Guest Critic

It was fun—and a privilege—to be this month’s guest critic. There were a lot of spots I liked. These are my standouts:

American Express continues its class act in “Animals.” In this commercial, we follow Ellen DeGeneres through a backstage routine that appears normal except for one small twist: Her staff has been replaced by animals. Flamingos crane their heads around office doors. Prairie dogs pop up from their cubicles. Penguins (the network suits) exit an elevator. Best of all, DeGeneres plays it absolutely straight. Her exchange with an owl is pitch perfect. Shot in black and white and backed by a music track straight out of an old Rock Hudson/Tony Randall movie about Madison Avenue, the spot is fun to watch a lot more than once. DeGeneres’ line at the end sums it up: “My life is far from ordinary. That’s why my card is American Express.”

Like many others in our industry, I’ve always been a huge fan of Apple—the company, its products and its advertising. I can’t think of another advertiser whose brand voice has been more consistent longer at every consumer touch point than Apple’s has. In a new spot called “Self Pity,” PC and Mac are back, and this time PC has real cause for alarm. Dressed in a stylish black suit, Mac informs PC that not only did Mac just come from a business meeting, but he’s been running Microsoft Office for years. PC folds himself into the fetal position, and Apple gives us another engaging, competitive reason to love the brand.

Creatively, “Singing Cowboy,” for the American Legacy Foundation, doesn’t break a lot of new ground. In this spot, as in other anti-smoking ads we’ve seen, a descendent of the Marlboro Man ironically conveys the risks of smoking. This time, the throat-cancer victim speaks (or in this case, sings) through an artificial larynx device. The setting is an impromptu performance in New York City’s streets. But none of these familiar conventions diminish the power of this spot. Hearing a man with a large hole in his throat electronically warble a happy campfire song about losing a lung and having a tongue snipped out was as disturbing to me as it was to the real bystanders.

The ad announcing Domino’s new Oreo Dessert Pizza is a retail spot that gives the promotional item nearly 30 seconds of screen time. Sound deadly? It’s not. A dad and his teenage son have a heartfelt discussion about their respective Oreo Dessert Pizza mustaches. The dad’s cookie mustache is so full it would make Gene Shalit jealous. In fact, as the son talks, the dad’s mustache becomes even more manly, while his son’s remains wispy thin, causing the expected teenage angst. A wonderful casting touch: The dad and son are blond, which is a funny contrast to the stark, black- and-white facial confections.

Another personal favorite: Carl’s Jr.’s “Maloof Brothers.” They’re the billionaire owners of the Palms Hotel and Casino who enjoy the Carl’s Jr. $6,000 Combo Meal: hamburger, fries and a 24-year-old bottle of Bordeaux. The spot makes me crave a Carl’s Jr. and a full-bodied red.

An entirely different take on the big-burger phenomenon is Burger King’s “Eat Like Snake.” With its homage to kung-fu movies and a cool R&B soundtrack, it is, to say the least, a memorable product demonstration for a bovine monster they call the Triple Whopper.