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Larry Frey

Associate Creative Director

Wieden & Kennedy, Portland

Client: Unum Corp.

Agency: Goodby Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco

Director: Graham Wood, Tomato/Curious Pictures, New York

Insurance spots are tough to do, aren't they? I mean, it's like, "Quick, name your top 10 favorite insurance spots. Oh, and take your time, I'm using the big hourglass."

These three spots are obviously very carefully thought out, nicely crafted albeit abstract reflections on the issues various groups of individuals face in the search for an insurance company that understands their specific coverage needs. According to the commercials, these groups include the aged, the handicapped and new-family types.

I think it all makes too much damn sense to me. I know it's an insurance account, but give the left half of your brain a rest, guys. What's going on over there on the Unum account? The planner's actually directing the spots, right?

You want to do a great insurance spot? Imagine you're going to die tomorrow.

Client: Levi's Red Tab

Agency: Bartle Bogle Hegarty, London

While I believe BBH continues to be one of those counterintuitive wonders that makes advertising new again and again, this print campaign, featuring real cowboys, is weird. Maybe the Brits will find it exotic. But spread-eagled here on my desk in Oregon for three days now, it's elicited the following: "Beautiful photography," "They look kinda posed," "Wow, the one with the old lady is cool" and "I don't think that guy really holds a saddle that way."

Exactly. It's all too beautifully set up, posed, tagged and bagged. Not raw and honest enough for the subject matter. Who's responsible? Nick Knight, the photographer on the campaign? He's just doing what he does. One of the best. The idea? Maybe not original, but solid. Done great by the Gap, well by Esprit, lousy by countless others.

If it's all in the execution, what would have made this idea great? Penn. Maybe Avedon, if he hadn't already done it in The American West.

Client: Cole Haan

Agency: The Richards Group, Dallas

Laying this pretty little campaign out on my desk, I was suddenly struck by the fact that for every decent ad out there making good use of illustration-in this case the work of Mark Ulriksen-there are about a thousand that incorporate photography. That made me think, all things being equal, would this campaign have been as nice using photography in place of illustration? Don't think so. Too literal. Chalk up one for the art director.

And chalk up another one for the art director's taste in colors, typography and product shot (by Daniel Proctor) with shallow-depth-of-field-photography-du-jour (or, as an editor buddy of mine likes to say, "Larry, there's no such thing as out of focus anymore").

And now the bad news. The copy's too pat, snobby, something. Pity. I liked these folks when I first met them, but in the end they just seemed like a bunch of know-it-alls.

Client: Diesel

Agency: Paradiset DDB Needham/Stockholm

Director: Traktor, Partizan, New York

Call me insane. This cartoony Diesel spot is waaaaaaay out there, but I loved it. Set to some kind of screwed up accordion music, with German lyrics, no less, it's about a bunch of Boy Scouts who think they're going to get a lesson in mouth to mouth resuscitation, courtesy of a goodlooking girl.

As it turns out, a grizzled out Scout Master with terminal gum disease is really the one with the fake heart attack.

Stuck with the chore of putting a lip lock on the Scout Master, an unlucky Boy Scout uses the power of positive thinking by visualizing a girl instead. And in a twist at the end, the two of them ride off on horseback, uh, winking at each other.

I call this Mentos humor. Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters get it, you should too. And if you're trying to find some deeper strategy to Diesel advertising, your pants are on way too tight.

Client: Hanes

Agency: Arnell Group, New York

Director: Peter Lindbergh, Arnell Productions, New York

Even if this commercial was crap, which it's not, I'd still be fascinated by it. It reminds me that there are so many ads out there that I don't pay much attention to, not because they're bad, but just because I don't relate to them as information I can use.

But I'll bet there are millions of people out there for whom this commercial is a real barn burner. First, you get this charismatic revved-up singer who's seemingly discovered the fountain of youth. Already, 80 percent of the women over the age of 30 are paying attention.

Next, she's the marketing department's dream because her getaway sticks make the product look better than it does on anyone but seven supermodels.

Get a great photographer to direct it. Lay down a catchy tune. Don't fuck up the mix. Meet you at the bank.

Client: CK Be

Agency: CRK Advertising (in-house), New York

Director: Richard Avedon, Avedon Productions

They only come along once in a while, those advertising campaigns for which there is no middle ground. Everyone becomes polarized. You will hear either, "This sucks!" or "That's cool!"

Which brings me to this campaign. I challenge you to scour the earth to find a focus group who will watch this and say, "Yeah, I dunno, I don't remember 'em very well, could you rewind the tape and play 'em again?"

Me? I'm torn. I want to like these spots, because at their core, the concept of confidence in personal identity or the acceptance of personal style is provocative. It's unvarnished, in your face, b&w full-bore casting and scripts that toss everything, from self-loathing to sexual ambiguity, like manhole covers. You've got to credit anyone who's got the guts to put this on the air.

In the end, though, no matter how noble the effort at tackling heady subject matter, all but a couple simply fall victim to bad acting, reminding me too much of two-hour casting tapes I've had to endure. And when that happens, it's not CK

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