Guest Critic

If these spots are any indication, 2006 is going to be a very good year. We have Jack in the Box and MasterCard adding to their storied campaigns. We have Nike going back to its core. We have a strange yet charming spot for, of all things, Chef Boyardee. And we have Ronald McDonald himself stepping into the “My Spokesburgerman is Better Than Yours” sweepstakes.

In obvious response to The King, the good folks at Mickey D’s have dusted Ron off and are featuring his statued self in a new set of commercials. In a wordless, soundless spot called “Redhead Guy,” a young man who looks like Ronald enters the scene and sits next to him on the Sacred Bench, eventually assuming his body language. The “I’m Lovin’ It” card answers with a hopelessly corny stinger, which is unfortunate because the rest of the spot is so disarmingly simple. If nothing else, there’s something refreshing about a burger spot that doesn’t feature spinning Big Macs flying at you.

Citi’s work continues to resonate because it’s based on shared human experience. Duh. But they always serve up these experiences in unique and funny ways. In “Train,” an Everyman with a billing issue is confronted with the ultimate in postmodern dehumanization, the automated call center. This, of course, leads to all sorts of dehumanizing moments. Citi’s answer: Press 0 and talk with a person. (Clever way to skirt the fact that Citi does, in fact, answer the phone in an automated fashion.) While a product spot in a problem/solution format is a bit of a stretch with an emotional-benefit tagline like “Live richly,” it still works.

Nike’s latest spot is a throwback called “Awake.” Yes, it’s a music video; yes, it’s a music video set to AC/DC; yes, it features athletes doing sweaty things; yes, we’ve seen this imagery a million times; and yes, you could say it’s a glorified sales meeting video, but I don’t care. In the spot, we see athletes answering the call to get their butts out of bed and start training—it underscores Nike’s authenticity. I have to hit the pool tomorrow at 6 a.m., and this spot makes me want to do it.

Pedigree did a spot with a VO that says, “Help us … help dogs.” Bad dog.

Starburst has a new spot called “Ernie,” directed by Matt Aselton, and it stands out from the bunch. Ernie’s a klepto (we know this from one of the most memorable opening lines ever: “Aren’t you Ernie the Klepto?”). Ernie meets up with our Starburst-wielding hero, who soon loses everything, including the Starburst and the shirt off his back, to Ernie. Simply shot with editorial as storyteller, we are spared shots of overcranked fruit cascading into pools of goo. Instead, the product sell is left to Ernie, who simply says, “This is juicy.” Candy should be fun, and this is fun. We can only hope Skittles and Starburst battle it out, and that we can see more from both.

Finally, there’s United, a company near and dear to my heart. They’ve suffered through union problems, Sept. 11, bankruptcy and everything else. Any other airline would panic, slash production budgets and hit the fare sale button, but no, it comes through with grace and intelligence in this compelling spot. In “The Meeting,” animated by Martin Rose, a businesswoman’s conference call goes horribly wrong, and she imagines the clients on the other end of the phone as hideous monsters. When she flies United to meet these ogres in person, they morph from monsters to regular folks. The story rings true because it is: Business is always better in person. The animation keeps the story from becoming trite. Well done, sticking to the high road.