Olympic Miracles on Ice


In contrast to the jokey, angry spots that semi-darkened CBS's Super Bowl, the ads on NBC's Winter Olympics coverage have been uplifting and bright as the Vancouver snow. There has been so much touching humanity on display during the spots that, well, sorry, I have to go cry again.

It's the context. There's an authentic narrative, a universal truth to being an Olympic athlete. It's a story of talent, discipline, focus, persistence, sheer hard work and some luck. Unlike manufactured celebrity, the Olympian's journey makes for a real human-interest story. Winter or summer, the Olympics are one of the few places where we see the human excellence of the world on display. Not incidentally, it's also a place where men and women come together on an equal footing.

And that supplies the perfect backdrop for advertisers. They don't have to come up with some random idea or joke that they hope will break through. Win or lose, it's all about genuine and authentic emotion, power and beauty.

Before we get all carried away, it isn't perfect. The opening ceremony, for instance, was a bit dull. Give the producers credit for including all the indigenous peoples. They had me at Inuit. But like Canada itself, the opener was perhaps too nice, too inclusive, maybe too real -- further proof that repressive regimes tend to stage the best public shows. (China, Nazi Germany and Hollywood come to mind.) You can bet the Olympic torch would not have malfunctioned in Beijing.

But back to the misting-up part: On opening night, we also got to see the debut of "We Are the World," the Haitian version. OK, it had some embarrassing choices. Justin Bieber getting the first solo? Jamie Foxx doing his Ray Charles? But with the shots of present-day Haiti, and Wyclef Jean doing his creole thing and ululating, I was bawling. I also felt bad, in a whole new way, about Michael Jackson. I could see the extent of his genius and his suffering.

Since then, nothing has stopped my tears: not the too-frequent ad breaks, not the tape delays, not even the mystery of Bob Costas's newly lustrous hair.

Let's start with two ads in my Lump in the Throat Club: first, the GE spot with the couple growing older together, as seen and narrated by the husband. After listing all the beautiful things they've experienced, he says: "The most beautiful thing I've ever seen was the image on the screen that helped doctors see my wife's cancer early, while it was treatable." Four hankies.

I also lost it with the Chevrolet anthem about carrying our children. "We carry them for miles, through neighborhoods and nighttimes." Sniff.

But mainly, I wanted to talk about the Visa work from TBWA\Chiat\Day.

Certainly, there's stuff we've seen before. Not the Jamaican bobsled team again! However, with its cool new ice-blue tint (the graphic basis of the entire campaign) and broader focus (it's about not listening to what other people think), the spot reconnects.

They did something similar with Dan Jansen. (The agency has been doing the glory-and-failure bit since Dan & Dave, but it's what the Olympics are all about.)

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