On New Cola Advertising

Here’s a switch: a near-naked couple drops into a hot tub, but there’s no talk of other “ladies” or a “journey.” Nor does the evening end with the question, “Amber, will you accept this rose?”

That’s a relief. Instead, this latest Diet Pepsi commercial features what seems to be a committed late-thirtysomething guy and his good-looking blond, bikinied sweetie. We don’t know whether, as with all the “ladies” on the latest Bachelor, she is in pharmaceutical sales, but we do know that she’s married, because as they immerse themselves in the steamy, bubbly water, they clink their Diet Pepsi cans in a toast, and we see her wedding band.

Up until that point, it’s dreamily romantic: The music is Teddy Pendergrass’ “Rock With You,” and there’s a lovely, from-the-ankles-up shot of the two, in matching terrycloth robes, marching in lock step to the tub and that look of pleasure once they sink in. So far, so good: It’s got a light, sweet, could-be-who-knows feel. Take that, insipid reality shows—you don’t own the hot-tub space. What’s more, those who no longer celebrate spring break can look pretty good in one.

Then all hell breaks loose: An alarm goes off, search lights come on, and a guy who looks like he could own a shotgun runs toward them. “I thought you said they were away on vacation!” the wife screams as she and her hubby scramble into their own bushes. The neighbor, it turns out, says hello (“Steve? Diana?”) and asks what they were doing. “Mulching?” the woman responds. (Mulching seems to be a favorite activity over at BBDO—it was also used as a joke in a Doritos Gold commercial.)

I understand that the joke is that these DP drinkers are so delightfully spontaneous, they act like stupid kids and jump into someone else’s hot tub. But the humor dies with their dive into the bushes. One of the great things about aging is knowing what you can get away with—and the Jackass/slapstick scenario doesn’t ring true.

But I like the actors, and in the weirdly ageist, notoriously youth-oriented world of advertising, it’s commendable that Diet Pepsi’s entire campaign is directed to those ancients who are 35 and up. Diet Pepsi’s year-old “Think Young Drink Young” series includes the Cindy Crawford reprise of her object-of-ogling role—same body, same shorts, but this time with her two kids. Like we need this. My favorite in the group is the spot that shows an everyday commuter guy cut into a clip of Easy Rider—he drives right next to Peter Fonda on his hog—all in his head, of course. He’s brought back to reality when he realizes he’s booming the lyrics of “Born to Be Wild” from under his earphones on a crowded train. It’s the sort of freedom fantasy that’s universal.

Diet Coke’s new work, the first from FCB since it got the account last December, has a similar positioning: a call to act spontaneously. (The themeline, “Do what feels good,” comes from previous agency Lowe.) This spontaneity bit works well in “Movie Theater,” which shows a young guy sucking on a supersized Diet Coke at a revival theater playing Casablanca. A doe-eyed, Ingrid Berman-esque woman sits by herself, also sipping a Diet Coke, mouthing the words.

He, a 21st-century, unshaven Bogart type, moves closer so she can hear him recite Rick’s next line, “Why should I find you waiting for me to come along?” She answers, with Ilsa: “You mean, why is there no other man in my life?” With that, the guy approaches her and they get up and dance in the aisle, just as the ill-fated lovers do on screen. It’s nicely shot, and the repetition of the dialogue and the mirroring of the action is clever. It has a wordless, Euro sensibility that feels student-ish but fresh.

But another spot, “Hotel Guest,” proves that spontaneity has its limits. We watch a 30s-ish Ryan Seacrest-like business guy come into his hotel room after a hard day. He opens the sliding doors to the terrace, strips, starts the shower, gets a Diet Coke out of the minibar. Then he glances outside and has a thought: Should I commit suicide? No, just kidding. But he does head out the window—to make a perfect, almost fantasy swan dive into the pool below. Obviously, pains were taken to show that the drop is stylized and that his balcony is just above the water. But with the state of the economy, is it smart for Diet Coke to suggest that when alone in a hotel room after a tough day (and with help from the liquids in the minibar), a person should feel free to take a dive?

There’s an unusual graphic capper to both spots: a silhouette of the images of the couple dancing and the poor bastard swan-diving, collaged with the logo. It’s more interesting than the can.

A third spot, for Diet Coke With Lemon, is wordless, near perfect and could also go global. In this citrus-infused version of a staring contest, a couple do nothing but make the pucker sign at each other till she laughs first.

For the do-what-feels-good/think-young-drink-young crowds, I guess the inadvertent message here is that when it comes to inviting bodies of waters, look before you leap. But the spots do reinvigorate an old—and growing—category.