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They were sort of cute, but not terribly funny. They showed the car, but not very flatteringly. To their credit, they tried to establish young MTV watchers as the prime Focus group without the benefit of idiotic focus groups.

But while Ford Motor Co.'s three commercials on the MTV Video Music Awards were live, live, live, they were really better off dead.

The star was actress Annabelle Gurwitch, one delightful half of the charming host couple on TBS' "Dinner & a Movie" show, and it sure wasn't her fault. In a night that saw 80% of the spots bejeweled with youth icons-from David Arquette to Jeff Gordon, Clare Danes to the Taco Bell Chihuahua-she was the best choice to convey a matching brand personality.

And you can't fault J. Walter Thompson's stunt. In this day and age, and particularly on this night about the tortured scrutinizing of every frame of film, a live spot should have been most refreshing. The problem was the format. Gurwitch didn't pose with the car on stage and pitch, like Ed McMahon flogging Alpo or Ed Herlihy commending some unappetizing recipe featuring a fine Kraft cheeselike substance. These were scripted vignettes with multiple shots, multiple characters and a fair amount of action about Gurwitch getting lost in her Focus trying to get back to the MTV show.

Lost in her Focus. Just too ironically apt. Because this stuff was just too talky, too filled with annoying-stereotype New Yorkers, too frantic and, most of all, too produced, with neither the benefits of film editing nor the exciting spontaneity of live performance. Adding insult to injury, the wide lens made the fabulous new Ford Focus look cramped and uncomfortable.

Still, there were moments. In the first spot, a limo driver offered Gurwitch a lift. "I'll get you there in big, bloated comfort," he said. "Take a look at this!"

Then, in a deftly executed two shot, she checked out the interior of the ostentatious stretch.

"Wow! That's a lotta velour!" she said, adding, for the camera, "I think I'll take my car."

Actually, that was the only moment.

The big payoff of the third spot had her pulling up in front of M's TV & Video repair shop. Oops! Wrong address. By now three guys were crammed into the car, too. But the most notable thing was how the harsh lighting made her eyes look puffy and dark.

But by that point, it was just noise. It had become about the stunt instead of about the car, there for the ignoring. Indeed, if you believe in believing anecdotal responses, the focus group, consisting of the Ad Review staff's 14-year-old daughter, lost interest by the first preproduced end frame.

"Ugh," she said. "It looks like a Mom car."



What the staff most cherishes, right after our Richie Ashburn-autographed baseball and just ahead of our children, is our collection of almost-Dr Pepper beverage containers.

Everybody knows about Mr. Pibb, but he pales next to Dr. Zing, for example. Or Dr. Rocket. Or Dr. Skipper. Or, our particular favorite, Dr. Perky.

Know of other house-brand "pepper" soft drinks? Send us a good physician-themed knockoff (empty, please) to the Ad Review Is There a Doctor in the House Sweepstakes, 814 National Press Building, Washington, D.C. 20045. The top three oddest entries will be honored in this space, and the Grand Prize winner will

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