The Bobby Awards

Plus Garfield's Predictions for 2009

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Book of Tens: Bob Garfield

This is it! The 11th-annual Bobby Awards, recognizing the best acting in commercials in 2008. Call the girls and huddle around Ad Age. The pageantry! The excitement! OMG , the outfits!

Best Performance by an Actress

(From l.) Geneva Carr, Allyson Ryan and Stephanie Courtney

We so love "Flo," the over-the-top clerk in the Progressive Insurance "Insurance Store" spots (Arnold Worldwide). Improv actress Stephanie Courtney is a weirdly sincere, post-modern Josephine the Plumber who just really wants to help. She has: The brand is flourishing.

At the opposite pole of the acting craft is Allyson Ryan, the mom in the Duracell spot about a child wandering off in the park. In the space of 20 seconds, she must convey distress, near panic, self-control, relief and "what if" -- all histrionics-free. Bravo.

This year's Bobby, though, rewards another display of multiple emotions: the perfect realization of parental impatience/contempt/didacticism in spots for AT&T wireless rollover minutes ( BBDO, New York). Geneva Carr can't stand her family. It's gorgeous.

Best Performance by an Actor

(From l.) Jarlath Conroy, Windell Middlebrooks and Randy Krallman

While funny cellphone-commercial characters are a dime a dozen, Jarlath Conroy is sui generis. He's the desk clerk at a fleabag hotel, who -- with spooky intensity -- warns a guest about the terrible wireless coverage in the rooms. When the guest says he's on the Verizon network, the clerk brightens at once, chirping one last caveat: "Towels are kind of scratchy!" Whoa -- from Anthony Hopkins to Donald O'Connor in an instant (McCann, New York).

The talking-baby spots for E-Trade (Grey, New York) are wonderful for many reasons. The writing is fabulous, and director Randall Krallman has managed to coax/CGI the most precious expressions from the kid. The killer detail, though, is the voice -- also supplied by Krallman. When the baby gets a naughty text message from his lady, the way he says, "Ooooh, bad girl" is very funny. When the phone rings and he says, "Hey, girl, can I hitchu back?" it's hilarious.

Still, the Bobby must go to Windell Middlebrooks, who for two years has been delivering cases of Miller High Life and wicked social/moral/beverage commentary. He's a one-man crusade against fern bars and skyboxes and other chichi underminers of the High Life. He's also totally believable and totally loveable.

Best Performance by a Celebrity

(From l.) Scarlett Johansson, Charlie Sheen and Tina Fey

It's one thing for William Shatner to poke fun at himself in advertising. For a guy still in the market for heroic leads, that's unheard of. So you must hand it to Charlie Sheen, who plays himself as a fawning poseur trying to be Michael Jordan's buddy. (Jordan, utterly blowing him off, is pretty great too.) By the way, Sheen nails the Hanes T-shirt brand benefit: crewnecks that keep their shape ( Martin Agency, Richmond, Va.).

Sheen's cool for pretending to be pretending he's more famous than he is. Over at American Express (Ogilvy, New York), Tina Fey is cool for pretending to be less famous than she is. She's particularly charming in a spot with director Martin Scorcese. Extra credit for a bit on "30 Rock," where, after a clumsy Verizon product placement, she turned to the camera and said, "Can we have our money now?"

So good for them, but the trophy must go to, et al. -- including John Legend, Scarlett Johansson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Common -- who turned Barack Obama's lyrical oratory into actual lyrics in a breathtaking display of music-video virtuosity. "Yes We Can" is as close as a video montage can get to spiritual.

The presidency was a nice reward, but could they possibly have dreamed of a Bobby?

Garfield's Predictions for 2008

  1. At least three large daily newspapers will reduce their print editions to Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
  2. To exploit buzz and reduce costs, NBC will take "Saturday Night Live" to (at least) twice weekly.
  3. Starting Jan. 21, the FTC and FDA will regulate again, making many of your lives a living hell.
  4. According to an already-written press release, GoDaddy will be shocked its Bowl ads are rejected.
  5. The government will intervene in GM's marketing -- the one thing it cannot fuck up more.
  6. No trouble getting a hotel in Cannes.
  7. Google will hire Aida Yespica to run its video division so that YouTube will finally have a model.
  8. The National Advertising Review Board will issue a harsh ruling on Hai Karate after-shave ads.
  9. The upfront will take place at the LaGuardia Royce and Courtyard Marriott hotels: free continental breakfast and airtime.
  10. My ExtenZe refund will not arrive.
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