the guy?," whereupon the quarrel, and Depardieu's annoyance, began anew.

Absurd as was the scenario, viewers were seduced by the storyline about two heros: a film star and a box of imported spaghetti. Not that anyone believed Barilla is the pasta for lovers. But they were quick to connect the brand with Depardieu, and quicker to remember the Barilla name.

The new spot is equally improbable, only this time director Lynch-as is his wont-purposely emphasizes the absurdity with his cinematic style of hyperbolic earnestness. The new scenario places Depardieu at a cafe, where he sees a little girl fall off her bike. He runs into the kitchen, finds the Barilla bow-tie pasta, and gives her the full Gerard treatment. He resumes his seat- only to see another bike mishap, this time with a beautiful 20-year-old.

The spot lacks the charm and surprise of the Scott effort, but nonetheless institutionalizes the idea of Barilla in connection with romantic, epicurean interludes. It also suggests that Depardieu is an endorser who stands behind his product. All the visual evidence is he's been taking his compensation in pasta. And in that sense, the connection between product and celebrity, has indeed sublimely converged.

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