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The AdCritic

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The holiday commercials are in full swing, and -- surprisingly -- some of them are pretty good. Here's my take on some notable new campaigns. (Just click on the titles to view the spots.) And, if you agree or disagree with anything you read, please feel free to e-mail me. The address is shatfield@crain.com.

Outstanding
Good
Does a job
Wallpaper
Dreadful

Kia: Date

So, there's probably not so much to say about the Kia Rio other than it's under $9,000. Given that (and how the car looks), we should be grateful for any advertising that tries humor, and a little creative ambition, and doesn't just scream: Buy this, it's cheap! It's nicely, amusingly shot by the Joe Public team, but we are simply not going to take enough out of the spot about Kia and the Rio. And there is a problem. The guy and the girl he goes to pick up are just not credible as less than $9,000 car consumers. They are too groomed, too cool, too "advertising" to be Kia drivers. And just check out her house. A Mini or a Beetle yes, but a Rio?

Amazon.com: Twelve Days, Mrs. Santa Claus and Winter Wonderland

This year really is Amazon's chance to own the holiday season. The tough economy, the continuing reluctance to travel and take any risks, even the early harsh winter storms, all make shopping online that much more attractive. Throw in the free shipping over $25 offer and the fact that Amazon is about so much more than books now, and you have a potentially winning confluence of events. What's more, Wieden + Kennedy may be on to a winning campaign too. Nothing too dramatic, nothing pretentious. Just simple product demos in reverse, meaning three understated commercials depicting the horrors of not shopping online. Joe Pytka and Larry Frey direct with admirable restraint. It's a campaign that looks like it will get better and better.

Heineken: Holiday Party

Proof that a holiday commercial need not be saccharine goo. Will a thousand other advertisers please take note. When did we last see a holiday ad from a mainstream brand that played on the scandals of the year? Refreshing on many levels, not least that it's Tony Kaye behind the camera directing a commercial with real bite again. There's surely a lot of mileage to be had out of the Enron and other corporate scandals, and D'Arcy and Kaye have a lot of fun with the idea of the scared executives shredding so desperately that they create a snowstorm. Downstairs, the good corporate citizens are enjoying their seasonal cheer. "Let It Snow" is used to perfection as the soundtrack. The net effect is to reinforce Heineken's mainstream but cool positioning.

PlayStation 2: Signs

As you might expect, there is a blizzard of Playstation 2 and PS2 games-related commercials around at the moment, and just as predictably this makes it a struggle for any one commercial to break through the clutter. This spot, courtesy of TBWA/Chiat/Day and director Dante Ariola, manages to do just that. Rare is the commercial that demands you watch it again to see if you are missing anything, and then holds your attention on repeat viewing. Fantasy and reality merge as a man races to stop a small girl from being crushed by falling masonry. True, Ariola makes liberal use of cliché'd horror devices (red balloon, nursery rhyme, devil dog, crazy man ranting and gargoyle), but they are all put together to powerful effect. Thoroughly watchable, and PlayStation cool.

ComEd: Factory

Heineken, Sony and Amazon all have specific products to sell over the holidays. Not so with a utilities company like ComEd. We are going to use it electricity whether we want to or not, and there's not a commercial in the world for a power supplier that will ever get you to buy a glowing plastic snowman. That's either your Christmas schtick or it isn't. So, in these kind of spots (a corporate ad makes it sound more pretentious than it is), the aim is for feel-good factor. And this is achieved charmingly by having the workers at the glowing plastic snowman factory, sing "Winter Wonderland" on the production line. There are a few visual conceits that makes it feel like a young director's breakthrough spot. I'm not sure if that is the case, but it's a quiet smile either way, and the large woman who sings last is destined for stardom!

(Stefano Hatfield is the editorial director of AdAge Global, Creativity and AdCritic.com.)

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