February 26, 2013   |   Chris Preston

At $1.8 million for 30 seconds of time, the ads of Oscar deserve a critical eye second only to the Super Bowl. We asked our Executive Creative Director, Chris Preston, to share his take on some of the notable or not so notable efforts. He was oh so happy to oblige.

JC Penney. Dear Dreamers. Another lifestyle spot (shocker!). This would not make my list of nominees for creating the differentiation the brand so desperately needs. I can hear the agency sale: “Yes, it’s common ground that’s well-trodden, but this will be ‘really real.’” It feels like an internal “sizzle” video brought to life with a huge production budget. I’m sure it researched well for being all things to all people, but not one person outside their marketing team remembers it today.

Grey Poupon. Pardon me. It was a winner the first time they did it 30 years ago and it was a winner on the awards Sunday night. The fortunate timing on the eve of “Celebrating 50 years of James Bond” made the spot even more likeable. The writing, “You were egregiously mistaken,” was excellent. The fact that they enticed viewers to find out what happened next, as the champagne cork Gatling gun warmed up, brought the idea into 2013’s multiplatform viewing habits. At the price of production and media, it better sell a lot of mustard.

Samsung. Unicorn Apocalypse. Adding Tim Burton to the ongoing unicorn game-maker brainstorm session was genius. The acting and writing is excellent and the characters are rich and amusing, but honestly, the product is a very distant fourth or fifth consideration in this effort. And what’s with cutting to the 1982 industrial royal blue background for the logo/product treatment? I think this effort will succeed in involving some new audience members in the story, but I’m not sure the halo will glow very brightly above Samsung as a result.

Hyundai. Seven, yes seven, spots. The normally common-sense pithy Hyundai marketing machine resort to a teeth grinding attempt to equate their car line with the Hollywood Awards culture. It feels like the forced work Chrysler tried 25 years ago in the badvertising days. The new car models actually look pretty good in their running shots, but the advertising upstaged them with lameness. They have a “big voice” (Jeff Bridges) and their media strategy is “big events” (the Oscars, Super Bowl) but what they really need is a “big idea.” 100,000 mile warranty anyone?

Diet Coke. Mansploitation. I know I’m supposed to cut this remake of/nod to the memorable Diet Coke hunk spot from the 90’s some slack, but it’s just so dang flat-footed that it’s hard to like. The phony picnic of models on break high on a grassy hill and the 50’s era mower all feel set up exclusively for the big gag. Which it isn’t. One of the inexplicably hot babes (unlike the office workers of the original) rolls a Coke down the hill so it will explode on the hunk. This is just mean since they seem surprised that he takes his shirt off. If that was their original plan there is no sign. No surprise. No prize. My two stars are for the blues track repurposed from the original. P.S., the two women I asked about this spot were split. One gave it four stars and the other two.

Apple. iPad demo. As an Apple nerd, I am programmed to like their work since their machines are so damn cool. However, this one has the same, “We’re doing a spot for the Oscars” creative device as the Hyundai spots. And, it’s almost equally expected. Of course, the iPad has more to do with the entertainment industry than the Hyundai line up. It works as a product demo, but I expected better. Great music and snappy editing as usual.

Chanel No 5. Brad Pitt. I’ve seen this spot before, but it’s worth reviewing because it’s a big star and a big brand gone horribly wrong. His ramblings aren’t cool or deep. They feel performed while reading a teleprompter after sniffing powdered bleach in a rehab laundry. We expect better from both the Pitt and Chanel brands. The send up remakes of this spot on YouTube have given it a certain viral appeal, but not the elegant one Chanel seeks.

Chobani. Real is Original. Chobani and JC Penny should have gotten together and saved one of their production budgets. The footage is the same in both of them and complete wallpaper at the end of the day. Chobani should take a page from Emerald Nuts, or Altoids, or Nature Valley and stand for something besides “real” people eating their product.

Royal Caribbean. Kristin Chenoweth. I thought I was watching a Carnival Cruise send-up spot at first.  Other than the unfortunate timing coming on the heels of the “Cruise from hell,” this ad is almost unintelligible as a piece of communication. Once again, the “OMG we’re doing a spot for the Oscars. We need a star and a red carpet,” got in the way. It’s confusing at best and a total negative for the brand at worst.

Coldwell Banker. We believe. At first I thought I was watching a spot for JC Penney but then no…it must be for that funny named Chobani yogurt…same footage, same overwrought ethos video script. Lame 100 years tagline. Sigh.

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