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THERE IS A MACHINE CALLED A FINNEGAN. BY BURNING A tiny sample and analyzing the spectrum made by diffracting the resulting flame, the Finnegan can tell you precisely what things are made of and in what proportions, down to parts per billion. It's a pretty cool machine. We'll come back to it in a minute.

But first let's look at some advertising. Creativity sent some of the top print ads and commercials of the year over to me. Seeing the best work all together was pretty encouraging. But now that we worship in the Church of Fame, distinguishing between the merit of an idea and its ability to command awareness has become harder. We could use a Finnegan.

I suspect the closest thing we have to a Finnegan for advertising is autobiographical judgment. Can't avoid it, either. It's limited, but the mechanics of making self-informed judgments are about as solid as it gets inside our heads. It's like performing with the equipment we grew up with; it's like sex.

I have always most appreciated original stuff. When something works in ways we do not already know, it is joyful, it furthers the issue of being alive. Goodby Silverstein & Partners' body of work best exemplifies originality in ad- vertising. For years, the work done by and under Jeff and Rich was handicapped in awards shows for being so original. Like fire, people didn't know quite what to make of it until it had been around for awhile. The Royal Viking campaign didn't win consistently until its third year. Now people have come to understand and even to expect this originality in the agency's work, and the brilliance of stuff like the "Got Milk?" campaign and the Isuzu "Toy Store" commercial is widely appreciated. Goodby Silverstein consistently does the best work, and now people get it.

Using somewhat different criteria, I believe the best work done at BBDO/New York is still very good and very important stuff. The creative people there understand the workings of media in the aforementioned Church, and practice the making and shaping of awareness better, and for a larger audience, than any agency ever has. Phil and Ted et al. are the masters of showing the best side of our giant melting pot of American brands, and they're masters too at bringing into advertising the filmcraft that expresses the hopefulness and humor we all seem to need around here. It is perhaps not so fashionable today to express this sort of BBDO fandom when several other big agencies-Lowe (Sprite and the new Mercedes work stand out), Ogilvy & Mather (Swatch, Jaguar) DDB Needham (Bud) and Burnett (Dewar's, the Miller Lite dubbed kung fu movie commercial)-have so improved the quality of their best work. The lead is shrinking, but BBDO figured out what good means for all contemporary big American agencies, and did it for big, circumspect clients like Pepsi, Frito-Lay and GE. The other big agencies, even with impressive recent gains, follow BBDO.

Though Mike Koelker was my friend and I miss him, I'm impressed and delighted with the work Paul Wolfe's people have done at FCB/San Francisco. The Levi's 501 campaign and the Dockers campaign are both wonderful. They raised the bar.

My favorite campaign of the year was Wieden & Kennedy's voluminous television work for ESPN. It's completely original, intellectually and emotionally honest and hip to the point of defining new cool in several different directions, some of them bordering on genius. It's even inclusive of both casual and rabid sports fans. I wish it were President.

If I could change something in the creative zeitgeist of the business, it would be to alter the way we give expression to our interagency competitive fires so that, just like when the dialectic in a so-called school of thought catches on, we can take more encouragement from other people's accomplishments and share the fireside warmth of other people's good work enough to gain a sense of urgency to improve our own stuff. It should be like running a relay. As an industry, we're too small-minded and critical about the delicate machinery of our inventions. This is ethically self-destructive. It limits us, and we've come to tolerate it when we don't need to.

Good work takes daring. Frightened people looking to follow others can always do well in advertising, in the short term. But that shouldn't be the part of the business we're interested in, anyway.

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