Published on .

Joe O'Neill

Creative Director

Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer Euro RSCG

New York

Client: Oxford health plan

Agency: Merkley Newman Harty

Director: Jeff Preiss, Epoch Films

Around 1986, a John Hancock campaign created a new school of thought in advertising, which held that consumers would "read" a television commercial much as they do a good print ad-if the message was engaging enough. Oxford is the latest advertiser to embrace this thinking successfully. Most HMO advertising is not very memorable or differentiating. Here's an exception; a campaign that I, for one, remember seeing on air. One that is differentiating because each spot spells out a single meaningful difference between Oxford and competitive HMOs. Amid the myriad two-cuts-per-second spots we see these days, these messages stand out in relief. Each spot is comprised of a single 25-second reveal accompanied sometimes by dialogue, other times by sound effects, and every time by type that spells out what Oxford offers and others don't. In that, they are clear, uncomplicated, and speak persuasively to the power of keeping a commercial simple and its message uncluttered.

Client: AT&T

Agency: Young & Rubicam/New York

Director: Michael Grasso, Omaha Pictures

An MCI writer admiring an AT&T ad? Whatever happened to the good old days when we couldn't wait to take a Ping golf club to those monopolistic bastards? Well, we still do. But you have to pick your shots, and any shot taken at this spot would be a cheap one. This is one of those brave ads that dares to be cute. It is about young love and a couple who just can't get enough of one another. Fortunately, they don't have to, thanks to AT&T technology. Their date ends, but not their night, which is spent sending flirtatious e-mails, faxes and even using computer scanning technology (which AT&T doesn't offer but cleverly gets credit for) by the commercial's end. In short, the spot makes you smile. It puts a fresh new face on AT&T-two of them, actually. And in so doing, it confers a high-tech, contemporary image on a company that really needs it.

Client: AT&T

Agency: Young & Rubicam/New York

Director: Jim Gartner, Gartner Films

Occasionally, writers have to be protected from themselves. Protected from revealing our deep-seated wish to be seen as insightful, sensitive, lyrical, profound-qualities not easily demonstrated in the advertising business. Our best opportunities often come in the form of long voiceover tracts. And unless we are working with a smart, blunt art director, it's easy to succumb to the temptation to call more attention to our own talents than to the client. This spot strikes me as such a case. It feels like a commercial that began life as a rip during a pitch, a time when you often have to resort to voice tracts. Whether or not that's the case, the team should have taken the same message and retold the story in a more contemporary manner. I say "contemporary," because long voice tracts certainly are nothing new and, as such, are easily ignored, despite our best writing efforts; and this, by the way, is not a bad effort. But add emotional music and throw in Christopher Reeve and you have a spot that exudes far more sensitivity than invention. And, in the end, it is the inventiveness of AT&T that is supposed to be advertised, not the sensitivity of the creative team.

Client: Ping golf clubs

Agency: The Martin Agency

Director: Mark Story, Crossroads

I am not a golfer, but I am told that Ping is the Mercedes of clubs. One would not guess it from their advertising which, in effect, draws an iron out of the bag and flails away at the competition instead of the ball. The commercials are well-produced, nicely directed and funny. But I have to believe that Ping's image and sales will deteriorate if the campaign continues to acknowledge competitors which, I gather, are not in the same league. The hope, I guess, is to imbue the brand with humanity and good humor which, in fact, Mercedes is doing very successfully these days. Not, however, by devoting 20 seconds or so telling the world what the competition is doing wrong but, instead, by informing us with great wit what Mercedes continues to do right.

Client: Hyundai

Agency: Bates/New York

Director: Buddy Cohen, Big Eye Films; David Wild, Wild Scientific

Volvo stands for safety; BMW for performance; Honda for simplicity. It took years for these companies to stand for something singular in the minds of their targets. Now, in the span of 60 seconds, two spots tell us that Hyundai now stands for relentless power, amazing agility, muscular styling and worry-free driving. Sure. Clearly, Hyundai is in a great hurry to stand for something, anything, even everything, if it's at all possible. Which, of course, it isn't. After these two spots have run their course, Hyundai will continue to stand for nothing. Years ago, this company sold hundreds of thousands of "cars that make sense." Until they develop a strategy that makes equal sense, they will never again duplicate those numbers. Given the right product and a credible positioning, it is possible to turn things around. Volkswagen seems to have done quite nicely just by standing for fun.

Client: Kodak

Agency: Ogilvy & Mather/New York

Director: David Kellogg, Propaganda

Taking pictures is fun. Sharing pictures is fun. Looking at pictures is fun. And so is looking at and listening to this commercial. It wraps the Kodak Fun Saver camera together with Kodak processing in a story of a 13ish girl who photographs her Saturday. Not a special Saturday, mind you, just your common, ordinary, everyday Saturday, during which she shoots everything from her feet to her breakfast cereal to her plump parents doing slide exercises. I looked at this campaign a few times wishing that the spots paid off the themeline better by telling me how Kodak would truly "take pictures further." But sometimes products simply don't have competitive advantages, in which case we are left with brand personality and a lot of nice editing, film and storytelling devices. I'm not sure if Kodak is taking pictures further, but this spot does its best to take

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