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ADWEEK CRITIQUE: STRANGE BREW By BARBARA LIPPER

Was that artillery fire, or is my heart pounding? I’ve just seen the seventh installment in the Taster’s Choice series, the wildly popular romance ad oeuvre featurin

Previously, of course, on ‘Taster’s Choice,’ we watched these two practicing a wacky form of Caffeinus Interruptus, passing a jumbo glass jar back and forth while they rang each other’s doorbells, gave and attended dinner parties, and had an actual date. (It ended with her thrusting her jar of Taster’s Choice into his massive, upturned hand.)
It’s downright laughable. But apparently, in this contemporary culture filled with pictures of nose-ringed kids doin’ the nasty, we have a yearning burning to see an older, uptight, off-kilter romance that sneaks in on crow’s feet. Maybe we’re so starved for classic romantic melodrama that we have a Pavlovian response to doorbells and fadeouts. Because this campaign has achieved cult status.
The reaction to these ads has been fanatic, and not only here. In England, where people would seem to be more verbally acute, a book based on the British series is actually on the London Times bestseller list. And by now, after so much coffee-centered tension and conflict, the American Taster’s Choice audience is dying for some contact.
So in this, the much-awaited seventh spot, the lovers meet in Paris. And they kiss. But talk about an anticlimax. The creators seem to be making their own parody, before Saturday Night Live or In Living Color can get there first.
The spot opens promisingly enough, with Paris police siren noise and a crowded scene at a train station. ‘I got your telegram’ he says. Immediately, we think of another fateful pairing in Paris that also became the subject of cult devotion: Rick and Ilsa in Casablanca. But before we can start thinking about time going by and the world welcoming lovers, we’re diverted by Sharon’s new hair. She’s got some kind of ‘do that’s more sophisticated than her former dangly earring, upswept, late ’80s dinner party image. It’s a bit too severe and gives her a hangdog look.
‘I knew there was something you couldn’t live without,’ she tells him. In Casablanca, we got love, tears, and existential heroes in the backdrop of war-torn Europe. Here we have jumbo jar.
Now there is something depressing about the prospect of a desperate woman flying over the Atlantic, hauling a jar of Taster’s Choice. He smiles when he sees his tender friend (the jar) and apparently sticks it in his pocket.
Later, when they’re together, looking out over the Eiffel Tower he says, ‘It’s wonderful. The view, the Taster’s Choice.’
‘Is that all?’ she says. ‘No.’ And then he takes her in his arms and offers a massively awkward kiss.
It’s a forced, tight-lipped affair, backed by swelling music straight out of As the World Turns. I felt like I was 13 again, shocked and embarrassed to watch Archie Bunker turn suddenly passionate with Edith.
These two are going to have to get out of Paris, pronto, and back to their lives where they keep missing each other and never touch. Because it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of these these two people don’t amount to a hill of (coffee) beans in this crazy world. They’re freeze-dried. Play it again, McCann.
NESTLE’S TASTER’S CHOICE
AGENCY: McCann-Erickson Worldwide
CREATIVE DIRECTOR: Irwin Warren
ART DIRECTOR: Matt Lester
AGENCY PRODUCER: Dorothy Franklin
DIRECTOR: Peter Smillie/Smillie Films
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)