Guest Critic: Esther Lee

NEW YORK It’s great to be back in the land of all brands, all categories, all agencies after having been “away” as a client for the past five years. I was pleased to see that there’s more good work out there than I remember.

Absolut “Protest”: Having run the iconic bottle campaign for many years, the company now wants to tell people something more and something new, especially important in a time of significant over-saturation in the premium vodka category. I admire this work’s aspiration to own a big brand space and to have a distinct point-of-view—”In an Absolut world” protests would be fought with feather pillows—but will its big, even epic, stance, wonderfully produced with tongue firmly planted in cheek, step outside the real purview of this category and brand: personal image, connoisseurship, social currency and having fun?

DHL “Golf”: This spot charmingly demonstrates how one shipping company can be the reason that both the CEO and the mailroom guy “look good.” It seems based on the insight that in many companies, the mailroom guy makes the decision on what to use for a shipping partner, but the CEO needs to feel good about the name and what it stands for. As any differences between shipping companies have disappeared over the years, the real differentiators seem to be partnership or customer service. This work clearly shows that DHL’s customer service and accompanying tools make both the CEO and mailroom guy heroes who have time to end up on the same golf course.

One concern: Will people remember what brand it’s for?

Nikon “Picturetown”: Unlike historical camera advertising—significant moments captured with well-sculpted hardware—this spot uses a real-life small town to demonstrate that anyone can take amazing digital pictures with the Nikon D40. By handing out 200 cameras to the townspeople of Georgetown, S.C., Nikon shows the challenges that real people have with cameras and how those armed with the Nikon digital wonder prevail regardless. What I liked even more than the spot itself was the integrated effort with its call to action to visit the online “gallery” of shots.

But does this anybody-can-do-it approach take the brand’s professional image down a notch? Regardless, I walked away from this spot with the intended impression—believing that even I could take great pictures with this camera.

Old Spice “Hungry Like the Bruce”: Everyone knows that Old Spice needs to invite new, younger users into the franchise while keeping the existing older ones. This work takes what Old Spice owns, unadulterated male virility, and celebrates that slightly cheesy, unenlightened maleness—unbuttoned shirt and suggestively shaped product package and all. Even though one feels slightly queasy watching it unfold, the aspiration is that the brand will gain the admiration of both target demos. Will it work? I sure hope so.

Yahoo “Handyman”: I laughed out loud. And by humorously demonstrating the difference in “product efficacy” between a laser level picked up at a surplus store and one “learned about” from Yahoo Answers, Yahoo shows it can give you the experts needed to make a smart purchase. While Yahoo Answers is not revolutionary, the simplicity of the story nicely evokes the simplicity by which I believe I will get the answers I need.