The AdCritic

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OK, it's supposed not to be cool to say this today, but I love ads and advertising. It's bizarre to me when people work in and around the business and they don't. How can you spend your life involved in something you don't care for, or -- worse -- actually despise?

So the new AdCritic.com website is a personal nightmare. I am hopelessly addicted. I can't stop watching the commercials, good, bad or indifferent -- and remember we don't claim to be the universal register. We are only putting up the better, or at least more interesting, stuff.

The volume of work out there is stunning. This, despite the recession, and -- as I wrote -- the fact that we are not putting up everything we receive. (And, no, you can NOT pay to have the work up. We choose.) Gradually, as word spreads, we will also internationalize the selection too. It's clear that at the top end the business is a global one with London-based directors shooting Levi's etc. here in the US and New York-based directors filming BT and others in the UK on a daily basis.

But the site is called "AdCritic", and the idea is to provide a little context at least in which to view the spots. I know viewers are not the beneficiaries of this context, but this is an industry site. Maybe you won't agree with everything I write week in, week out. So, write in and tell us (see e-mail address at the bottom of this column). We want AdCritic.com to be THE forum for debate about the work.

So, here are just 10 of the many significant new campaigns we have broken in AdCritic's first few weeks.

Outstanding
Good
Does a job
Wallpaper
Dreadful

Nike Presto: Angry Chicken etc.

The freshest campaign of the year to date. The Traktor collective remind us of just what they are capable of in a series of outlandish commercials featuring the French acrobatic troupe, Le Parkour. The partial disconnect between the voiceover, both in French and the English translation, plus the eye-catching direction allow the spots to bear repeated viewing. The secret to the advertising's continual success is the freedom that Nike allows Wieden + Kennedy and its directors. Following on from last year's outstanding "Tag" and "Shade Running" the idea of "play" enables Nike's advertising to leapfrog the strait-jacket of professional sport and sports clebrity endorsers to create something unlike anything else on television. Yet again. It's proof that wackiness -- when applied to an appropriate strategy -- is not so dead after all. Kudos all round.

Tango (UK): Juice Bed and Magnet

Inheriting an iconic brand is a double-edged sword. On the one hand you also inherit a client with a history of buying outstanding work, on the other, your work will always be compared to the stuff that went before. HHCL & Partners' Tango campaign changed British advertising. It was the seminal campaign in a shift away from epic, glossy mini-film productions to a more rough and ready, jerky, abstract style. It was very rooted in a strategy though, "the orange (or lemon, or black currant) hit". That strategy appears to have been retained along with the famous "you know when you've been Tango'd" endline. Tango's new agency, the super-hot London start-up Clemmow Hornby Inge, does not appear at all intimidated by the task. Both "Magnet" and, in particular. "Juice Bed" are laugh-out-loud spots entirely unlike anything else on television. If anything. the Noam Murro-directed executions are a little slicker and less manic than the old campaign. And, retaining a strategy that works is hardly a negative. All in all, a very promising first campaign.

Adidas: Legs and Slugs

The first campaign out of TBWA/Chiat/Day since its partnership with Amsterdam's 180 won the global Adidas business once again proves how difficult it is in this sector to find a voice that isn't Nike. The sheer range of Nike's advertising messages, and the weight of its media spend, block off many potential strategic routes for its rivals. In these spots Adidas goes for the performance angle. In "Slugs", the deft hand of Frank Budgen creates a light-hearted and beguiling spot that leaves the viewer with a quiet smile. David Fincher's robotic "Legs" is a cleverly crafted novel take on the product demo. It's classic Fincher: amazing craftsmanship, but with little emotional appeal. You cannot help but admire the technical virtuosity of both spots, but there's still somewhat of a leap to the endline "More Power to You". They're good, they're different, but are they great?

Levi's: French Dictionary and Atlas Bakery

The first Levi's work in the U.S. from the jeans giant's long-time European agency, Bartle Bogle Hegarty. This is perhaps as highly-anticipated as any advertising this year. It's clear that Levi's is trying to reappropriate a modicum of cool after veering off into comedy with its previous campaigns. The two stories feature dark and interesting European types, although the action is clearly set in underground urban environments. The music, the models, the lighting, the use of old cars -- it's all cool. They even speak French in the "Dictionary" spot for God's sake! But the spots fall short of making the hairs stand up on the back of your arm. Maybe, because they are slightly convoluted tales, and they contain a few obvious shots -- such as the dictionary jammed into the back of the low-rise jeans. All in all, it will be interesting to see if advertising can overcome Levi's image problem when they are hawking the jeans for $5 in and around New York's Canal St! So, where do we go from here?

Good Life Fitness (Canada): Washboard

OK, this doesn't have the same degree of difficulty as some of the other spots we have featured, but there's always room for a nifty idea. This was a spec spot that director Michael Downing and the redoubtable Radke Films managed to get on air for a Toronto gym (I know, I know) through McLaren McCann. It is clearly made with no money at all, but has a sweet idea. It's a surprise when the woman washes her clothes with her abs, and a very welcome change from some of the other gym advertising around. It cut through the clutter, and for that alone, it makes this selection.

T-Mobile: Anthem, Czech, Language and Post Office

Catherine Zeta-Jones is unquestionably a step-up from Jamie Lee Curtis as VoiceStream tackles the challenge of changing its name to T-Mobile (hands-up who thinks it's an improvement?). It's not that Jamie Lee did a bad job at all. It's more a case of what else does she do these days? Zeta Jones is both a) very much a hot name now, and b) not your run of the mill, over-exposed celebrity endorser. The danger, of course, is that the endorser comes to dominate the brand, as in "have you seen those Jamie Lee Curtis cell-phone ads"? And, this series of ads strays perilously close to that territory. It's true that director Tarsem extracts a value-for-money Zeta-Jones performance, but the plotlines may prove a little too flimsy or far-fetched to have us retain anything other than the memory of an actress with undoubted star quality. Isn't Tarsem a little wasted here? Having said that, having her interrupt the mini-scenarios is an interesting device, even if the plots are implausible. They could be a lot worse.

Verizon Wireless: Ferret and Sit Down

The Bozell/New York revival continues. South African Tony Granger really is starting to turn around the previously invisible creative department. It started with the print (witness the agency's performance at Cannes), and now he is getting to grips with some of the larger television clients. Although, these two spots are not Cannes Lion winners, they are a big improvement on the previous standard. "Can you hear me now?" is fast becoming part of the American cultural vernacular. And although these ads are essentially product demos of the unique advantages of text-messaging, the line makes an appearance at the end to tie the spots to Verizon's brand message of coverage.

Hummer: Glacier

A nice enough looking spot that is actually as good a travelogue for the country of Iceland as an adventure vacation destination as it is for the Hummer. It's relatively standard rough, tough SUV advertising, but the beauty of the locations and the unique look of the Hummer itself set the commercial apart -- just a little. But the viewer is left aware this is ultimately a GM shoot. You can see the hand of the client in some of the many product shots. Subtle it isn't. But there is a bigger challenge here. The spot will need some real weight of advertising spend behind it if it is to move the Hummer's image out of the urban action ghetto into which it has been cornered by Hollywood.

Kmart: Vaughn etc.

It's difficult to take the advertising seriously when the financial woes of the company have been plastered all over the media on a daily basis. However, K-Mart is the latest in a line of once-dull retail advertisers (step forward Sears and JC Penney) that is trying to liven up a one-time graveyard of a category. These endearing spots advertising the Joe Boxer underwear range will not on their own shift perceptions of the K-Mart brand, but if the lighter touch can be carried forward into whatever new campaign is coming down the pipeline, then it might make a difference.

USA Freedom Corps: Angie etc.

Angie Harmon, John Glenn, Bob Dole and Mariano Rivera star in this sweet-enough campaign for the USA Freedom Corps. There's a quiet smile to be had at the celebrity recognition in each of the trio, with the "Angie" spot perhaps the funniest. There is nothing really bad about any of the spots. The trouble is we are now in the territory of September 11-related advertising fatigue. President Bush's "when you help your neighbors, you help your nation" line blurs with all the other recent entreaties to which we have been subjected, and we are left none too much the wiser about why exactly we should get excited about the Freedom Corps. It didn't help matters much when Bush wondered aloud at the conference over whether Rivera was a U.S. citizen or not, ensuring that's what would grab headlines the next day. It's food for thought, given that we are about to be subjected to a plethora of upcoming first anniversary campaigns.

(Stefano Hatfield is the editorial director of Creativity and AdCritic.com. You can have your say by emailing him at shatfield@crain.com.)

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