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Creative Differences

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After watching the latest installment of the World's Funniest Commercials on TBS, I thought they should change the name of the program to the World's Most Depressing Show Ever, With Host Kevin Nealon Personifying the Abject Sadness.

The funniest of the funny, chosen by online voting at TBS's Web site, was Bud Light's "Cut the Cheese." (It could have been funny if it had cut more than the cheese, like at least half of the endless fart jokes.) Afterward, I resolved, in my own "bloviating" way, to pack up and move to France. But then I remembered that the French commercials on the reel were even worse.

Still, there's no doubt that commercials continue to have major appeal for consumers, regardless of the size of the screen they appear on. In 2009, perhaps funny and entertaining commercials will serve as the same sort of smile-producing fantasy outlets that Busby Berkeley movies did for Depression-era Americans. But probably not. The reality is that we'll probably see a harder sell in every category, from automotive to banking to health services to fast food.

"I see budget cuts, and doing more with less," said Rob Schwartz, executive creative director at TBWA\Chiat\Day in Playa del Rey, Calif. "Creatively, I see little appetite for experimentation. I think comparative ads will be on the rise. Us versus them. And if a brand can demonstrate a difference, they will -- be it a taste test or test of strength. Think snake-oil salesman 2.0."

And with old-fashioned shows like Jay Leno's prime-time comedy/variety hour on the horizon, there will be plenty of room for live commercials, just like in the early 1960s.

Obviously, in this economy, people without jobs are screwed. But even people with jobs are hardly "consuming." And why should they? Brands that survive offer consumers something of great value -- whether that comes in a new application, green message, brand-based content or a new experience. But more on that later.

For the beleaguered ad industry, the coming year presents many struggles -- even among creatives themselves. Strategists, designers, interactive creative directors and traditional agency creatives are all jockeying to be numero uno, the one with the big idea for the brand from which all the messaging flows.

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