Smood new Vanilla Coke spots

The Sopranos might have just suspended production, but thankfully that’s not the case for our pal Chazzy and his Vanilla Coca Nostra. That group is now in its second season, and these two new spots are real smood and intriguing.

You remember last June’s introductory ads for the cola with flava. First there was the shocking if inadvertent match of metaphors in the setup, since both organizations (the Coca-Cola Co. and the mafia) are huge, hierarchical, tightly run and intensely secretive. That Coke would even joke about its own highly guarded nature-with Chazz Palminteri as a mafia guy taking people hostage to try the secret drink-was unexpectedly entertaining. Directed by Phil Joanou, the spots sparkled, and Palminteri took to this particular gangster role like a bee to fructose syrup.

In this latest round, Joanou is still directing, and Chazz is back as well. And even though the celebrity quotient has been amped up, the spots are still simple, sparsely populated and clever.

Jimmy, the mute scary sidekick, has more of a role, and this time we get a glitzed-up, Rat Pack-like interior restaurant setting. The clubby place-featuring low lights, red walls, gleaming red leather booths and banquettes-is entirely empty, and Chazz appears front and center, behind a round table, in his sharp suit and silver tie, expecting guests.

Into this insulated world pops the brother from another planet (or at least another one of Coke’s marketing orbits), Simon Cowell, the cocky British judge on American Idol. Sometimes unduly harsh, sometimes merely tellin’ it like it is, the record producer lately seems obsessed with advising various contestants that they could lose a few pounds. He’s an odd combination-a macho baby who likes to wear black muscle T’s and pout. He also has many ways to say “awful.”

Coke has a successful, if not exactly subtle “integrated” relationship with the Fox reality show, now in its second season. There’s the red room, where Idol wannabes hang out on red couches with the trademark “dynamic ribbon,” and the big red cups that sit in front of each judge. “Coca-Cola behind-the-scenes moments” are also featured.

These Vanilla Coke spots run during the show. So not only is Coke embedded into the programming, it’s also outbedded with the other sponsors. And by slipping with Chazz into a tufted booth, so is Cowell. But in this case, outbedding means he could be sleeping with the fishes.

“Simon, I can tell America I love Vanilla Coke, but if it comes from you, America’s most notorious critic, then we’ve got something,” says Chazz to his star visitor. “So what is your opinion?”

Simon says, “Well, actually …” But before the guy who’s always quick with the harsh word can react, Chazz and his Vanilla posse have other plans. “Jimmy, show him his opinion!” he says. Jimmy brings out a handwritten cue card, and their boy Simon duly reads: “I love the smooth, intriguing taste of Vanilla Coke.” Chazz is elated. “He loves it!” he says. “Jimmy, ring da bell!”

There’s no actual bell-ringing, but Simon’s panicked eye movements suffice. The pacing is hilarious, as are the line readings. Simon can act-could it be that the reality show (gasp!) isn’t so real? Chazz has the ability to turn from friendly-warm-smiley to menacing in seconds (a true client?), Cowell appears cowed, and the punched-up tango music in the background perfectly underscores their uneasy dance.

Even with so many layers of cultural reference, the spot is seamless: light, funny and memorable. The reverse-honesty thing-admitting the artifice and then playing Twister with it-is a sophisticated device that’s hard to pull off. It comes off smartly here, even at the expense of Coke suggesting to literal-minded viewers that it has to intimidate celebrities into saying positive stuff. (Simon has a big lump in his throat as he spits out, “It’s good.”)

The second spot stars hip-hop’s Missy Elliott, and although she’s a great choice and a magnetic screen presence, it’s not quite as smooth. “Missy Elliott, supah dupah hip-hop diva,” Chazz says in his empty restaurant. “What if it was you that let America know that Vanilla Coke is smooth and intriguing?”

Missy, in a white newsboy cap and big hoop earrings, lights up the screen. With her immaculate French manicure, she delicately fingers the straw in her Vanilla Coke bottle and, in a perfectly natural delivery, says, “You and Jimmy, you want me to rap about Vanilla Coke?”

Marketer Palminteri has other plans: “Rap? I was hoping you could help Jimmy and the boys pass out these bobbleheads.” We see a little Missy doll, an amusingly detailed rendering, white fedora, hoop earrings, microphone and all. Missy doesn’t say a word-looking stricken, she just lets the head bobble away.

The air seems to go out of the spot the minute the doll is introduced. The device has shown up in lots of commercials, and while the bouncing head is funny-and part of the hot collectible market now-it’s basically just a lame prop joke that breaks all the faux-goodfella carefully mediated tension. Unlike the rest of the spots, the bobble is trouble-not that intriguing and not that smooth.