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Barbara Lippert's Critique

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If you weren't one of the 147 or so people watching the qualifying events in gymnastics for the women's Olympics, here's a little ad dustup you might have missed. John Hancock, an Olympic sponsor, previewed one of four new spots that will break during Olympic coverage. The commercial depicts two women in an airport, returning from China with a tiny compact person—not a gymnast, a baby. The two women could be friends or cousins or, given their cool outfits and short haircuts, partners in a hot young graphic design firm.

In this version, it became clear that these two are "domestic partners." In preparing to get the baby through customs, one says to the other, "You'll be a great mom.'' The other responds, "So will you.'' The spot was soon the subject of a chain e-mail circulated by people in the gay community, urging recipients to convey their support to John Hancock.

After all, what's so refreshing and contemporary about this evolution of the "Real Life, Real Answers'' campaign is that in offering "insurance for the unexpected,'' it targets diverse segments of the population. I can't remember any other national spot in ad history so effortlessly featuring homosexuals, except for the Ikea ad years back showing two gay men proving their commitment by buying a dining-room table.

The revised version of the "Immigration'' commercial seems to have moved into "don't ask, don't tell'' territory. Open on a chaotic airport scene with lots of natural sounds. We see the two women; the one with the chic black glasses holds the baby. "Can you believe this?'' she asks, looking at the baby. "Yeah, it's pretty amazing,'' the blonde answers. They both look at the baby, sleeping peacefully. Close on a mother's hum.

This is a lovely commercial; I did not find it offensive in either form, but I don't miss the more obvious or pandering parts of the first one. I like advertising that is opaque, open to interpretation, and doesn't scream its intentions. This way, a viewer can read into it.

In many living rooms, the conversational paths would eventually lead to Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche anyway—and how enlightening is that? Here, we just accept them as two women and a baby. Walk up Broadway in the West 70s and 80s in Manhattan—you'll see lots of Caucasian women pushing Asian babies in strollers. These moms are single, married, gay, whatever—you wouldn't ask the mother the circumstances of her parenting. You'd just comment on how cute the baby is, and hope she's providing a good life.

Although the "Immigration'' spot will be the most talked about, the others are equally strong. All are fantastically directed by Tony Kaye, with natural light, sound and gripping performances. Two are pretty tough, especially "California.''

It's set in a kitchen, where a divorced couple whisper grimly. She tells him he's not doing enough. He says he's never missed a payment. She tells him he doesn't get it. As if to prove her point, he says his girlfriend wants him to move to California. It's real and stomach-churning.

The "Tour'' spot is about a man putting his father in a home; it's also sobering and true. "Saturday Night,'' the fourth ad is refreshing: It shows a single mom who has to rush home from her boyfriend to relieve the sitter. He offers to get married, and take care of "her and Molly.'' She says, "We can take care of ourselves.''

As strange as it sounds, not all women turn to mush at the mention of marriage—especially those who have been divorced. The spot shows the conflicting tugs perfectly.

What's impressive about the campaign is that it mirrors the rhythms and dissonance of life. More than appealing to segments, it's humaJohn Hancock

Agency

Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos

Boston

CD/Copywriter

Jonathan Plazonja

CD/Art Director

Todd Riddle

Agency Producer

Scott Hainline

Director

Tony Kaye/

Tony K. Films