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Creative Best Spots

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This week's release of the much-anticipated climax to the Star Wars saga, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, has had sci-fi fans buzzing for years. Tapping into the fanaticism that only Star Wars can create is none other than Geek Squad, which is offering fans help for playing hooky on the big day. Best Buy's 24-hour computer support group is offering a "fail-safe" excuse note for school or work and "absentee survival tools and tips" on its Web site. It avoids mentioning the movie by name, but asks, "Prequel-itis—is it setting in?"

A review of last month's spot debuts can only answer that question with a resounding "yes." As expected, last month saw many advertisers joining in the anticipatory celebration, with spots from Pepsi, Cingular, LucasArts and M&M's doing their best to get some brand bounce from the blockbuster. Yoda uses Jedi mind tricks to swipe a cheeseburger from a fellow diner, but is thwarted when it comes to the can of Pepsi; Chewbacca records his unmistakable call for a ring-tone promotion in a Cingular spot; and LucasArts gives videogamers a chance to experience the Jedi force with a spot for the Episode III game that prompts, "Before you see the movie, live it."

However, our favorite Star Wars-themed spot last month came from M&M's. In a spot advertising the new dark-chocolate candy, Red tells Darth Vader that although the dark-chocolate version of the candy is a good idea, they've decided not to join "the dark side." Darth silently responds, using his powers to convince him otherwise. After Yellow watches Red fall to the floor, he instantly responds, "We'll start Monday." At 15 seconds, it's all you need to get the product tie-in and enjoy the interaction between the Star Wars and M&M's characters.

Other advertisers with no current movie magic to ride relied on classic film references and cartoon clips to bolster their brand message. A GE spot touting the company's environmentally friendly technology gives a fresh spin on Gene Kelly's Singin' in the Rain with an elephant happily dancing in the rain. This one spot may not convince viewers that GE is in fact "right in step with nature," but it does get noticed, engages the viewer and perhaps starts the conversation. And in yet another well-done "I've got good news" spot from Geico, the insurance carrier uses footage from Speed Racer to promote its smart savings. Trixie warns Speed Racer that an upcoming bridge is out, but even though he's in the middle of a race at Mach 5, he has no need to worry because she saved money on her car insurance by switching to Geico. The series still manages to pull viewers in with its entertaining and often-surprising misdirects. The aftertaste has become familiar, but we're still biting.

Same goes for MasterCard's long-running "Priceless" campaign. Though you can foresee the structure from the first type on screen, occasionally an execution will remind us that even though we know where we'll end up, it's often worth the ride. Lately, the brand has been having some fun with its own commercial methods. Recently, the voiceover actor was cast as a cashier and, in the latest, he's struggling to be heard over the blaring buzz of a gardener's hedge trimmer—a friendly reminder that the card can be used for all sorts of priceless moments, including creating a perfect backyard.

Citibank, on the other hand, has been concentrating its message on its rewards benefits. Last month's spot highlighting instant rewards features a man at work, surrounded by family photos on his desk. When his wife, pictured in a framed photograph as a bride, begins talking to him, telling him the kids are getting tired, it becomes clear that his family, including the kids and grandparents, is actually in the office with him, posing for his pleasure. The humorous performances, albeit short (a look of exhaustion in the kids' faces and the bride struggling to talk while keeping her smile), make the reward pitch—Citi helps you get cool things like a digital camera sooner—memorable.

Now, how about those movie tickets?