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When the very, very verite "Real Life, Real Answers" campaign from John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance won at Cannes in 1986, the European audience hissed and whistled and generally rebelled. They saw the texture and documentary look of the commercials and took it for overwrought American melodrama, although melodrama it was not. It was simply extremely intense cinema about ordinary financial problems. And it was very good advertising.

Then, last year, came a campaign from Allied Dunbar financial services and Grey London that essentially was "Real Life,Real Answers" turned absolutely inside out. Now arrives the third, and best, spot in the series. This, however, is not very good advertising.

It is great advertising.

The spot opens with a middle-aged father, shirtless and smeared with shaving foam, trying to locate his razor above the medicine cabinet. He disturbs some toiletries and down tumbles a cardboard package: a home pregnancy test kit. Thus does he thunder to the kitchen asking accusatory questions of his two daughters.

"Whattya think you're playing at?! I thought we told you to be careful!"

Amid the girls' denials, though, the fortysomething wife chimes in: "John, I think we're the ones who should have been careful." False recriminations, and now earthshaking news. The tension is palpable.

Then, just as it's looking like searing family drama, the two girls and the son all twist their heads to face the camera with wide-eyed gapes of astonishment, and some familiar music strikes up. Isn't that a Nat "King" Cole standard? Yep. Now the father looks straight into the camera, and begins mouthing to Cole's silken voice, "There may be trouble aheaddddd ....."

The out-of-context lip-sync, in the spirit of Dennis Potter's "The Singing Detective," is staggering and hilarious. Next thing you know, the whole family is in a production number. Edward Albee one second, Busby Berkeley the next, as the kids butter their toast 1-2 on the trumpet beats and Dad croons:

"..... But while's there moonlight and music and love and romannnnnce, let's face the music and dannnnnnce."

Voice-over: "If your family suddenly grows, so too will your responsibilities. That's why Allied Dunbar financial plans adapt, so you can face the unexpected."

And, thanks to this serious-cum-whimsical treatment, face it head-on. Insurance advertising often fails either because it is too serious, forcing consumers into denial and psychological withdrawal, or too flippant, causing viewers not to take the advertiser seriously. This brilliant campaign ingeniously splits the difference.

The tense and compelling introductory sequence sucks the viewer right in, but then the sublimely unexpected song-and-dance number explodes the drama and creates a sense of relief.

Please note that an engaged yet relieved viewer is apt to be a receptive viewer. And because the message itself-facing financial challenges with some peace of mind-is hopeful and encouraging, there is less reason for the audience to deny its relevance. Rather they are more likely to face the music with equanimity, and with nice feelings toward Allied Dunbar.

We do, after all, tend to like those who delight us.

No, this campaign doesn't maintain the grit and harsh verisimilitude of the Hancock spots. This is no "Real Life, Real Answers." This is Reel Life, Right Answer. And the Cannes crowd will not hiss. 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-inch NTSC-format videotapes or 1/2-inch videotapes in any format to Bob Garfield, Ad Age International, 814 National Press Building, Washington, DC 20045-1801.

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