The grand scale of a multi-page ad insert sometimes invites grandiose work. (Think of Benetton’s 100-page “death row” extravaganza of several years back.) What a relief, then, to see that HP’s insert for its digital-photography gear grabs attention for the brand without making a spectacle of itself. Though it runs to 24 pages in one version—including a couple hundred photos by more than three dozen photographers—it’s a well-disciplined piece of work. It helps in this regard that the focus is explicitly on “you” the customer. With the word “you” dominating most spreads, readers feel the products are designed to be useful to them and not to show off HP’s ingenuity. The plain advantage of getting everything from one source—camera, printer, computer, etc.—is that you know it’ll work together. One small bit of text says, “Banish all your photo-taking inhibitions. Now it’s simple and fun.” But while people want to know the technology will be easy to use, they don’t necessarily want that fact to be the main message. (Who wants to feel like the simpleton for whom things must be made simple?) So, even while letting you know HP’s stuff is easy to use, the insert gives that point a more appealing gloss by stating it in terms of creative control—just as if you were a big-shot Hollywood director! “You make the rules. You are in control of the entire picture-making process. … You print what you want when you want it. … You are the Van Gogh of pic files. … You have millions of colors at your fingertips and you’re not afraid to use them.” This theme is flexible enough to be applied in more utilitarian ways, as when a page headed “Down with darkrooms” says, “You think 60 minutes is an outrage. One hour is way too long to wait for your photos. How about as little as 90 seconds?”

If there were a thought bubble above the child’s head, what would it say? Maybe something along the lines of: “How come this powerful grown-up pedals like crazy and gets nowhere, while a little kid like me zooms around almost effortlessly?” The ad is far more intriguing with the kid than it would be without him, but his presence is oddly subversive. Looking at these pedalers, we’re reminded that fitness-obsessed adults have taken a joyful activity and reduced it to pure tedium. In this context, the ad’s single word of text—”ride”—seems almost sarcastic as it emphasizes that the woman is going nowhere fast. Whatever message the ad may have meant to convey, it will come across to many of us as a departure from the fun-of-physicality theme one expects from this category. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. By now, plenty of consumers have outgrown such a Pollyannaish attitude about fitness. They know that pumping away on a stationary bike or jogging on a treadmill is often a chore, not a treat. (It’s no accident that we use the phrase “on a treadmill” to denote futility.) They do these things anyway because they find it a worthwhile tradeoff—i.e., doing something boring for the benefit of looking good (as the ad’s well-toned woman does) and feeling powerful. Granted, there are some people who live for the endorphin high of a vigorous workout. But there are at least as many who must drag themselves to the gym. If Nike shareholders are to be kept happy, it’s essential that these reluctant exercisers wear out their sneakers, too. Of course, a brand that catered solely to those folks would have too unglamorous an image to suit anyone. That isn’t an issue for Nike, though. Having cornered the rapture-of-sport market with years of high-flown advertising, Nike can afford to address consumers who lace on their sneakers for more prosaic purposes. Whether intentionally or otherwise, this ad will serve that purpose.

Ads that urge us to have a wild time often have an air of trying too hard. There’s nothing like a self-congratulatory “aren’t we naughty” tone to make a grown-up wince. That could have been the fate of this ad promoting a sweepstakes by Vegas.com, the one-stop-shopping e-commerce site for travel to Las Vegas. (The ad was printed on polybags used for delivering copies of the Los Angeles Times. The side not shown here displayed the brand’s distinctive logo.) The ad is nothing if not risqué, as when it advises in a caption at top center: “If two people are in a restroom, find another.” But by mimicking the style of an airline safety-instruction guide, the ad manages to sustain a suitably deadpan tone. The result is to augment our appreciation of the Las Vegas mystique. Getting there may not be half the fun, unless you win the sweepstakes and get there for free. But the ad helps us believe the city is so much fun that the mere anticipation of arriving there frees people from their workaday inhibitions. Among other helpful tips in the captions: “The intercom is not a toy, but is good for karaoke” (lower right) and “When someone sits on your lap, your tray table must be in the upright position” (top left). One advantage to a series of jokes like this is that it’s not a closed system, concluding with a thud of finality. Rather, fun-loving readers will feel inspired to concoct their own jests about airborne high jinks. It’s always a bonus for any advertiser when the reader gets actively involved with the ad. And it’s especially useful for an ad that’s delivering a direct call to action—i.e., look inside for the sweepstakes game card “and enter now.” That’s one instruction this ad’s target audience will be inclined to take seriously.


You’ve likely seen lots of commercials for cheese, but have you seen any that feature a “cheese taster recruiter”? That’s where Cache Valley Cheese distinguishes itself from the competition. In a series of engaging spots, we gain entrée to the recruiter’s world. The first spot in this batch brings us to the retirement banquet for one eminent Cache Valley taster. Everyone looks on reverently as his white lab coat is hoisted to the rafters, much as you’d see at a sports arena when a player’s number is retired. Now, our taster-recruiter protagonist must get on the road (with his special cheese-bearing briefcase) and comb through farm country to find somebody who’s “got the buds” to become an expert taster—”one of those rare individuals who can tell us down to the minute when our cheese is aged just right.” In a second commercial, we witness our man’s dismay as one candidate taster fails to make the grade. But then there’s the moment every recruiter lives for—the discovery of a young overalls-clad farm boy who has the gift! We look in on the joyous family scene as the recruiter signs the lad to his cheese-taster contract and gives him his official Cache Valley lab coat. Ah, but the path to great cheese is not an easy one. We soon see that the lad’s exalted status has gone to his head as another spot shows him talking on the phone with his agent instead of dedicating himself to his work. The recruiter needs to straighten the taster out, and he does so in words we all could heed: “You got it all backwards, kid. It’s not about you, it’s about the cheese and the taste people expect!” It’s a clever campaign, and one whose cleverness works to good effect for the brand. Viewers are grateful to be spared the usual cheese-commercial puffery about fine ingredients and even-finer craftsmanship. At the same time, the humor seems so rooted in cheese-making lore that we come away feeling Cache Valley truly must be something special. (I’ll bet the company gets job-seeking letters from some wannabe tasters.) For a category where we’re prone to view the product as a commodity, it’s a neat trick to convince us that the brand has such a distinctive character.