I recently heard someone refer to “postmodern” advertising. I wasn’t even aware there was such a thing. I understand there have been surges of irreverence, cynicism, poking fun at advertising, a bit of esoterica—whatever. But those discussions tempt us with technique and formula. Reviewing these spots drove that home for me. It’s the stuff of basic human communication that ends up being a whole lot more reliable than any artificial classification.

Adidas Unstoppable

Rule No. 1: A strong idea wins the day. The execution’s only real flaw is the distractingly diminutive size of the forces opposing Tracy McGrady—helicopters, Humvees and missiles that look more like mosquitoes than a serious deterrent. I’m reminded of the old Nike spot where Marshall Faulk narrates, “Is there a defense that can stop me? Maybe not,” as he, also, defies helicopters and missiles. Still, it’s irresistible.

Apple iPod/iTunes The Band

Rule No. 7: Don’t let celebrity steal the spotlight. This spot is enjoyable enough, but just imagine if the iPod had been launched this way. It may never have become important. U2 is no little indie band. U2 is über. Apple has come to be about what I can create, about expressing myself. It’s a wonderful campaign, but this spot makes the brand a little smaller.

eBay Clocks

Rule No. 4: Illustrating what the product actually does ain’t a bad thing. Wanna add to your clock collection? In eBay land, there are lots of people just like you with clocks to buy and sell. “Clocks” is charming, elegantly paced and detailed. I love the character on the telephone pole and the way the hero selects his next clock. We ad folk will notice similarities to Goodby’s launch spot for Saturn (right down to the tinkling piano), but the folks at home will sit back and enjoy it—and, most important, want to join the eBay community.

Honda Accord Hybrid Waste

Rule No. 2: Interesting visuals with succinct headlines still work. Here we see the way we leave our lights on, the way we let our faucets and hoses run and run—and we’re forced to face our wastefulness. Best of all, the commercial doesn’t overpromise or exaggerate the environmental benefit of the Accord Hybrid. In asking us to live with a little less, it implies we just wouldn’t be hurting the planet quite as much. I respect the honesty.

Citi Tire Swing

See Rule No. 2. A kid on a swing. Two lines appear: “Overtime pays you more.” And, “Because of what you’re missing.” The way it’s shot—the extreme close-up, the fact that we don’t see who’s pushing, the way the boy’s grin is underplayed and unaided by a giggle track—it’s sweet but not saccharine. And yet, despite all that, the message is so familiar (if not redundant) for Citi that I found myself yearning for something more provocative.