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Worst: Leo Burnett Co. for Nintendo. BEST REEL: FICTITIOUS GRAMERCY WHILE THERE WAS NO FOUR-STAR SPOT FOR '94, THERE'S NO EXCUSE FOR THE PUTTERMANS

By Published on .

Marketing news that made history in 1994: IBM consolidated $500 million in billings at Ogilvy & Mather. Anheuser-Busch canned D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles after 79 years. Burger King changed agencies for only the 796,434th time in the past decade.

And, most memorable of all, Gramercy Press got e-mail.

Yes, the high-impact company news of the year came from a company that doesn't really exist. The office politics, personalities and sexual dynamics of the publishing house were so cleverly dramatized by Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer, New York, for MCI Business, that many viewers didn't even realize the whole ensemble was make-believe.

Not only did the 3 1/2-star campaign thus draw people into its pitch for MCI's digital communications services, it's also a perfect point of departure for this year's AdReview Year-in-Review review, annually crafted to create the illusion we are busy in our office, while in fact we are in historic Mount Lebanon, Pa., trying desperately not to talk politics with our father-in-law.

The Gramercy Press campaign was the best we saw in a year of many outstanding TV spots, few great ones and a good number of embarrassments for all concerned. The mean AdReview rating was 2.66 stars (2.23 with wind chill), which, drawn as it is from a heavily managed sample, is as meaningless a statistic as ever. For what it's worth, however, it is 0.15 stars greater than the 1993 average rating, in turn down 0.17 stars from the year before.

Or, put another way, 1994 was the same as 1992, only with more Republicans.

AdReview saw not a single 4-star rating in 1994-the first time that has happened-but more than usual 3 1/2-star work. There were hilarious Pepsi spots ( BBDO Worldwide, New York) featuring Shaquille O'Neal on the playground and a visit to the Woodstock 25-year reunion; more special-effects wizardry from Miller Genuine Draft (Bates USA, New York); a clever look at the pedigree and value of the BMW 318i ( Mullen Advertising, Boston); an offbeat and funny spousal bargain for Smucker's ( Leo Burnett Co., Chicago); a one-image-tells-all print ad for Caffeinds coffee shop (Henderson Advertising, Atlanta); the usual hilarity from Nynex Yellow Pages (Chiat/Day, New York); extremely cute children from Kodak (J. Walter Thompson USA, New York) and Sears (Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago); and the most bizarre fishing expedition in TV commercial history for RC Cola ( GSD&M, Austin).

And more. Hollywood's Creative Artists Agency created an even better, more compelling and far more cohesive campaign for Coca-Cola than in its debut effort. Ikea ( Deutsch, New York) produced a gentle, amusing and pioneering lifestyle spot featuring two gay men and their very handsomely decorated apartment. Burger King (Ammirati & Puris/Lintas, New York) used quirky camera angles and a combined price/image sell to fashion its first unequivocally excellent campaign in years. And Wavy Lay's (BBDO, New York) won the Super Bowl of advertising with its latest iteration of the "betcha can't eat just one" joke, this one featuring former Vice President Dan Quayle.

Dan Quayle! Mr. Potatoe Head himself! It was a triumph of casting, facing Lay's with the challenge of finding another appropriate-but-remarkable pitchperson for the next event.

Madonna?

Another breakthrough spot, part of a so-so campaign, was "Diet Coke Break" featuring a bare-chested construction worker and three female office workers ogling him from afar. An unabashed exercise in reverse sexism, the spot from Lowe & Partners, New York, created a sensation-and a calendar-boy career for model/actor Lucky Vanous. What the spot, and the rest of the campaign, lacked was a logical positioning for Diet Coke. Like Mr. Vanous' checking account, this has since been adjusted for the better.

Adjustments also were attempted by three advertiser giants, all of whom have seen better times, and all of whom restaged themselves in 1994. Lintas Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich., touted its client's heritage and place in American culture with the handsome "Genuine Chevrolet" campaign, promising once and for all to deliver the stylish, dependable transportation value with which Chevy once was synonymous. D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, St. Louis, reintroduced the curvy bimbos Budweiser ostentatiously had sworn off, this in a last-ditch attempt to keep its client from bolting. It didn't work; DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago, got the business, reportedly for $4.45 per hour, plus tips.

Following the largest account consolidation in history, Ogilvy & Mather, New York, trotted out comic Paul Reiser to front for IBM personal computers. "Shouldn't you at least look at an IBM?" he pleads.

Um, why?

Reiser appears in the campaign in the form of a 2-D computer icon, which turned out to be only the second most bizarre use of sophisticated technology in a flawed campaign by Ogilvy in 1994. The prize goes to Duracell, which gave us the Puttermans. These remarkable characters are people fitted with prosthetic faces and polystyrene costumes making them appear to be lifesize plastic toys-the least amusing, most irritating life-size plastic toys you've ever seen.

At first, you can't take your eyes off of them. Then you can't stand to look at them.

Other unsightly work was turned out for Prudential Securities (Deutsch, New York), which paused from paying settlements to hoodwinked limited-partnership investors just long enough to feature CEO Wick Simmons in a shifty-eyed image spot.

The chief executive orator also showed up for Pepsi (BBDO, New York), as Craig Weatherup introduced freshness-dated soft drinks-actually inducing product-safety anxiety in a public that had never before given soda freshness a moment's thought.

For pure wrong-headedness, however, nothing quite matched the campaign from For Eyes optical (Beber Silverstein & Partners, Miami). In the spirit of the corporate Ben & Jerryism that has motivated the liberal-minded company since its humble beginnings, For Eyes combined earnest sociopolitical commentary with an ordinary sales pitch. Hence: grainy images of wretched homeless people superimposed with the finger-wagging message, "If you've become used to this, you need glasses"-followed (we're not making this up) by a shot of a pair of eyeglasses and the words "2 for $79."

Stop the killing. Bifocals extra.

Incredible. If they think each half of the commercial doesn't grotesquely undercut the other, they need glasses.

Yet this was not the worst AdReviewed spot of the year. That honor goes to Nintendo and Burnett who, in a desperate attempt to impress young videogame users, pandered shamelessly to kids' insecurities, resentments, frustrations and inchoate anger.

Encouraging children to ridicule and openly defy authority figures, one spot admonished them to "Hock a loogie at life." In so suggesting, these enlightened marketers were hocking a loogie at civility, decorum and common decency.

Unfortunately, unlike Gramercy Press, it was all too real.

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