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Creative: Cannes - The American Way

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Here's a look at some of the top U.S. contenders
Editor's Pick: Budweiser
"Whassup", DDB Chicago
It may not be the most surprising choice, but my vote for Grand Prix in film for Cannes this year is DDB Chicago's "Whassup" campaign for Budweiser. It is the single most infectious advertising to come out of the United States this year.
The now-familiar, exaggerated Whassup salute, more of a guttural call than a greeting, has permeated American pop culture, particularly the twentysomething male sports set Budweiser values. Talk-show hosts parrot the ads, as do sports announcers, athletes and just about everyone who has learned that sometimes, no other salutation will do.
Thanks to the Internet, the Whassup buzz is travelling fast, becoming the newest American craze for the media savvy. Much of the excitement has been generated by spoofs running on various sites, as well as Budweiser's Web site, which features the ads.
The unusual campaign began late last year with one hysterical 60-second commercial titled "True." It opens with a shot of a young guy sitting on his couch, a bottle of Bud in his hand, watching television. The phone rings, and it's a fellow game-watching pal.
Soon, a circle of friends are all greeting each other on the telephone, tongues wagging, with a boisterous "Whassup?" The final answer: "Watchin' the game, havin' a Bud."
Though "Whassup" has entered the vernacular, that's not what makes it powerful. It's the stripped-down honesty that makes it work. The magic in the commercial comes from the agency's smarts: Sticking closely to the original.
Indeed, the ads were inspired by a short film called True, created by the director and star of the campaign, Charles Stone III. Like the Budweiser ads it spawned, the film featured Stone and his buddies (who also appear in the ads) watching TV and asking each other, "Whassup?"
Despite initial ideas to cast a multicultural cast, nothing matched the chemistry of the real friends, so DDB stuck with Dukie and the gang. If they had opted to rework it, the ad's power would have been deflated and its ingenuity turned into a cliche.
The spot is nearly dialogue-free, but it speaks volumes. The communication is about the shorthand lingo between close friends, the emotions in their voices, the expressions on their faces. The lack of action is amazing, given its impact.
The ad even says something about their relationships with women. Several executions into the campaign, the women in the group have yet to join the party or even approve of their adolescent, testosterone-driven club call. In a follow-up effort, the gang calls Dukie from a bar. But the standard salutation is returned in a whisper. "The game" he is watching is actually figure-skating with his girlfriend.
In another ad, she pounds her hand on the table in frustration after he's encouraged a restaurant of sushi chefs to turn wasabi into a "Whassup" cry. Another effort shows Stone, the lead character, fantasizing about various women addressing him with "Whassup."
True, the ads don't say much about the product, but it connects with viewers on a gut level and entertains them.
Of course, I may not be the ideal target for these commercials, but I love them anyway. And I think the international film jury at Cannes will, too. Everybody loves a party. K

Volkswagen
"Milky Way"
Arnold Communications, Boston
Nick Drake's lilting voice fills the night sky in this spot, one of the most celebrated of the year. Four teens in a Cabrio convertible pass up the same-old, same-old party scene to cruise the back roads beneath the stars. A major winner at the AICP Awards, the spot also won a gold from the Art Directors Club.

FX Network
"Lawyer," "Reporter," "Anthem"
Fallon, New York
"We know what guys are really thinking," these ads claim. Well, it's not too complex. From injury attorneys to reporters, it's some combination of "sex sports beer breasts hot sex football Swedish twins." The campaign was tops at The One Show, dominated the Art Directors Club awards and won at the D&ADs and the Andys.

E*Trade
"Emergency Room," "Basketball"
Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, S.F.
Money, the root of all evil, is a subject rife with comic potential--and Goodby is just the agency to oblige. In one ad, a dad is devastated when his hoops star son wants to be ... a dancer? Another spot follows the hospital trials of a guy who's got "money out the wazoo." Honored at the Clios and The One Show.

Budget
"Propulsion," "Aromatherapy," "Climb"
Cliff Freeman and Partners, N.Y.
Few shops do comic violence like Cliff Freeman, and it's key here as brainstorming sessions reveal how not to improve Budget's services. Among the no-no's: aromatherapy candles (they put drivers to sleep) and jet-propulsion packs (they can lead to nasty electrocution). Won at the Clios, The One Show and the AICP Awards.

Cnet
"Redirect," "Dance," "Plant"
Leagas Delaney, San Francisco
The Art Directors Club bestowed two golds on these groovy, dialogue-free spots, in which Cnet gleefully connects the consumer with "the right computer" and "the best price"--with all of the players personified by dorky guys in printed white T-shirts. The campaign was also recognized at The One Show.

Nike
"The Morning After"
Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.
The tumultuous early hours of the new millennium can't keep the Nike jogger from his morning run. Amid mobs, armored personnel carriers, riot police, bombs, even a runaway giraffe, the guy--like Wieden--remains committed. A gold winner at The One Show, this ad also turned heads at the Clios and the AICP Awards.

Heinz
Print campaign
Leo Burnett, Chicago
The Heinz bottle--one of those indelible, "untouchable" images--gets a good deal of retouching here, and emerges all the stronger for it. "Plays rough with tater tots," reads another ad. The work was a Kelly Award finalist, and one execution--"Meatloaf's only hope"--was honored at The One Show.

Harley-Davidson
Print campaign
Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis
The tone--confident but playful--could only come from an established leader like Harley, and Carmichael is wise to seize upon it. The underlying sense of wonder here is presumably what led riders to the brand in the first place. The ads nabbed top headline and copy honors at the Kelly Awards and were also recognized at the Andys.