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How many of you out there used to keep a bong in your living room? My cousin Joe did, years ago when he was living in Hyattsville, Md. Ah, those were the good old days-getting tear gassed on the Mall in Washington, zoning out with the Dead and the Allman Brothers at RFK Stadium and listening to Janis Joplin on your 8-track sing "Oh lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz."

Seems kind of weird to be hearing it again, on network television, tucked between promos for "Friends" and "Frasier," hawking a motorcar that '60s and '70s hippies would have never been able to afford. Of course, now that they're '90s post-yuppies, things are different.

Which is something you can say about most of the ad campaigns for such formerly high-minded European car brands as Mercedes, Volvo, VW and BMW. At their best they were classics, up there with "Me and Bobby McGhee." These days, though, many agency creative folks, especially those with long ties to these campaigns, feel they've lost their spark, that they're somehow blending in with other, more pedestrian car ads instead of taking the high road they used to. Lots of reasons why are offered, from the brands' desire to be seen as more accessible to their efforts to sell a broader range of product to a broader market segment.

Lee Garfinkel of Lowe/SMS, the agency that created the "Cupids" Mercedes spot featured on our cover this month, sort of shrugs it off, essentially saying that unless these brands loosened up their appeal they might find themselves in the slow lane. Maybe so, but then they don't want to come off as the heartbeat of Bavaria, now do they?

Lots of crossover in this issue. Take the "Cupids" spot; it was directed by Bruce Dowad, with visual effects from Digital Domain. Another spot in this campaign, "Rhinos," also a Dowad/DD co-production, is discussed in greater detail in our visual effects story on the explosion of computer-generated animals in commercials. Simply put, if you've got the time and the money, you can do almost anything. Frightening prospect, isn't it?

On the international front, we've got a great Viewpoint on Asian advertising from Batey Ads' Jim Aitchison this month and a report on two audacious Aussie campaigns. Finally, a word of thanks to Alfie Schloss, Ari Klingman and Charles Kouzoujian of Tape House Digital in New York for the hi-res film scans of frames from the "Cupids" and "Rhino" spots they did for us. We've never run a frame from a TV spot on our cover, mostly because they wouldn't hold up to such

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