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Georges Clemenceau, the French statesman, hated airplanes. He was so terrified of them that on one flight he instructed his pilot: "Fly very cautiously, very slow and very low."

All of which is to say: if Clemenceau were alive today, his airplane rides would not qualify for a "No Fear moment." To the Carlsbad, Calif., marketer of so-called attitude wear, a No Fear moment happens when an intrepid soul confronts terror head-on, stares it down and kicks its sorry butt clear down the road. Clemenceau didn't fill the bill.

Ty Murray filled the bill.

He's the bull rider who starred in the company's first TV spot, a No Fear moment that created a Super Bowl stir with its texture, power and extremely elusive meaning. Most viewers had to wonder not only about what the commercial was supposed to signify, but about what was being advertised, and by whom?

No Fear? Who in the world, millions asked, is No Fear?

Indeed, because No Fear wanted to demonstrate it had no fear of expensive obscurity, the commercial pointedly took no pains to shed light on the mystery.

Now the company has aired a second spot, during the Indiana-polis 500, and, superficially, it was more of the same.

Created in-house, it opened with a reverse-type title card, "May, 1991. Indianapolis, Indiana," and a background track of a race car skidding out of control. Then it dissolved to a letterboxed extreme close-up of Rick Mears, putting on a driving glove.

The tight shot was exactly what we saw of rodeo star Murray in the chute, palpably tense. Then another card: "Rick Mears hits the wall in practice," dissolving this time into a close-up of his latching his safety belt.

Title card No. 3: "Two hours later he sets the fastest lap .... " (Another dissolve to close-up.)

Title card No. 4: " .....gets the pole, and goes on to win his fourth Indy 500."

Then a super slo-mo shot of Mears closing his face shield, and the final title card: "Face your fears. Live your dreams." Finally: the No Fear logo.

So, yes, this spot shared many of the elements of the Super Bowl spot. But little of the impact, however.

The first one was stirring film; this was mediocre film. The first was thick with texture; this was smeared thin. And, most of all, the first was fearlessly enigmatic; this was fearfully straightforward.

While the nominal corporate philosophy centers on heroic gut check, and Mears' vignette was clearly about heroic gut check, the marketing vision seems to have skidded into the wall. What's missing is that there is nothing missing.

The Ty Murray spot resounded not with its literal message, but with the larger message of being defiantly uninterested in how clearly its literal message was received. It was content to communicate its attitude to those already hip to the company's existence, and to leave provocative questions for everyone else. It was a risky strategy but one with enormous potential.

The key: being inscrutable over the long term. Why bother with such an audacious exercise if, the second time out of the chute, you're gonna jump off the bull after the first big buck? Or, put another way, the Super Bowl spot looked danger in the eye and kicked its sorry butt; the Indy spot flew very cautiously, very slow and very low.

Ad Age Bulletin Board on Prodigy, or by Prodigy e-mail at EFPB35A.

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