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Rating: *** ADS AIM TO POLISH UP GOLDEN STATE'S IMAGE

By Published on .

Good news for the California Division of Tourism! As of this writing, frogs have not yet rained from the sky.

Though it's probably just a matter of time.

God has certainly visited every other scourge on the state: fire, rain, mud, earth quakes, recession, civil insurrection, fruit fly pestilence, Herbalife, Shannen Doherty. The Golden State is hard-pressed to keep its own residents from fleeing, much less attract visitors from the outside.

Gone are the days when balmy temperatures and cultural cachet enabled prospective tourists to ignore the few nagging negatives, such as smog and Californians. Now it's more or less the Nagging Negatives State, so devastated by natural and social upheaval that it can't even summon up a credible slogan. At this stage, what is there pithily to say? "Visit Sunny California! Especially if You're with the Federal Emergency Management Agency." It's a problem. Particularly when the stakes are $53 billion in revenue.

It was therefore incumbent on J. Walter Thompson USA, San Francisco, in fashioning the new California tourism TV campaign, to ignore all the unpleasantness and relentlessly accentuate the positive. Which it did in a pair of lively spots that somehow manage not to seem either pitifully disingenuous or grimly ironic.

"Please press 1 for California family fun trips," says a female voice-over, as a mortised image of a telephone keypad is joined, successively, by embedded shots of Universal Studios, Shamu the killer whale, the Hollywood sign, Disneyland, the beach, cable cars, etc. The music is a bassy electric guitar and percussion combo playing a 60sish hybrid of "Secret Agent Man" and "The Munsters" theme.

"Press 2 for nature outings," the lady says, accompanied by your basic breathtaking natural wonder shots, all in vivid relief against a black background. Then a male voice-over kicks in:

"Whatever vacation you're pushing for, call 1 (800) GO-CALIF and we'll fax or mail you free vacation tips today. Act now, while California weather is nice-like that's unusual here."

He's right. Today's forecast: clear skies, temperatures in the upper 70s, earth opening up toward morning.

The fact is, nothing JWT could trot out would be capable of rendering completely inconspicuous the great unmentionables of California misfortune. But this gleaming video brochure-and a second one focusing on romance and sports-nonetheless remind viewers that cornucopious splendors still enrich the state as disproportionately as tragedy has robbed it. It's hard not to be struck by the sheer bounty of potential pleasures.

Credit there goes to art director David Bigman and copywriter Perrin Lam, who not only infused the spots with energy and excitement, but also prudently excluded footage of the Reginald Denny beating.

We can never know what caused God to exact so horrible a vengeance (unless possibly it was two seasons of Darryl Strawberry), but do know that the Lord works in mysterious ways. For instance, some tourists will travel to California to see devastation and ruins. Plus maybe Yosemite. Interested?

Dial 1 (800) NO-FROGS.

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