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Barbara Lippert's Critique: Exquisitely Furnished

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We'll get to Deutsch's trippy-but-seductive first work for Pier 1 shortly. In the meantime, can we talk about Kirstie Alley?

Man, is the ex-Pier 1 spokeswoman massively cashing in on the culture's "fat awareness" moment, while managing to have it both ways. (I believe the phrase is "having her cake and eating it, too," but in this case it's also got some Ben & Jerry's on top.) When it comes to weight, she's working every angle on the hidden-pain-and-shame vs. out-and-fat-and-proud scale.

On the first episode of Fat Actress, her new series on Showtime, she wailed that if Jenny Craig were her only job option, it would kill her. In reality, K.A. has now lost 27 pounds with old J.C., while screaming ecstatically about the food in TV spots. ("Fettuccine!") Her character on the show is desperately sex-starved and tends to throw her poignantly peignoir-clad body at any man. But in promoting her book, How to Lose Your Ass and Regain Your Life, the former Cheers star has told most TV hosts (including that noted sexpert Larry King) that she's been abstinent, because she can't bear the thought of having "fat sex."

But when it comes to her ass (hey, I didn't name the book), you have to hand it to her for being direct. In a recent interview, Fox News' almost skeletal Greta Van Susteren asked her, "How did you get to be a fat actress?" "Well, Greta," Alley answered evenly, "I think I sat on my ass and ate a lot."

Then again, in her memoir, she claims she had no idea how overweight she was until she saw tabloid pictures of herself. This makes me rethink her Pier 1 stint. Perhaps by putting her in those odd 17th-century fairy-godmother-crossed-with- serving-wench costumes, and hiding her behind armoires when not shooting her from the torso up, agency and client were enabling her eating. The work was mostly reviled, and I understood why they let her go—even before all the book/ TV show/Jenny Craig exposure, her venti-turned-grande persona tended to overpower the brand.

Still, Alley's ads took on a restrospective glow when her spokes-shoes were filled briefly by decorating "it" boy of the then-moment, Queer Eye's Thom Filicia. (Come to think of it, when was the last time anyone mentioned QE?) But from the get-go, he had that deer-in-the-headlights look.

Understandably, and smartly, Deutsch makes the product itself the star. (The product never gets fat, talks back or sees its Q rating fall.) To get even further away from the klieg lights, two new spots, "Indian Rug" and Tibetan Box," use the most enticing animation I've ever seen in a commercial. Some of it evokes the tripped-out Magical Mystery Tour-ish graphics of the '60s, but it's more graceful and nuanced, like fine art that moves. There's a mix of styles but never a sense of aggressive digitizing; it feels exotic and layered and handmade (just the way you want to feel about the home furnishings you buy).

"Rug" opens with black-and-white, Asian-inspired line drawings of the natural world, almost calligraphic in their delicacy. (The dragonfly is amazing.) Then it moves into a kaleidoscope of cut-out shapes and colors that evoke India (at one point there appears to be a Taj Mahal montage). Then the unexpected happens—it seamlessly moves into a live-action shot of an oriental rug on a living-room floor. (It's the opposite of the manipulative moment on the season finales of shows like Survivor and The Apprentice, when the contestants, sitting in their native habitats, are suddenly parked in the exact same positions in an audience-packed studio.)

We see the cleverness of the intention—to transport us back to the product's country of origin. I love the idea of taking one tiny detail and showing its journey, and then working backwards—it adds intrigue to the message.

The style of "Tibetan Box" is different, but it still features lots of nature (fish and waterfalls and flowers) and a compelling mix of textures. The juicy, intricate pattern at the end is beautiful, and it morphs into the Tibetan box pattern on the drawer of a small table flanking a bed. The switch is like throwing open the curtains and getting some color in, or seeing the room anew (or just sitting back and having a joint and staring at the fabric patterns—there's a teeny bit of stoner in there, too).

The music matches the tone throughout—soothing and ethereal, but still much cooler than the usual world music. I also like the way the live-action stuff looks. After the beauty of the animation, it's a difficult transition, but it works, and also manages to show a great range of the merch.

The one reservation I have is with the voiceover: "Your home is a story. How you tell it is up to you." Compared with the visuals, it's generic and bland. These days, it seems every product has a "story" in advertising; even Febreze now has "Scentstories." (Have you ever met an air refreshener that had an interesting tale to tell?) What's more, the tagline, "Life more interesting," could apply to almost anything on earth (and could really use a verb). I would have preferred a wordless story, because the new brand message is so visually clear.



Pier 1 imports

Agency

Deutsch, New York

Executive creative director

Kathy Delaney

Gcd, copywriter

Bryan Black

Acd, art director

James Baldi

Senior copywriter

Nathan Hunt

Director of broadcast

production

Jim Frame

Senior producer

Bruce Andreini

Directors

"Indian Rug"

Jonas Odell, Filmtecknarna, Stockholm

"Tibetan Box"

Tim Hope and Gaelle Denis, Passion Pictures, London

Music

Compound, New York

Sound design

Sound Lounge,

New York