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The best thing about the Orangina spot from Young & Rubicam, Paris, is the first three seconds.

An actor-dressed in a strange yellow gourd-shaped outfit-is lying supine with his feet resting on what looks like a giant pinball plunger.

"Hey," he shouts (to whom we cannot guess), "what are my lines?"

An off-camera voice replies: "Ahhh."

The actor in the strange get-up looks puzzled. "Huh?" he says.

It's a brilliant line. The viewer just doesn't know it yet, for the best thing about this spot is that its charm is revealed retroactively. The joke isn't funny until you see what comes next.

What happens next is we discover it is a giant pinball plunger he's resting on. And the actor is the pinball, and the plunger is pulled, and he is rocketed forward, and for the next 27 seconds, he is sent careening up and down, back and forth, from bumper to bumper, through gates and chutes, at about 60 miles per hour.

The visual and sound effects are over the top and very, very funny, because, by any actor's standards, this is a rough gig. His wild ride-ftoomp bump BUMP bippita boppita bippita-is most convincing.

It's hard to say what is so amusing about a poor schnook being systematically battered like this, but amusing it surely is. Every country in the world seems to have a funny home-video show, mainly featuring men being struck in the groin, and ratings aren't suffering anywhere. For whatever weird evolutionary reason, the pratfall seems to strike a universal chord of hilarity. So imagine the effect of approximately 150 physical indignities in the space of a half minute.

Yet, here again, as comical as it is to see this oddly outfitted man being beaten up in the actor's role from hell, the funniest moment is the opening exchange. What did the off-camera voice say his lines were? "Ahhh." Yessiree, that's what he says-at the top of his lungs, during every second of his nightmare ride: "Ahhhhhhhhhhh!"

His initial obliviousness and confusion, along with the unseen director's matter-of-factness, were provocative at the beginning of the spot. They are hilarious ex post facto. Anyway, he finally is propelled out of play into the ball return. But then he is ejected right back into position atop the plunger, as the machine's electronic voice says, "Same player shoot again." This time the actor screams, "Nooooooooooo!" Too late. Phooomp! He's back in play.

And now that the viewer has caught the irony of the opening exchange, the whole point of the commercial is similarly, retroactively, revealed-he's costumed like an Orangina bottle.

"Orangina," says a voice-over. "Shake it before you drink it."

Ah! The point of brand differentiation, saved for the last but infused with meaning. And memorability.

Oh, sorry. Did we say "Ah! The point of brand differentiation?" What we meant was, "Ahhhhhhh!"

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

To submit TV campaigns for review, send 3/4- or 1/2-inch NTSC-format videotapes to Bob Garfield, Ad Age International, 814 National Press Building, Washington, D.C. 20045-1801, USA.

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