The AdCritic

Levi's, New York Lottery, UPS, Starbucks

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This week, our editors rate recent spots for Levi's, Starbucks, UPS and the New York Lottery.

Levi's "Horse"
Levi's: Horse and Car

Levi's move to BBH/New York more than a year ago, was -- of course -- big news. It marked the first time the brand's business had resided anywhere but San Francisco, and it also delivered it into the hands of an agency that has produced the best Levi's ads in the world out of its London office. Expectations were high. Leading up to this pair of spots, BBH/N.Y. had largely failed to meet them. First, was a serviceably moody campaign for Levi's Low-Rise line -- which failed to draw on the brand's heritage -- followed by a Super Bowl heritage spot that failed in almost every other respect. These two new spots, however, seem to hit the nail on the head. Both are mini-epics that create the sort of sui generis cool the London office has become known for, thanks in part to the fact that both spots were posted by BBH's go-to London vendors. They also both succeed in creating worlds that are at once futuristic and rustic: a hipster cowpoke ropes a runaway car and a woman on a horse matches wills with a speeding locomotive. Both of the sports are beautifully filmed, and against MTV's current background of lo-fi ad efforts, they are truly eye-popping. These commercials may or may not succeed in reviving the ailing American brand, but they do at least deliver, at last, what Levi's must have had in mind when they hired BBH. (JH)

New York Lottery "Own the Team"
New York Lottery: Pharmaceutical, Dog Day, Own the Team, Blues Singer and Ralphstock

An earlier Adcritic review of spots for the Maryland Lottery noted that while lottery ads would seem to have a low degree of difficulty, there is a danger of overdosing on the default approach -- dreamy what-if scenarios of freedom and wish-fulfillment. But, done well, those what-if scenarios can be highly effective, as demonstrated by this new campaign for the New York Lottery from DDB/New York. The new spots draw on the dream scenario premise but do it so well it's hard to fault the campaign. Apparently the previous "If I Had a Million Dollars" effort was doing just fine, but a change was in order nonetheless. Good call. The IIHAMD spots were wearing thin and this new batch is significantly more engaging. Each of the new commercials has a different look and feel, a different approach to the big win fantasy and each ends with a different tagline. In one, a doctor addresses the camera in classic pharma-spot style and speaks about the benefits of playing, and by extension, winning the New York Lottery. Like all the spots, it's well written and extremely well executed, courtesy giggle-meister Baker Smith. The small dialogue and performance touches in all the spots make the campaign sing. The Doctor spot, for instance, gives us the lines "improve your outlook and where you look out to," and "ask your accountant if more money is right for you." Another spot features a New York baseball coach calmly explaining his team's abysmal performance, his deadpan euphemisms cut together with shots of unspeakably horrible baseball, as played by the new team's owner, a NYL winner. All eyes are on DDB/New York since Lee Garfinkel was brought in, followed by a creative topping up that's been undertaken to restore the glory to the legendary office. We'll wait for the big world-moving campaign, but in the meantime things quietly move in the right direction. (TI)

Starbucks "Suit"
Starbucks: Suit and Sticking

A casual glance at corporate America today reveals more than a handful of examples of big companies getting everything wrong and then, when trying to fix everything with advertising, getting that wrong too. Starbucks seems to be an example, even if you hate to admit it (and as a non-coffee drinker who gains nothing from the Starbucksification of America, I hate to admit it) of a company doing everything right -- and doing much of it without advertising. And when the company does undertake TV ads, typically for specific products, darnit if it doesn't get that right too. Earlier efforts from Fallon/New York for pre-packaged iced frapuccino and espresso employed super smooth animation (from New York's Psyop) and a nice Yo La Tengo soundtrack in ads that were cool without being too cool and which embodied a great feel for the brand -- somewhat hippy dippy yet slick. While those spots seemed to speak more to the younger coffee culture, new work from Fallon goes after the working everyman with different, but equally fine results. In one particularly appealing spot, a young female office worker becomes a target for annoying people and things, which stick to her, literally. Of course Starbucks' iced frapuccino is depicted as the refreshing way to chemically stimulate one's way out of such a sticky situation -- and the stuff does look refreshing.

Director Rocky Morton nails the humor in the spot and creates a sympathetic, not just pathetic, office drone. The same is achieved when a young man tries to evade the unwelcome advances of his suit and tie on a Monday morning -- though when one sees an inanimate object which is symbolic of a lifestyle attacking a person, one immediately thinks of the best example of that premise, the Reebok ads "Belly" and "Sofa." No matter, the spots are funny and appealing across a wide demographic, and while I still secretly look down on coffee drinkers and I really can't think of many things less palatable than cold espresso, they make me almost want to visit a Starbucks. (Hey, they do have good muffins.) (TI)

UPS "Movie Deal"
UPS: Movie Deal

This ad comes from a longrunning niche campaign that probably not enough people are seeing. Created to promote UPS' sponsorship of NASCAR, the effort focuses on an effort to get Dale Jarrett, who drives the UPS car, to "Race The Truck" -- that is, to take the companies' trademark brown truck out onto the racing oval. The effort to persuade him has been relentless, and has included impassioned pleas from Jarrett's father, George Thorogood, the Charlie Daniels Band, Joe Walsh and even Wayne Newton. For this round, The Martin Agency has drafted race announcer Jackie Stewart to lead the charge with the funniest pitch yet, the promise of a major motion picture based on Jarrett racing the truck. The trailer in this spot is absolutely hilarious, filled with all the standard blockbuster cliches and some truly harrowing footage of that big brown truck. That the whole campaign centers around UPS' true icon -- the truck -- is what makes it so smart. The Martin Agency was surely shooting for the same sort of brand metonymy with the unappetizing "What Can Brown Do for You?" campaign, although it's with "Race the Truck" that they really got it right. It's too bad the truck can't jump the track and become a full-blown consumer campaign. (JH)

(THE REVIEWERS: Jim Hanas is the editor of Teressa Iezzi is the editor of Creativity magazine.)

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