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Barbara Lippert's Critique: Not-So-Dirty Secrets

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Recently, during the unintentionally hilarious opening of the Miss Universe broadcast, each contestant paraded around in her country's "native costume," which turned out to be one-quarter indigenous, three-quarters Vegas. For no discernable reason, Miss USA wore a red, white and blue tight-fitting jockey outfit and carried a crop. I was hoping for early Elvis.

And the first ad after that bizarre opener? Christie Brinkley in a year-old spot for Cover Girl Advanced Radiance Age-Defying Makeup. By now, anyone who lives in the reading vicinity of a New York Post knows that Brinkley's husband, Peter Cook, 45 and five years her junior, has been its frequent cover boy. The big tabloid revelation—that he had an extramarital affair with an 18-year-old would-be singer—has on many occasions knocked news of the Mideast war right off the front page.

"Would I want to be 25 again?" Brinkley asks in a voiceover in the spot. "Not a chance." But with Advanced Radiance, the commercial tells us, "skin looks five years younger!" Major inadvertent awkwardness award, and continued sympathy, to the ever-gorgeous, completely ageless Christie.

Speaking of age and major confessions, in a brightly lit spot for Secret Antiperspirant that followed—part of a new integrated campaign with a Web site called shareyoursecret.com—two carefully coiffed 60-ish ladies put their gray heads together and really yuck it up. It's a good thing they're laughing, as one had just confessed to the camera, and only about 20 million people, that years back she had bribed her brother to take her now-chuckling friend to the junior prom. "It didn't seem to matter," she said. "You married him!"

Indeed, the sister-in-law seemed to find the whole thing hysterical; she spends most of the spot loudly cackling. Turns out the sister paid ol' bro Romeo off by doing "all of his chores for the summer." (Now there's a term that really dates you—"chores." What kid does those any more? These days, she'd have to offer at least an X-box.)

It's nice to see this demo represented in a lively way, and it comes off as fresh and credible. (I like the way her line almost mimics the one from Jane Eyre: "Reader, I married him.")

The campaign's bright-white look is attention-getting, in a Dove aesthetic sort of way. The secrets were nicely captured by Jessica Yu, an Oscar-winning director who has publicly spilled a few of her own. When accepting an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short in 1997, she admitted her dress cost more than her film.

The spots end with, "Try limited-edition Secret and celebrate 50 years of strong women." I love the special design of the 50th anniversary package, but how is this revelation linked to strength? In this case, is the power in keeping the secret or revealing it? Fifty years of happy, chatty women would be more like it.

Another spot, "Dad," shows a teenage girl and her mom—and these are all real people. "For my birthday, Dad took me to get a tattoo," she reveals. The mom is shocked, and her only response is "Where?" and they both break down laughing. (If you go to the Web site, you can see behind-the-scenes footage. We don't find out where, but we learn it's a butterfly.)

Again, in our post-Dr. Phil times, its innocence is refreshing. The girl and her mom are squeaky clean, goody-goodies, and getting a tattoo these days is hardly taboo. I couldn't help but contrast the scene with the episode on The Osbournes years ago, when the then-teenaged Kelly gets a tattoo, and her heavily inked-up dad reveals the fact to mom Sharon, who with her potty-mouth, goes ballistic. The spot is cute and polite, but is it any more realistic?

The third commercial is a teaser featuring two 20-ish women, Monia and Cheyenne. It looks great, and there's a palpable energy in the way the super-close friends speak individually about each other. It's also cleverly edited so that each literally finishes the other's sentence. We don't find out what their secrets are, only that each one will be "shocked." I went to the Web site, and wouldn't ya know it's also about friends and brothers. Turns out that each had kissed the other's brother. (Perhaps this is a revelation worthy of Alfred Kinsey—teen girls tend to experiment on their girlfriends' brothers.)

It's only human that the secrets (and the ones passersby can put up simultaneously on the Reuters and NYSE boards in Times Square) are mostly about stolen kisses. For a much more revelatory time, go to postsecrets.com, a site that asks entrants to write their secrets on cards and, well, post them. The cards are often hand drawn or montaged, and they become pieces of art; and the secrets are often moving.

The secret idea is a natural product tie-in, and this is nice work for the category, but by contrast with the postsecrets site, there's no fascinating public airing of private thoughts, and there's not a lot of range. A more apt end line would be, "Celebrating 50 years of women's friendships." And perhaps that's enough.

Oh, by the way, back at the Miss Universe pageant, Miss Puerto Rico won, and promptly fainted. Many in the media suspected she wasn't eating. She said it was due to her heavy gown (made entirely of chains—and you can't make this stuff up), the heat and her emotions. "Oh no, I love to eat," she told reporters. Then she revealed a secret: "But I know that the whole time some girls only eat pineapple."