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Guest Critic

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I keep reading about the dire straits of agency creativity. About the death of the classic ad agency. Of small creative boutiques stealing work from the big networks because they are much more nimble. How TiVo and all the new media choices out there are about to kill the 30-second TV commercial. Then I get asked to critique a bunch of 30-second spots and it confirms what I already know:

1. Big agencies are learning to be nimble and can still make very good work. Grey (Yes, Grey). BBDO (especially Chicago). JWT. TBWA\Chiat\Day.

2. There are plenty of clients around to make big network agencies and local boutiques very happy. Venables. Anomaly. R&R. Hunt Adkins.

3. The 30-second commercial is alive and well at these agencies, as well as Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Berlin, Wieden, Deutsch, Arnold and one agency in Richmond, Va., I can't mention. Am I crazy, or are there a lot of good people making some very good work right now? Or am I just living in an era of lowered expectations? Maybe it's both. I think all of us get pretty jaded about the state of the work dealing with the day-to-day business. But my feeling, after watching this month's best spots from America, is there's hope for us knuckleheads who have decided to make a career out of advertising. There's a lot of possibility out there—for all of us.

My favorites: Adidas: This is a trip. I mean really a trip. It's Harold and the Purple Crayon meets Being John Malkovich. When I first saw this spot, I was blown away, not so much by the idea as the execution. Spike Jones really figured this thing out. (When doesn't he figure something out?) The bear. The fire hydrant. How to get from one scene to the next. The crouching scene between sidewalk ceiling and street. The music. Wow. It's like watching a video Rubik's Cube. You have to be on your toes to follow. Very intelligent.

Juicy Fruit: Congrats to Wrigley's brand manager and the BBDO team for bringing the brand quickly into the 21st century with very cool work. While the idea isn't amazing, the casting and vignettes make it surprisingly fresh. First, the kid has serious acne, just like 88 percent of the target market. He's paired with what could be his fourth-period civics teacher. He calls her "dude." She shaves her legs. They climb in bed together—with her husband. It's obvious the creatives love Napoleon Dynamite; its influence is everywhere.

ESPN: Again, casting, casting, casting. The woman's speechless reaction to her boyfriend's barrage of sports metaphors is perfect. "4th down, 3 seconds on the clock, and I'm swinging for the fences. I think we make a great team." I'm using that tonight on my wife. The best commercials in this campaign nail Truth in Sports. Remember Shelf Ball? I don't think this year's installment is at that level. But some years you hit a lot of homeruns, and some years you hit for average. (I'm a guy. I like sports clichés.)

Skittles: Gerry Graf's creative leadership broke open the candy category a few years back with the Snickers campaign. I think he's doing it again with Skittles and Starburst. Anybody who's advertised to fickle teens knows you're playing with fire. You can be funny at breakfast, dorky by lunch. My guess is Graf is smartly using some recent ad school grads on the best of this stuff. Sheepboys nails the Idea Trifecta: weird/funny/logical. My inner 14-year-old loves it as much as my outer 42-year-old.