The highs and the lows

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The Chasers over the past five years have brought you b-to-b advertising that ranges from the inspired to the insipid. Let's start on the sunny side of the street as we recall the top five advertising efforts of the past five years and the bottom five.

FedEx. The overnight shipping and logistics company has made us laugh over the last five years with wry, well-produced, brand-focused 30-second spots. The most recent chuckle came by way of a spot that spoofs a New Age-style corporate retreat. The retreat master opens the off-site event by inviting heartfelt reflection on how to make the company run smarter. When an employee suggests using FedEx, the retreat master briefly ponders the response before saying: "OK. Thanks for coming." Enough said. Retreat over.

IBM. Big Blue has made us laugh, too. We got a charge out of the series of TV spots featuring eccentric executives who bring a variety of silver bullets to the board room. The all-purpose solutions ranged from a genie's lantern to magic beans. In another, a sales rep intrigues the client with a Rube Goldberg-like contraption that promises "to connect anything to everything." We all know, of course, that the Holy Grail of business applications doesn't exist, but the message that resonates is that IBM comes closest with its Websphere Integrated Software.

•  EBay Business. We've always been fond of case histories or testimonials to help make the advertiser's message more human and more credible. EBay Business used a series of sparkling print testimonials from genuine cash-strapped small businesspeople that made a dime look like a dollar thanks to eBay. Witnesses included the owner of a pizzeria who bought $30,000 worth of equipment for $3,000 through the online marketplace.

CDW. He may have been invisible, but he embodied CDW's target audience of IT professionals who must gamely undo the boneheaded mistakes of corporate computer users. His name was Fred, but he remained silent and off-camera in a series of painfully funny spots in which the user confronts him with the latest IT problem. CDW deftly demonstrated in the spots that it had keen insights into its target audience. A little empathy will do that.

•  PricewaterhouseCoopers. Every now and then we encounter an ad with an image that's so perfectly matched with its headline that the story is all but told. We saw that in a print ad for PricewaterhouseCoopers featuring the monochromatic photo of a veritable spaghetti bowl of thousands of wires and cables as a geeky IT type leans in confidently to sort out the mess. States the headline: "How could a network security system make a company $1 million a month? By working, actually."

And then there were those ads that didn't work for us.

•  EDS. When you advertise during the Super Bowl, you can fail in a big way. EDS did a 30-second sendup of the running of the bulls at Pamplona by using squirrels instead. The computer services company wanted to make the point that it can help clients stay ahead of the game. But the spot was lame, and it didn't come close to matching the cleverly executed spot by EDS on the 2000 Super Bowl that featured cat-herding cowboys.

•  MarchFirst. Yes, we gave the print and TV spots for this now-failed dot-com a thumbs-up at the time. But on second thought, we were dead wrong. The ads featured the strong reactions of people to such events as the first satellite in space or the first miniskirt. The ads left readers bewildered rather than informed about MarchFirst's brand, mission and message.

•  IPxray. There's no shortage of sexist, sophomoric and truly tasteless b-to-b advertising. IPxray features the image of a dog sniffing the behind of another canine to make the point about a company's network vulnerability.

•  Stratasoft. From the same genre comes an ad for Stratasoft that not so subtly reminds members of the target audience that they will be impaled by a giant screw if they don't buy its product. Talk about hard sell.

•  APC. This ad epitomizes the "damn the white space" school of b-to-b advertising. It's an all-too-common look: an overabundance of photos, dialogue boxes, headlines, captions and other come-ons.

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