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Lippert Critiques Oscar Spots

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"Honest to blog," as Oscar-winning stripper-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody overwrote in her nominated film Juno, I could barely stay awake for the lackluster Academy Awards, and the commercials were no blah-busters either.

Was it that agencies predicted that the writers' strike would not be settled and, therefore, decided with the clients not to create original material for the evening?

In past years, I watched the Oscar spots and felt, "This is what the Super Bowl could have been -- really surprising, intelligent, cinematic work."

The only example of that was the MasterCard spot, about which I have already gushed. I have to admit that seeing it in the context of the show, though, it seemed a tad long. Still, it was a standout, as was the other animated MasterCard spot for small business.

The other new work with an exciting, elevated aesthetic belonged to American Express. When I heard that it would feature Diane von Furstenberg, I was a little worried that it would be forced and unfunny, since designers are not the most articulate people, and my brain is already suffering from Vera Wang overload. (She has a really annoying voice, doesn't she?)

But the AmEx DvF spot was, to use a fashion term, divine. It stayed away from all the standard cliches of talking about her history and the wrap dress. Instead, it felt authentically low key, and showed her as she is now -- unapologetically older, talking about what makes women comfortable in a human, sensitive, engaged way. The design of her fabrics is immediately recognizable, abstract and beautiful; and the way the spot opens with trees silhouetted against the sky, then dissolves to the patterns of the clothing was indeed artful. I loved the music, and her statement about women and confidence really connected.

I certainly admire Diet Coke for going the whole nine yards (covered in red fabric) with the Women's Heart Health tie-in, and the fact that so many of the female stars on the red carpet wore red also made the point. But I was disappointed that none of the commercials soared creatively like Coke's "It's Mine" did on the Super Bowl. And although I really liked the (not new) commercial about getting the diva in the trailer on the movie set her Diet Coke with a bendy straw, the tacked-on heart health ending felt awkward, and only underlined the obvious disconnect between Diet Coke and heart health.

J.C. Penney launched new work, but not from Saatchi, which did such a bang up job at last year's Oscars. Instead, the ads for the American Living line, a new deal between the retailer and Ralph Lauren, were produced by the designer's Global Brand Concepts division under the guidance of David Lauren and directed by famed photographer Bruce Weber.

I realize that it's an upscale move for Penney, and Weber certainly knows how to shoot, but again, it was the same old "lifestyle" work, like 1994 called and wants its perfect blonde families back. Certainly, it was a toned-down version of any of the teenage erotica he's done for Calvin Klein or Abercrombie & Fitch. I noticed that one of the cherubic little girls was wearing a headscarf, echoing the director's sartorial signature.

Then there were the celebrities: L'Oreal bought what seemed like a gazillion dollars worth of ads, but many of them became like wallpaper. Too many celebs, too much 'splaining of the supposed science.

Then there was a contest for Bertolli with chef Rocco DiSpirito that made me really dispirited. It was overly busy and overly unfunny, and the onetime celebrity chef looked like he was made out of plastic -- not exactly a fresh and delicate flavah.

Saturn also had a spot that seemed overthought and too talky. The previous one, in which the music and the bling were allowed to do the talking, was far more memorable.

Finally, Dove went back to the consumer-generated well, revealing the winner of the contest for a Dove Cream Oil commercial. Amy Brenneman was a good choice to introduce the whole shebang, but it seems like every submission is the same: a shining, smiley young gal in her shower, saying something, and then a cut to the Dove-supplied graphics, then back to the showerer. The spot that won had the same eye-numbingly bad production values as all the others. That's a shame, because the winner was interviewed on the site, and just this sound bite, "Well this is how I shower. I'm fast. I'm in and out because I'm busy. Plus, I grew up with four siblings and now live in a dorm," was far more interesting than the spot. Perhaps it drove lots of traffic to the Web site, but to me it seemed more like Showerhead Revisited. Rerun, retread, honey, give me a rewrite.

Barbara Lippert is the advertising critic at 'Adweek.'

Click here for The Hollywood Reporter's complete coverage of the Oscars.