The AdCritic

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Eek! 2003. How exactly did that happen? The degree to which you have been obsessing about the state of the commercials business over the holidays probably depends on how good the last quarter was for you. Encouragingly, for a few of you it was really very good indeed. Is this being reflected in the latest campaigns? Judge for yourself. But, let's be honest, we could have been looking at similar commercials certainly at the start of 1993, probably 1983, and in a couple of cases (technical wizardry aside) 1973. Just click on the titles to view the spots. And, if you agree or disagree with anything you read, please feel free to e-mail me. The address is [email protected].

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Tostitos Gold: Replace and In The Park

So, Ohio State becomes national college football champions for the first time since 1968. After all the angst, the heartache and pain those Buckeye fans can proudly call themselves Tostitos Bowl champions. Yippee! And to coincide with its sponsorship of the Fiesta Bowl, Tostitos broke this pair of spots during the game on Friday night. The entire initiative is in support of its new Gold product, apparently "the perfect chip for hearty dips" because it is a little thicker than a regular chip. Given that they are from BBDO, it's not too surprising that they feature celebrities: Jay Leno illuminating a dull party and Little Richard enlivening a desperately dull theatre performance. It's pretty formulaic stuff. The chips even come with "an authentic Mexican taste" -- which is simply a cue for a shot of a flirtatious, vaguely Latin-looking babe eating the chip lasciviously. Sigh! On second thought, this could be 1973 after all.

American Express: Dog

Another celebrity performance, this time from regular AmEx frontman Tiger Woods. Shot with typical Pytkaesque verve, we see Tiger Woods' dog chasing down a tennis ball, and crossing desert, golf course and water to return it to its master. Of course, along the way he (the dog) uses the AmEx card tied handily around his neck. When the dog returns the ball, this being Tiger Woods' he then whacks it out again, to the beach this time. Watch it half a dozen times, and then tell me: WHY?

Gatorade: 23 vs. 39

Another ad directed by Joe Pytka, another celebrity, another Gatorade Michael Jordan spot (the 21st). Jordan's only real competitor as a sportsman endorser is the previously mentioned Tiger Woods, and he's still some way back. This ad stands out from other celebrity ads a little, however, by virtue of some outstanding technical wizardry that makes it appear that the 39-year-old Jordan is playing one-on-one against his 23-year-old younger self. It also has at least a little to do with the product being sold -- the frequent lack of such a virtue being the real difference between 2003 and 1973. The chief downside is that the ad conjures up the ghosts of countless Jordan ads past. But, thanks to five months' labor at Digital Domain, it's worth more than one look.

ESPN: Fill Up the Tub, 3 Act Play and Baptism

The fourth campaign this week, and the fourth to use a celebrity. This time it's Kiefer Sutherland, fresh from series two of the outstanding Fox drama 24. Sutherland displays impeccable hockey credentials (he is Canadian, he can skate) to be spokesman for the Stanley Cup playoffs on ESPN. These really are quite beautiful and original spots. Between the fine effects from Windmill Lane and Sutherland's presence, the viewer is forced to take notice. These spots really do capture something of the epic nature of hockey and its gladiators at their best without resorting to the usual clich├ęs. "Ice. Men. Sticks. Pucks" -- as simple as that? Perhaps, but these ads are a bit more ambitious than most. That ambition pays off.

Wrangler: Nurses, Unicorn and Target

These ads are different too -- both visually and stylistically. The use of text, the electrifying music, and the clever marriage of stock and original footage all ad up to an intriguing and beguiling set of spots. It's refreshing too to see jeans commercials that eschew the usual sex/fashion route. There are two things I am not sure about however. The Wrangler patch used as a logo device is actually unappealingly ugly. The other problem is that I am sure I've read endless stories about Wrangler trying to move away from its cowboyness. If that's just journalists getting it wrong (who knew?), then apologies to Wrangler. If that is true, then this becomes a one star campaign.

(Stefano Hatfield is contributing editor to Advertising Age and Creativity magazines.)

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