Does a job
Sir Martin Sorrell must be a happy man. Landing the Coca-Cola business has long been one of his quieter ambitions, and here is his fledgling Red Cell network creating Coke Classic's most significant campaign in years, even though it's not the brand's "official" agency. Since AdCritic.com reported the details about them last year, these spots have become the industry's most eagerly anticipated. The ink spilt on them this past week scarcely scratches the surface of the promises, broken promises, celebrity stand-offs, director switches, ego tussles and money matters that have consumed all those involved and many more, both bold-faced names and otherwise. It would not be a surprise therefore, if the result was a bland mess, shorn of what spirit it had by too many cooks. I am happy to say it's not -- well, not all of it.
A pneumatic Penelope Cruz guzzling a Coke in one go and then belching; Courteney Cox sparring her way through a "domestic" with David Arquette as she prepares him a Coke that she really wants for herself. They at least make more use of the elusive quality "celebrity personality" than the legion of other celebrity ads out there. I am sure that there is truth in the rumors of tensions on set in some of the spots, but the public won't care. The public will love these spots. Whether they will love the others too is more debatable. We are not supposed to love each spot, because Coke is breaking down its targeting far more than in previous efforts. Whether I am in the target market or not, the long version of the Mya and Common duet is simply too long. The other ads in this first batch are actually reminiscent of another major ad campaign composed of real-life vignettes, Budweiser's "True" campaign. They are an interesting beginning -- particularly when we remember "Real" is about more than just television spots. Let's hope Coca-Cola allows these enough time, and weight of spend, to give them a chance to make a difference. I'm actually looking forward to the next batch!
It's impossible to divorce this review from the knowledge that Nextel has already launched a review of its advertising arrangements (it's currently with Mullen). It's also hard to see this batch of celebrities -- Rob Lowe, Kristin Davis, Eric McCormack, George Lopez -- as anything other than a little B-list (although Lowe and Davis are certainly among the better television celeb names) compared to the Coke all-stars. Then there are the executions themselves. The split screen idea is certainly novel. The top half depicts a scenario using a cellphone, while the bottom shows the same scenario handled with a Nextel walkie-talkie. The trouble is that the juxtaposition is entirely loaded in the bottom half's favor, which means the top distracts from the success story of the bottom rather than enhancing it. I'm also not sure if I was a consumer that I would know whether or not Nextel was a cellphone provider (in which case, do its cellphones not work?), nor what two-way walkie-talkies really are. This is a campaign that leaves us with many questions.
More celebrities, this time used to entertaining effect. The Houston Rockets center Yao Ming and Verne "Mini-Me" Troyer introduce Apple's latest PowerBooks. The products are a new 17-inch screen laptop, and a second notebook that is only 12-inches. We know this from the "Cosmos" commercial, which tells us this and little else. "Big & Small," on the other hand, uses the physically contrasting celebrities to good effect, and is all the better for the understated direction from Kinka Usher. My small gripe about the ridiculous speed with which both machines start-up is nothing compared to the obviously big future Yao Ming has in commercials.
Just when you think you've seen everything, up pops cult author Kurt Vonnegut for a cameo appearance in one of two spots for the unusual-looking Nissan Murano. They are both directed tidily with a lovely soundtrack, but they lack a real reward. Actually, take that back, the antiques spot -- in which a man gets sidelined by a jukebox that plays Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" but doesn't buy it -- lacks a real reward. The shot of Vonnegut signing a copy of Slaughterhouse Five in a small bookshop is reward enough, even if it has little to do with the Murano. He appears just shocked as we are that he is in the ad, or any ad at all, for that matter.
Goodby, Silverstein and Noam Murro, the agency and director combination that brought us last year's spot of the year -- "Sheet Metal" -- reunite for this year's launch of the Saturn Ion. This time out, they give us a beautiful dreamy scenario, elegantly punctuated by editor Avi Oren, in which a carful of twentysomethings revisit childhood in their new car. So beguiling are both the images laid before us and the soundtrack, The Walkmen's "We've Been Had", that when the inevitable selling message arrives it is like being awoken from a reverie. It's a real winner until then. However, "Specifically designed and engineered for whatever's next" is a touch clumsy, and the inclusion of signs that state "Now Leaving Childhood" and "Old Age Ahead" over-egg the point, but it will stand out on television. Good, but not quite great.
(Stefano Hatfield is contributing editor to Advertising Age and Creativity magazines.)