The AdCritic

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There's been a welcome amount of interesting new work lately, considering we've been through what are supposed to be the dog days of summer. The latest round of campaigns includes what I believe to be the best spot of the year so far: Goodby, Silverstein's "Sheet Metal" anthem for Saturn, a certainty to do well at Cannes in 2003. But there's other good work too, as there should be. Here's my take on some notable new campaigns. (Just click on the titles to view the spots.) Feel free to disagree and e-mail me at [email protected].

Does a job

Saturn: Sheet Metal

I know this will sweep next year's awards shows, but I really hope it ships a lot of Saturns. That will prove that the mysterious gap between creativity and effectiveness that the industry has allowed to develop is actually non-existent. As I have written elsewhere, the idea of people as vehicles is not exactly unique to the good people at Saturn and Goodby, but they are the client/agency team that got it made. With the help of deft direction from the red hot Noam Murro and the exquisite use of a sparse piano track, they have created a commercial that stands out a mile on our cluttered television screens. There is a real idea here: "when we create cars we see people not sheet metal", and for once an execution that is sympathetic to the idea. It is rewarding enough to watch over and over again. And sadly, I have done just that!

Nike: Before

The boys and girls from Portland continue in the rich vein they've been mining for the last 12 months or so. Almost alone amongst current mainstream advertisers, Nike and Wieden & Kennedy seem able to convey fear, courage, strength and desire without resorting to either schmaltz or cliché'd posturing. "Before" is a perfect example. It is a very simple, but slickly edited, series of vignettes of athletes preparing for action. They are caught stretching, limbering up, focusing, getting into start positions, tensing and flexing. It's all set to the strains of an orchestra tuning up before performing. Then, there's the "Just Do It" logo. It didn't need anything else. The restraint is admirable.

Mercedes: Life in the E-Class, Three Wishes and Production Line

A wry, funny and intelligent series of commercials launching the new Mercedes E-class. Nico Beyer's spot re-establishes Mercedes' heritage via a production line traveling through time. Meanwhile, Kuntz & Maguire and Frank Todaro play it for laughs in spots that see, respectively, a driver incapable of getting out of his beloved E-class as he goes about his day, and another driver needing only one of his three wishes from a genie. All three are beautifully directed, with wonderful editing in the production line spot in particular. This is my favorite of the three -- it is born of one of Mercedes' special attributes: its heritage. I just can't help wondering what the knockabout humor of the other two means for the Mercedes brand long term.

Alliance to Save Energy: Static Electricity House

What a gem this is. Once again it's probably an idea that many creatives have had, but all credit to DDB Seattle for actually getting it made. The premise of the ridiculous static electricity concept opens up a Pandora's Box of executional possibilities, and the agency and director, Gord McWatters of Spy Films, are to be commended for showing restraint. The spot appears to have been successful enough in Washington State to merit an extended run beyond the state line. Some of the shots are just delightful, notably the father tousling his son's hair to power the blender, and the carpet catching fire as the children attempt to power the shower. Somehow the message about energy saving is slipped in effortlessly too. It's a memorable marriage of message and execution.

Egg (UK): Goats, Identity, Fingers and Magnetic Boots

From the darker side of Bryan Buckley's wacky mockumentary repertoire comes a series of bizarre spots for the UK online banking service, Egg. The brand has become nothing short of a phenomenon across the pond, thanks in no short measure to consistently iconoclastic advertising, at first by HHCL, and now Mother. It's edgy Buckley at his most surreal as helpful goats send electronic pulses and debt-ridden consumers adopt new identities as a way of trying to sort out their money problems. The spots are funny and different -- at least for the UK consumer, who will not be in the least bothered that on this side of the pond there's been overkill on this style. The idea is, "Forget all this craziness, Egg is the sensible choice." But perhaps that gets just a little lost in the highly entertaining craziness?

Sears: Then and Now

Tony Kaye has been extraordinarily busy of late, apparently everywhere. The sad thing is that few of his recent spots will make it onto his all-time reel. But, even when given relatively run-of-the mill ideas with which to work - like this spot re-establishing Sears' heritage -- there are occasional flashes of the old brilliance. No one makes the human face more interesting than Kaye. And his journey through the ages of Sears and its consumers really is impeccably art directed, and not as strung together as -- for example -- Joe Pytka's Britney epic for Pepsi that aired during this year's Super Bowl. Young & Rubicam/Chicago really is to be complimented for the giant strides it has made on the Sears account, but I am not sure why this idea would make us want to shop at Sears today. Meanwhile, let's hope we see more of Kaye's old brilliance soon.

Nissan: Cops, Looks, Words Fail, and Deja Vu

There's something very dangerous about being inside the industry and knowing who did what. The average consumer doesn't know -- let alone care -- so that knowledge gives us a warped perspective, whether we like it or not. Take the new Nissan campaign for the Z. First up it's from TBWA/Chiat/Day, an agency one is disposed to think well of. Next, the commercials were "directed" by the likes of Mary Ellen Mark and Elliott Erwitt, two of the world's finest photographers, and -- more importantly when discussing my bias -- two of my favorites. There is no doubting that the photographs they took and then had edited together to represent people interacting with the Z are wonderful. It's all perfectly tasteful and cool, but there is clearly a "but". And the but is this: Can a series of edited together photographs, no matter how wonderful, really cut through the clutter and leave consumers remembering the Nissan Z? I fear this is very beautiful wallpaper.

Bugle Boy: Parking Lot and DMV

Good to see Bugle Boy back on our screens, disappointing to see them back with a done to death idea: the dog humping the jeans-clad leg. Still, if you are going to trot this one out you may as well try to do it as deftly and with as much understatement as possible. Cue using director-of-the-moment Noam Murro to shoot the two spots: one featuring a group of friends walking through a parking lot; the other starring a Bugle Boy wearer in a waiting room. Not sure if you will remember the ads as Bugle Boy or as the "dog-humping" spots though. After all, it's difficult to shrug off dog-humping. I'm still scarred by schoolboy memories of my best mate Tommy's dog Flanagan humping my leg whenever I wore khakis. Thankfully, there was never a stain.

Westin: Dissolve, Page Two, Body and Mind and 27 Resorts

These commercials feature the return of Carlton Chase behind the camera, shooting what can only be described as some very Carlton Chase-like footage for Westin Hotels. Of course this means they are exquisitely tasteful and artsty, not to mention black and white. It's not the director's fault that he has to show us that the hotel chain has comfortable beds, refreshing showers and is the place where "your body checks in and your mind checks out". There's a hell of a lot of asking the director to rescue the commercial around at the moment. And, there's also a hell of a lot of tastefulness -- so much so we can't distinguish one tasteful brand from the next. I would love to know where the infinity pool is, but I don't want that lovey-dovey couple mucking up my water, that's for sure.

California Milk Advisory Board: Funky Chicken, Sprinkler and Wannabe Pig

Hmm. This campaign must be successful, or we wouldn't be seeing further executions would we? No one ever lost money giving consumers talking animals (look at Blockbuster Video and Budweiser), but perhaps these cows might be better off chewing the cud rather than the fat in future. The wacky rooster, the lugubrious cows -- haven't we seen these characters a few too many times? Some of the executions are actually too short to really establish why Californian cows are happy enough to produce great cheese anyway. There's nothing offensive about the spots, but there's not much to take with us to the supermarket either.

(Stefano Hatfield is the editorial director of AdAge Global, Creativity and

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