Garfield's AdReview

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Here we are in the High Holy days, a time of sober reflection and commitment when everything stops that we might honor what is most important.

Yes, it is Advertising Week 2004 in New York City.

Oh, it's not Fashion Week, when the new lines are on display along Seventh Avenue and the city becomes a vast bourse for the rag trade and hundreds of millions of dollars change hands. No, this is Advertising Week, where actual commerce basically comes to a halt so we can attend parties and drop big names, such as the Jolly Green Giant.

In other words, a backward-looking seven-day microcosm of all that ails the industry to begin with.

So let us at Ad Review also reflect.

In fact, let us reflect our asses off about the advertising values, all but forgotten, concerned with selling goods and services to persons with wallets.

On this Advertising Week, we will think about an industry that evolved without digital compositing, without chief creative officers, without trophy orgies on the Riviera. We will lose ourselves in our ever-more-reactionary hostility to self-absorption on a grand scale until we can pluck from contemporary media an ad that simply, pleasantly sells-an ad that makes a case for the brand without lying, shocking, penis-joking, special-effecting or making the viewer wish to put his foot through the TV screen.

In other words, a surefire non-Gold Lion winner destined never to have its creators pulled out of mothballs for Advertising Week 2054.

And, because there are still isolated pockets of competence within the industry, we located one. It's for mouthwash. Listerine mouthwash, to be more specific-the stuff that may or may not kill the germs that cause bad breath, but which definitely is like gargling with acetone. It's always been an interesting paradox, because the very harshness that makes the stuff seem efficacious also makes the user experience and aftertaste most unpleasant. "Medicine breath," the competition called it.

The spot opens with a cheerful, smart mom arriving from the store with two surprises: Danish, and Listerine. But when the husband and two kids spy the mouthwash, they scramble to hide.

Not the most hilarious or original gag ever filmed, but cute enough and certainly to the point: The stuff is horrible-tasting. But wait, Mom says: "It's Natural Citrus Listerine. It's less intense." So Dad can come out of the cupboard, and Junior can climb down from the pots-and-pans rack dangling over the kitchen island. As the voice-over says, "You can handle it. Germs can't."

This is more than a problem/resolution spot, because Pfizer and J. Walter Thompson, New York are in the happy position of having the "problem" also represent the bacteria-bending brand benefit. And the solution, they promise, ameliorates the nasty flavor without negating the germicidal effect.

In other words, an ad that understands what ad creativity really is: solving a thorny communications problem in order to stimulate demand.

Remember demand? That what the marketplace wants. Alas, during Advertising Week, that understanding will be in very short supply.

Bob Garfield's book, "And Now, a Few Words from Me" is now out in paperback from McGraw-Hill.


J. Walter Thompson, New York

Ad Review Rating: 3 stars

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