Guest Critic

As you all doubtlessly know, advertising and marketing people are far down the ladder on the list of respected jobs in this country, hovering somewhere around lawyers and insurance salesmen. Most of us are sincerely trying to sell our brands and tell their stories, yet there’s a perception that we’re just trying to “sell” using un- or half-truths. In fact, I’ve yet to meet a real slavering, unethical huckster in this business. OK, I can think of a couple, but I’m not naming names.

One of the ways I judge work is to ask, “Is this true?” Are we getting at a compelling truth, or are we making it up? Is this literally, metaphorically and/or emotionally true? Instead of providing an aesthetic review of this month’s spots, I thought we’d do a little truth check.

In a spot for XM Satellite Radio, we see people in their cars getting barraged by characters trying to sell them something: an old couple on a bicycle built for two talking about their regularity, a couple of steroid types talking about a dubious piece of exercise equipment and others. Cut to a fellow drowning them out using his XM radio. Pretty true, I’d say, and a product demonstration to boot.

In Sprint’s “Red Ball,” kids on a playground are told to guesstimate how many minutes they will play with a ball. We then see how Sprint charges for cell minutes in a flexible way. Again, a real truth. This spot points out how ridiculous billing has become in the wonderful world of telecom.

How about the Starbucks spot “Glen?” A guy followed around by the band Survivor, singing his name to the tune of “Eye of the Tiger.” Coffee is all about starting your day, and who doesn’t picture themselves as the hero of their world, even when it’s a world of corporate memos and middle management? Pretty inspired, and also wonderfully true.

Next, in Nike’s “Magnet,” Lance Armstrong bikes cross-country, drawing everything from birds, Hell’s Angels and a kid on a tiny bike behind him. True? Sure. Armstrong is an inspiration who has galvanized an entire sport. Metaphorically and emotionally true. And this is also a wonderful metaphor for how he has lived his life and overcome odds.

Last, let’s look at “Newscaster” for PlayStation 2. An anchorwoman sort of subtly zaps into a different reality, where she recruits you to fight as a remote operative for the “agency.” Is this built on a truth? If you’ve ever played any game for eight hours in a row, you already know the answer. Reality shifts a little, and the game stays with you. At the end of the day, this is just a cool spot for a game, but there is truth there.

The world is full of advertising that isn’t true in the sense I mean it. Infomercials that promise amazing results. Pharmaceutical advertising that makes a promise and then hedges the crap out of it. Shampoo commercials that promise an orgasmic experience. (Actually, if that is true, one case please.)

Here’s to the ones who got it right last month.