Ad Critic Meets the Ad Criticized

A Chance Encounter Yields Something Nice Over the Transom

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You think it's easy being an advertising critic? Well, Buster, you're wrong.

First, you have to look at a lot of ads, which is annoying. Then you have to think up all those words and write them down, without being too repetitive. Try reviewing ads every week while writing "sucks" no more than twice a year. Just try it.

Then, on top of everything else, people are always trying to second-guess your motives. I review ads; I don't review agencies or people. I actually go to very great lengths to avoid even being acquainted with people in the ad business, so nobody can accuse me of promoting friends or attacking enemies.

For instance, I live not in New York or Chicago or LA, but rather in an undisclosed secure location near Washington, DC. I don't go to business lunches with ad people. I don't socialize with ad people. Give me a list of the Top 50 names in the business and I couldn't pick 40 of them out of a line-up. The only time I wade into the industry is in Cannes, and most of the time I'm too drunk to forge a meaningful relationship.

So when I review an ad, I have neither the desire nor even the ability to review anything but the document itself. But, sheesh, try explaining that to someone who has worked on the document for six months only to have it ridiculed in print. Try explaining to him or her that it was nothing personal.

For one thing, ads are created by people, and people have feelings. Every other week, on average, AdReview bruises feelings. For another thing, just apply some basic human psychology here. You've worked on something for months, overcome all sorts of obstacles with client resistance and budget and production and somehow managed bringing the project to fruition. You are proud of it. You like it. You think it's good. Then some guy says, in your industry's most public forum, "No, it isn't good. In fact, it totally...uh...SUCKS." You're not apt to think, "He must be right." You KNOW your work is good, so obviously the answer lies elsewhere. He has an agenda! He's out to destroy me and my agency!

Scoff if you like. But that's what I hear all the time -- most often, ironically, from agencies that have historically fared very well in AdReview. I once had a guy come over a Cannes dinner table at me for maliciously awarding his spot 3 1/2 stars instead of 4. As God is my witness (and about 30 mortals).

So imagine the scene a month ago, on a hotel patio in France, when I should happen to meet Dave Moore of McCann-Erickson, Detroit. He's a nice guy, a smart guy, an unpretentious guy and -- all-in-all -- quite pleasant to get hammered with. Alas, he also may be the most victimized SOB in the history of AdReview. His work hasn't merely been criticized in my column. It has been repeatedly savaged.

Yeah, hi, Dave. Nice to meet you. Will you excuse me? I have back to my room and floss.

No, it wasn't like that. We chatted for a good long while, and he was more gentlemanly than I'd have any reason to expect. Not only did he not strangle me or spit on me, if memory serves, he bought me a cocktail. The man didn't even try to spin me, or talk me out of my previous opinions. He did, however, call my attention to certain pieces of work I'd evidently missed in my Sherman's March across his accounts: Buick and General Motors. Lo and behold, last week these fell over the transom.

The first was the five-minute web film from three years back, in which Buick spokesman Tiger Woods barged into eight Orlando golf foursomes for impromptu closest-to-the-pin contests and wound up giving away four Buick Rainier SUVs. It was, indeed, well targeted, well produced and irresistable to watch.

Dave also sent along a TV spot promoting GM's ethanol technology. I'd have trouble finding fault with it, too -- except to the extent it tells incomplete truth, in effect exaggerating the potential impact of ethanol on our energy independence and on the environment.

But the third item was the real treat: a 60-second GM spot from this spring, looking at the company Then and Now. From the opening images of an old black-and-white GM logo and 60s impressionist Frank Gorshin, it's a piece you can't take your eyes off of. Great images, juxtaposing nostalgic then to cool now, all over top Everclear's earwork "A.M. Radio."

Wanna get down in a cool way Picture yourself on a beautiful day Big bell bottoms and groovy long hair Just walkin in style with a portable CD player No you'd listen to the music on the

(Chorus): AM Radio AM Radio Yeah you could hear the music on the AM Radio AM Radio

It's a charmer, and it smartly establishes GM as not only a beloved icon of the past but an attactive and reasonably hip contributor to our future. Mind you, that goes against the tide of GM's many other well-documented blunders and inanities, all of which spell not "hip," but "clueless." But there's only so much you can expect from a 60-second TV spot, and this one delivers.

But now, as an ad critic, I'm right back where I started -- except in worse shape than ever. Next time I savage a Buick or GM spot, it's not only with the knowledge that somebody will be bruised. Now I know the somebody. I won't shy away, of course, because none of this is personal -- but I think it'll be a good long while before I return to Cannes.
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