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o fully appreciate the impact of the 90-second McDonald's commercial from DDB Needham Worldwide, Sydney, you have to know the remarkable, fairy-tale, I.V. bags-to-riches story of 11-year-old Nathan Cavaleri.

Five years ago, he was a very sick kid, stricken with leukemia. But he had a dream, a dream made possible through the good works of the Make-a-Wish Foundation. What Nathan wanted to do was meet and play guitar with Mark Knopfler, lead singer of-as irony would have it-Dire Straits.

And he did, and the attendant media clamor brought his country's attention to the handsome, charming, sick little boy, who turned out to wield a very mean blues guitar. At 6, he got his first live spot on Australia's popular TV show "Hey, Hey, It's Saturday." So first he got famous.

Then he got better.

The leukemia went into remission. Now he was famous, on his way to becoming mythic, as Australia's foremost guitar prodigy/medical marvel.

For the last five years, he has been a media icon in his native country, while winning growing acclaim abroad. For instance, he just finished a U.S. tour with blues legend B.B. King. At Madison Square Garden, he brought the house down.

It is the remarkable pairing of King and Cavaleri to which this McDonald's spot devotes itself. The commercial is a montage, a grainy, smoky, bluesy pastiche of images and conversation from what looks like a rehearsal for a King-Cavaleri TV performance. There's no narrative, exactly, just snippets of conversation and music as the young artist learns at the fret of the master. It is all so lovely, lovely and poignant.

"G'day, B.B.," says Nathan, brightly and unaffectedly as he enters the session.

"Mr. Cavaleri!" King responds, with what seems to be genuine delight. "Good to see you, guy. How ya doin'?"

After a blues lick or two, and a dissolve or two, we witness King giving the boy his best advice-about playing the blues, and about life itself.

"Admire them for what they do, but play you. Be you. You dig what I'm saying?"

Nathan digs it. He seems thrilled but incredulous when his legendary friend offers, "I learned some things from you. The ideas you have, a lot of us [are] yet to have. The sky is the limit, guy."

The conversation is touching and believable and beautiful. It's as if the commercial were a grainy, blue balloon, expanding with emotion but uninflated with sentimentality. For the first 80 seconds, it is a wonder of restraint.

And then B.B. King-teacher, mentor, legend-says, "I think we're gonna have a pretty good time here tonight, Mr. Cavaleri."

And Nathan says, "I think you're right, Mr. King."

And King says, "You know, the chef and I, we have a little surprise planned for you over there. It's your favorite."

And Nathan says, "McDonald's!"

And King says, "Yeah! All right!"

And Nathan says, "Very cool, Mr. King. Very cool!"

And the tagline says, "It's Mac Time."

And all over Australia, people are puking on their shoes.

To go from such a charming, moving, intimate interlude to such a ludicrous and vulgar attempt to make the product the hero is not merely nauseating. It is unforgivable. Also false, manipulative, stupid and self-destructive, because viewers who let down their emotional guard, only to realize they've been duped by manufactured poignancy, will have every reason to detest the advertiser.

And there will be the industry again, like so often before: guilty but oblivious, weary of insult and singin' the blues.

The rating system

The rating system uses four stars to represent excellent, three for notable, two for mediocre and one for pathetic.

Advertising Age International welcomes submissions for Global Ad Review, particularly breaking TV campaigns. Please send 3/4- or 1/2-inch NTSC-format videotapes to Bob Garfield, Advertising Age International, 814 National Press Building, Washington, D.C. 20045-1801, U.S.A.

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