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Suspense and pratfalls have been hallmarks of

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Suspense and pratfalls have been hallmarks of FedEx commercials for years, recently in the form of malfunctioning recliners and a harried employee's freefall into a shrimp plate. The new campaign from BBDO is no exception, but this time the dialogue is the real star.

In each of the five 30-second spots, an oddball scenario shows how Fed Ex services—such as cost-saving ground delivery, FedEx.com and international ship ping—save the day. Each spot also features one manager telling the tale to another, a guy who just doesn't get it, in an exchange reminiscent of Abbott and Cos tello's agile banter.

The listener begins each spot with an incredulous question. "Schultz never knew there were tunnels?" opens one ad. "He didn't want to know," the story teller insists, recount ing how a young entrepreneur got so engrossed in a Hogan's Heroes mara thon that he almost forgot to ship a package. "Like a swallow returning to Capistrano, he instinctively heads to FedEx. They give his small-business package the big-business treatment. Another hobgoblin of success falls victim to Fed Ex efficiency." The listener—who is told repeatedly in the campaign that he's missing the point—then asks what a hobgoblin is. The tag concludes, "Don't worry. There's a Fed Ex for that."

The campaign may prove pivotal to the 12-year relationship between BBDO and the Memphis, Tenn.-based client. In June, BBDO was said to be working on a "do or die" creative presentation for FedEx, an issue that agency and client executives declined to discuss. "We're looking at this [campaign] as a fresh start," says FedEx's manager of advertising, Steve Pach eco. "There's no shortage of ideas coming out of BBDO."

The agency's mission for this campaign was to take the reliability equity of the FedEx brand and "broaden that trust to their other services," says executive creative director Gerry Graf. "You can start off talking about Hogan's Heroes and end on hobgoblins. In between we've heard the FedEx story."

Freelancer Ernest Lupi nacci was the writer and art director on the spots. Joe Pytka, a veteran of BBDO's FedEx work, directed. The spots took months to cast, Pytka says, because none of the actors who auditioned could nail the "energetic, rat-a-tat-tat delivery" of the dialogue.

Two of the spots had to be altered in response to the events of Sept. 11. One of those, for Fed Ex.com, breaks this week and shows an entire office department put out of commission by a bad bundt cake. As the staff runs to the restroom en masse, a lone guy who had eaten a danish instead is able to ship and track all the packages successfully. Originally, the sickened staff ers were rushed to the hospital, which was swamped with ambulances.

In another altered ad, a woman's car is hijacked by bank robbers, but she's able to make her FedEx delivery via a strategically placed drop box. The police chase in the spot was toned down.

"Anything that smacked of police running or ambulances couldn't be used," Pytka says. "So we had to make it more slapstick to take the edge off." The director focused in stead on the wads of cash that waft from the robbers' bags as they run in slow motion.

"How do they see through the stockings?" the bespectacled inquisitor interrupts. The storyteller re plies, "They're sheer. But you're missing the point of the story."