Each Proves Advertising Can Be Creative and Effective

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ALSO: See Garfield's Political Ad Review Below

Well, the holidays are just around the corner. This we know from all the Christmas cards we receive from our

Toys make their way into Toys 'R' Us for the morning shift in this clever ad from Hewlett-Packard.
Pushy and obnoxious, yes, but Gordon Elliott is also quite a soup salesman.

dear friends we've never met who annually fire-brigade signatures to reach out with best wishes and incidentally please note the poignant yuletide message on the postage-meter cancellation.

Well, we at Ad Review have an offering, too. Herewith: four campaigns we've recently admired, but had no previous opportunity to honor because we were busy dealing with the deep-fried delusions of KFC. Each is proof that advertising can be creative in the way "creatives" imagine it to be, while also cleaving to the correct values of information, persuasion and even -- egad! -- sales.

Agency: Fallon, Minneapolis
Star Rating: 3.5
It's called pre-emption: staking out a claim available to all comers, but which henceforth belongs almost entirely to you. Citibank has done this with its identity-theft campaign, which brilliantly creates awareness for the problem and offers the Citibank solution.

The simple premise: various sleazy characters talking about their big capers with stolen credit cards. The voices of the criminals, though, are seamlessly lip-synched to the faces of the actual cardholders. The crooks, in other words, have literally assumed the identities of the victims. Genius.

Agency: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco
Star Rating: 4
This campaign got off to an awkward start with executions that didn't quite measure up to the potent borrowed-interest strategy. Those problems are gone. A spot about toys reporting to work at Toys 'R' Us, and another showing subjects of Dutch master Hendrich ter Brugghen come to life at London's National Gallery are magnificent masterpieces of the advertising art and perfect articulations of HP's applications scope.

Agency: GSD&M, Austin, Texas
Star Rating: 3.5
You could say these are simple problem/resolution spots. You could also argue that they are simply shaggy-dog vignettes -- as in, "Where will this protracted visual setup lead?" But the payoffs so marvelously illuminate the ingenuity of the setups, and the underlying message is so vivid, that the whole vastly exceeds the sum of the parts.

The message is that online travel planning is endless and tiring. That's why a guy's family has to work like a pit crew to keep him alert, nourished and equipped as he tries to reserve online. He needs the Southwest Shortcut, which automatically displays the days and times when the lowest fares are available.

Agency: BBDO Worldwide, New York
Star Rating: 3
Us, we were unfamiliar with Gordon Elliott, the TV host who does the soup version of the Daz Doorstep Challenge in these spots for Campbell's condensed and several other varieties.

The guy has evidently made a career walking the line between obnoxiousness and charm, countering his essential pushiness -- he just barges in -- with a devilish savior faire. The deep voice and Aussie accent, in combination with his brazen familiarity, are a combo to make women swoon. Furthermore, he is at least arresting at talking up the actual soup. This is a refreshing departure from the emotional tugs of the past 15 years, which grew ever more mawkish as the condensed line slid ever further into irrelevance.

Agency: Joe Slade White Co.
Star Rating: 3

Wesley Clark

Wesley Clark
Sept. 8, 2003

The primaries are still months away. These are the good times. Enjoy them while you can. Case in point: Wesley Clark's introductory ad.

Soon enough, most campaign advertising will be accusing opponents of voting to give tax breaks to child molesters, or some such perversion of decorum and truth. But now it's still the high-toned meet-the-candidate phase, filled with lots of stuff like Clark's: black-and-white photographs of the candidate heroically beating the odds and standing up for what's right.

"The first bullet shattered his hand," the narrator reverently intones about Clark's Vietnam heroism. "The second and third hit his shoulder and leg. As he hit the jungle floor, he rallied the troops and directed the fire fight."

The spot documents Clark's wartime valor and his subsequent command leadership: "A quiet, real American courage." And damn if it doesn't sound pretty good. Bombed the Serbs into submission and speaks four languages! Plus he's, like, totally adorable.

JFK, Bob Dole and current Clark rival John Kerry all at various points in their political careers redeemed their Silver Stars for votes. But not since Eisenhower has a presidential candidate so flaunted his military credentials. No wonder; the idea has been unheard of since Vietnam.

But not only is Clark leading with his chinstrap, he is using his credentials to question the capacity of the sitting president to get us safely and triumphantly out of Iraq. It's the only sharp edge in this well-crafted feel-good hit of the autumn.

Be patient, though. The montages will soon give way to bayonets, and you won't be feeling good for long.

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