UBS SPOT WANDERS ROAD LESS TRAVELED;BOB GARFIELD'S AD REVIEW

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Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler...

This message is brought to you (in its entirety) by the Union Bank of Switzerland.

Truly. Robert Frost's most famous poem, dramatically read by English actor Alan Bates, has been invoked by the financial services industry. A spare, economical, stirring :60 spot from Advico Young & Rubicam Europe, Zurich, shows no action but Bates reciting Frost's immortal words.

And that isn't all. Another Union Bank spot has Bates reading "Invictus" by W.E. Henley. Two others feature Sir John Gielgud doing Tennyson and Shakespeare. Is that Ben Kingsley reciting "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley? It is!

Each spot begins with a super that reads, simply, "Thoughts that transcend time from the Union Bank of Switzerland," and then it's one of three greats of the English stage and screen performing famous-name literature in space usually reserved for quick-cut video, short-form comedy and great legs in spike heels.

The tagline: "Here today. Here tomorrow."

Through both the particulars of the texts and the works' general immortality, Union Bank seeks to convey timelessness, permanence, stability-and indeed these are some of the things the campaign does convey. There is also, of course, the reflected urbanity attendant to any highbrow work of art presented in an English accent, which, for whatever reason, is widely seen to confer authority and distinction. (Has nobody seen Sunday Sport, or "Benny Hill," or Fergie?)

But to reflect on the bank's bedrock character and enduring elegance is just one response to this kind of, if you please, borrowed interest. The other response is what you might call the ad verse reaction, which bristles at the presumption and pretension of co-opting great literature for something so mundane, mercenary and-let's face it-soulless as the banking business.

Never mind what previous advertrocities have been committed against Verdi, Beethoven and the Mona Lisa. There are people who have not gotten over Nike using the Beatles' "Revolution"; and to many the commercialization of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, et al, will be simply beyond the pale.

On the other hand, these productions take meticulous care to honor the art without bastardizing it. Frost's work may have been appropriated, but at least it hasn't been crassly and cheaply excerpted, or worse yet, fiddled with. More to the point, is the appropriation-or even the misappropriation-of art a greater crime against our sensibilities than what most advertising commits all the time? Consider what else we see in the banking category alone, to say nothing of the shrill and bombastic and dishonest and insipid fare of other commercials.

In terms of civility, thoughtfulness and aesthetic, you need not peer to where the road is bent. A minute of Robert Frost is certainly the road less traveled, and that alone makes all the difference.

The rating system uses four stars to represent excellent, three for notable, two for mediocre and one for pathetic.

Advertising Age International welcomes submissions for review, particularly new TV campaigns. Send 3/4- or 1/2-inch NTSC-format videotapes to Bob Garfield, Advertising Age International, 814 National Press Building, Washington, D.C. 20045-1801, USA.

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