The AdCritic

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This week, the best spot of the new year, the most poignant of celebrity vehicles and a few heavy-handed executions. 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].

Does a job

Volkswagen: Chain Reaction

This is superb. You can watch it again and again, each time with a new reward. There is much to admire in Mike Mills' spot. John Dragonetti's music is seductive, while Angus Wall's editing and the deft special effects by A52 and the Brickyard take the commercial to another level. But they are really just icing on the cake. Mills' series of delightful observations -- from the placing of money in another motorist's meter to a girl tooting a male cyclist's horn -- creates a world of warmth and smiles that is rare for an ad, especially an ad that eschews the schmaltzy Disney route. The reversal of footage is beautifully handled. The effect is one to which so many ads aspire yet fail to reach: a suspension of disbelief. We are caught up in the mood because the director is not bashing us over the head. When the first passerby is revealed to be smiling at a Beetle convertible, we smile too. Why? For the same reason my five year-old takes delight at spotting a Beetle in the street. The car has a unique personality, which this ad conveys. Together with Mills' "Bubble" from last year and Malcolm Venville's recent "Squares" spot, "Chain Reaction" represents an intriguing and challenging new body of work, as Arnold restores VW to its place among the very best of advertisers. I want a Beetle convertible too!

Miller Lite: Cat Fight

Half of me wants to laud this ad for being an honest representation of what Miller Lite drinkers really want. But not all halves are equal. Sure, the babes are beautiful, the set is cool, and Erich Joiner directs the ensuing fight with aplomb. But, come on Miller. Two babes -- a blonde and a brunette -- fall out over whether or not Miller Lite tastes great or is less filling. Which, of course, means they have to tear each other's clothes off to reveal sexy underwear and fantasy cleavage, plunge into water fighting, and end up in a muddy brawl. Miller attempts to cover up its return to '70s beer advertising by cutting to two guys as they dream up the ad in a bar. That of course is supposed to make it ironic, while letting us enjoy babes in a catfight. That's supposed to make it OK in 2003. It doesn't.

FreshDirect: Olive Nose , Cheese Dust and Robbery

Suddenly, everybody's talking about FreshDirect. And, without really knowing anything about the brand, I feel aggrieved that it does not deliver in my neighborhood - yet. That's amazing word of mouth. And it's a lot more subtle than these commercials. There's an idea there - about the appalling standards of money-grabbing supermarkets - to which we can all relate, but it is terribly over-egged. We don't really need a woman firing a booger into the olives to get the point. We know supermarkets are bad, but why is FreshDirect so much better that it sends people I know into rapture?

Dr Pepper: LL Cool J, Paulina and Anastacia

Just when you thought we could get through a week of reviews without mentioning a celebrity, along comes a new Dr Pepper campaign chock-full of them. Paulina Rubio pays tribute to Celia Cruz, Anastacia honors a still effervescent Cyndi Lauper, but the spot everyone is talking about is LL Cool J's homage to Run DMC. This is due to the coincidence of the spot coming out so soon after the band's Jam Master Jay was murdered. Dr Pepper has added a small tribute to Jay at the end, but the reason the commercial is actually appropriate and fitting is that LL Cool J was already paying tribute to Jay's originality. For once in a celebrity spot, there's not a huge leap from that idea to the truth that you either like the taste of Dr Pepper or you don't. It's a good campaign.

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

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