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Freak Week: Scare Tactics

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Sometimes you'll see a single TV spot generate most of the buzz in a given week, for reasons good or bad. Last week, perhaps for the first time, it was a Walmart spot (from Publicis & Hal Riney), and it had people laughing, crying and generally shaking their heads in wonder. The scene is a child's birthday party. Mom has bought all the decorations and food from Walmart. Dad has found something there, too -- a clown costume. ("It's time for Daddy to make some funny," he tells us.) Intent on surprising the kids, he leaps from the stairs into their play area, only to impale himself on a spiky toy unicorn. He lets out a blood-curdling scream that sends the kids running. It's the length of the scream that's disconcerting -- almost 10 seconds long, it treads well into uncomfortable territory. Lots of people loved the ad. Others ran for cover. But it certainly make quite the impression.

You wouldn't think bacon needed advertising. Has anyone in history been known to dislike the stuff (including vegetarians)? On the other hand, the product's near-universal appeal means it's often taken for granted. Well, Canadian agency John St. celebrated bacon's greatness with its new "Republic of Bacon" campaign for the Maple Leaf brand. TV spots show a woman proposing with bacon instead of a ring, some guys relaxing at a bacon spa, and an office drone getting bacon in lieu of flowers as an apology. There's plenty more long-overdue adulation at the Web site.

Colleges aren't known for their innovative marketing to prospective students, which is why is was refreshing last week to run across a brilliant recruitment video from Yale University. The 17-minute entreaty to would-be freshmen is crafted as a Glee-style musical number, with guest appearances by YouTube sensation Sam Tsui (a Yale alum) and NBC's Brian Williams. We're not 18, but we imagine this impressively produced, ultra-campy extravaganza would appeal to us if we were. At the very least, it begs for a response from Harvard-preferably a rock 'n' roll opera.

Finally, we also discovered a rare beast last week: a Safe-Driving PSA from the U.K. that doesn't feature a single mangled body, piercing scream or heart-wrenching sob. Instead, shot in slow motion, the ad shows a man driving an imaginary car in his living room, as his wife and daughter look on. As he braces for an imaginary crash, his family rushes to his side and acts as his seatbelt. It's simply beautiful, and as emotionally powerful as any gore-fest. Describing it doesn't do it justice. Watch it for yourself.


Best of BrandFreak: The iPad's first problem is its name

Apple'S iPad stumbled right out of the gate last week, thanks to its name. The word iTampon became a trending topic on Twitter, and an old MadTV skit surfaced that imagined an iPad feminine-care system. On Thursday, AdFreak's sister blog, BrandFreak, asked some brand-naming experts for their opinion. They had mixed reactions. Phillip Davis of Tungsten Branding was unimpressed, saying the name is too bland -- and the product (unlike the iPhone) might not be special enough to rise about it. Hayes Roth of Landor Associates disagreed. "It's a very smart name," he said, much better than iSlate, which some thought was the other option. "To me, that has concerns," said Roth. "It's a cold, cold stone, and it also takes you back to Romans chiseling into stones." Finally, Danny of A Hundred Monkeys said the name doesn't really matter. "Apple has been brilliant about focusing on the only brand that matters-the big one," he said. "It has a long history of making great products with undistinguished names."