Barbara Lippert’s Critique

Now that the Coca-Cola Co. has released a few of its new spots for the magic brand, it’s clear that for both Diet Coke and the fructose original, the company is going full steam ahead with its Liquid Dockers approach. Commercials are gentle, introspective, musing and low-key.

Take the sweet, sentimental but not cloying “Spanish Wedding.” This is an “occasion” spot, the kind Coke lived off for years, save last year. (Remember the grandma in the wheelchair who decimates the family reunion?) No one destroys the moment here.

What gives “Wedding” that little lump-in-the-throat effect is the beautiful cinematography and the fact there’s so much credible bonding among the many generations of women. Wordless, it will no doubt play around the world—a sort of lacy, female nuptial version of Mean Joe Green crossed with a bit of Jennifer Lopez.

The little flower girl keeps looking at the bride, proffering her a bottle of Coke with a straw, miming the act of drinking and wanting to be part of the ritual. I thought the straw in the bottle (rather than the bride taking a long, classic swig) was a nice, realistic touch. At that point, the bride is probably thirsty but wouldn’t want to risk messing up her dress and lipstick.

During the spot, the new slogan “Life tastes good” was sung. (Could that phrase be any more vague?) For some reason, it makes me think of McGruff, the old crime dog, who used to bark, “Take a bite out of crime.” But at least Coke resisted bad grammar and the more exact possibility of “Life drinks good.”

Still, I don’t recall the music in the wedding spot. That’s interesting, since the press release claims the music is “one of the most dynamic parts of the new campaign” and reinforces the fact that “Coke is part of the soundtrack of life.” If that’s the case, the soundtrack is so muted it’s inaudible.

Another ad, “LIRR,” features graduation night and kids clamoring into a hot train with a wistful, Wonder Years-like voiceover about how this is the best night of their lives. It’s soothing. But the subtlest of the subtle sell is “Dylan,” the spot featuring the never-identified Jakob Dylan, son of Bob and lead singer/guitarist for The Wallflowers.

Talk about the restraint of the Jay! First, I’m not sure how many people recognize him. (His face is the perfect morph of his craggy-featured dad and supermodel mom, Sara.) Nor is it clear how many viewers know The Wallflowers, since their last hits were in ’96 and ’97. Plus, the band’s last album, which was great, tanked.

In the spot, Dylan is shown backstage after a concert, waiting to return for an encore. I like the fact this fits into the new way the ad industry has been using music—offering cool, unedited, alternative music, not lame, made-for-that-spot jingles.

Sure, you can make fun of the Britney Spears spot for Pepsi—and I certainly did—for its cheesy obviousness and dirty-old-man jokes and for promoting her dubious, pole-dancer aesthetic. Actually, cola No. 2 has a history of taking liberties with and Pepsifying the lyrics of hit songs of their famous rock-star endorsers (think Michael Jackson.) But the neon-bright Spears commercial shouts about Pepsi.

In contrast, the Dylan spot is darker. He sings a song from his new album, and his only brush with Coke is taking a swig of the soda after an intense performance. There’s a smallness and an intimacy about the commercial that’s compelling. I like it. But it definitely gets the award for saintly nontestimonials by a never-acknowledged endorser. It remains to be seen if Christina Aguilera will rescue Coke from its good taste.