Ad Review's gift to you: Holiday Stocking Stuffers

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Perhaps journalism's most impressive ability is to use holidays, seasons and other annual events to generate stories-because if it happens to be, say, Halloween, obviously the audience will be interested in "spooky" material and nothing else.

Does this slavishly calendar-driven approach bespeak a frightening poverty of imagination? Of course not. We, as journalists, understand that you, as readers,

will be bitterly unaccepting if our last column before Christmas is not actually about Christmas. We don't wish to belabor the obvious; we owe it to you to belabor the obvious. Here

with, therefore, as our special gift to you, Ad Review's Holiday Stocking Stuffers! FCB Worldwide, San Francisco. "It could be a teddy bear, a bike, or smoke alarm. Or possibly a new TV or game on CD-rom. You'll never guess what I got you at Looks like a telescope or a blender for the bar. Guess again. A fountain pen, or a teachin' tunes guitar."

Yeah, yeah, the kitschy, '60s-variety-TV knockoffs are ironic and hilarious for the second year in a row. Yes, the parody is once again dead on. And, yes, the melodies are strangely irresistible. But the true genius here is that those stupid lyrics are hard-sell in the finest tradition. Entertainment and information! How the world's largest e-tailer is satisfied with a skimpy spot buy on this campaign is unfathomable. How it let this agency get away is something like a tragedy. 4 stars Hanft Byrne Raboy & Partners, New York. Ho! Ho! Ho! Is this ever dreadful! For some reason, perhaps borrowing a page from, three vaguely retro spots simulate the zany sock-it-to-me wall from the old "Laugh-In" TV show, complete with a lookalike Goldie Hawn and Alan Sues. (There's also a lookalike, albeit relatively emaciated, Hulk Hogan-for what reason we cannot imagine.)

We also can't imagine why these spots, fronted by investor Whoopi Goldberg, are populated with Santa, an African-garbed-American and an orthodox rabbi wrapped in a prayer shawl. And they're dancing. It's hard to trivialize Christianity, stereotype blacks and insult Jews in one fell swoop, but they've done it here. And the material isn't even remotely funny in the process. 1/2 star

Sears, Roebuck & Co. A. Eicoff & Co., Chicago. One of the genuinely nice things about the Christmas season, once you get past the crass commercialism, the Kathie Lee Gifford special and the high rate of suicide, is how nice total strangers tend to be to one another. There's just plain more smiling going on during the holidays. How can you not like that?

Here's how: watch this direct-response ad touting a Sears-America Online cross-promotion. People are at their computers grinning idiotically, as if they are reading either the funniest dirty e-mail ever or smoking crack for the very first time. Everybody is smiling-wildly, aggressively, disproportionately-in exactly the way no human being ever does just because he or she happens to be online.

The promotion's called The Sears Good Life Giveaway. It should be the Sears Get-a-Life Giveaway. One of the prizes, by the way: a $50 "shopping spree." Whoa! Imagine the possibilities! Slippers and a wrench! 1 star

Staples. Cliff Freeman & Partners, New York. An in-store "snow-bot" wheels around to help customers with their technology-gift purchases, but is unhelpful when one shopper wants a scanner-fax-copier machine. "Get him a cell phone," the robot says. Turns out, the robot is jealous. It has the hots for the fax.

Like almost every Staples commercial, this is very funny. And, like almost every Staples commercial, it is actually about what it is nominally about. The joke isn't an end in itself; it's the center of the sell-even if it arrives there from an entirely unexpected place. 3 stars.

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