These Are the Year's Best Ads?
A dispatch from the Clio Awards.
Other ads of interest:
- Gold went to a Luvs diapers viral video, in which the feelings of a first child upon learning he'll be getting a sibling are compared to the feelings of a husband whose wife introduces a second man into their marriage. Funny, but 1) it could and should have been much shorter than two minutes, 2) it draws no connection to the product, and 3) it pretty clearly failed to go viral, since I'd never heard of it before.
- A print ad for Brazil's Terra Travel received gold. The lovely illustration shows us a man in an open field dreaming of a city vacation, while a man in the city craves a rural retreat. The idea is captured with visual succinctness (each man's reality serves as the other man's dream—thought bubbles linking the two), and I think the tagline gets right at the heart of travel's appeal: "Routine sucks."
- Silver went to a Tampax campaign, titled "Zack Johnson," that features perhaps the most strangely compelling 12 minutes of video in the whole festival. It follows the travails of a 16-year-old boy who, Metamorphosis-style, wakes up one morning with a vagina. The subtle product placement comes into play when he gets his first period. It's a risk to cast a lead actor who is wholly outside the product's target demographic, but here I think it worked, and the teen guy in the role has a low-key charm. I found the story oddly sweet—it restrains itself from making cheap "what if men got periods?" jokes. At least one woman watching the ad in the Clios gallery before the awards show was utterly transfixed.
- Print gold went to a campaign for Billboard that attempts to identify the constituent parts of rock stars' personalities. A large image of Bono is formed pointillistically by mixing tiny images of Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, David Bowie, and Mother Teresa. Marilyn Manson's portrait consists of little photos of Kiss, Ozzy Osbourne, the Cure, and Cher. Awards show host John Michael Higgins suggested a Sarah Palin version might be achieved by blending Ted Nugent, Jefferson Davis, and Linda Lovelace.
Higgins is best known in ad land for a series of DirecTV commercials featuring him, Ed Begley Jr., and a whole lot of improvisation. Higgins appeared in a ton of ads early in his career, and he told me he feels this work honed his acting chops in a way that TV and movies never could have. "It's like acting through the eye of a needle," he said. "Ads are so brutally short that every single gesture, where you put your foot, it all matters. You have to find that emotion instantly, and get it across to the audience in a matter of seconds. Some movie actors need a long runway to get there, but in ads that doesn't work."
Just as Higgins began to sweep me up in his enthusiasm for the art form that is television commercials (an Amherst grad, he referenced both Wordsworth and Joyce in the course of our conversation), he deflated the moment by referring to a spot he once did for Planters peanuts. "Toughest ad I ever worked on. It was one long take, during which I had to catch a peanut in my mouth. Took all day."
Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.