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The Best, And Worst, Of Current TV Commercials
November 17, 2008  | By David Bianculli

Most TV ads are eminently, instantly forgettable, but once in a while, one appears that's either really good or really bad. On television right now, there are stellar examples of both...


What makes a great ad? Think, as your baseline, Tina Fey's commercials for American Express. When you're adding up what a banner year she's had, between 30 Rock, lots of Emmys and playing Sarah Palin, don't forget her ad triumphs, too. Her spot trying to get into an airport lounge, just so Martin Scorsese can try and sell her a time-share condo, is priceless.

So which new series of ads on TV is up to that very high standard? Volkswagen's new ads for its VW Routan, presented by comically snarky spokeswoman Brooke Shields.


VW has a long, long history of great commercials. One of many personal favorites is the ad that, for most of the commercial, is nothing but a lone VW bug driving in a snowstorm along deserted roads. Finally, the punchline arrives: Did you ever wonder how the guy who drives the snowplow GETS to the snowplow?

In the newest series of VW ads, Shields talks directly to viewers, urging them not to make the same mistake as car consumers who have had babies merely to take advantage of the roomy, family-friendly Routan and its German engineering. She stands near couples who protest her allegations, but she dismisses them derisively.


Watch closely, and you're not only seeing a great ad. You're seeing what may be the best role Brooke Shields has ever played, and a persona that should be tailor-made to a sitcom built in that image. Certainly, NBC's Lipstick Jungle isn't going anywhere, and didn't help. Some TV producer should let Shields unleash her inner bitch, and have a field day. Forget empathy and sympathy. Let her play dismissive and arrogant -- and let her loose.

On the other end of the spectrum, there's one of the worst, most baffling commercials I've seen in some time. It's an ad for Charmin bathroom tissue, and, in this new animated campaign, features a bear playing football with a bear cub. When the little bear (not THE Little Bear) bends down to hike the ball, the big bear is shocked to see that the baby bear's bottom is festooned with pieces of leftover toilet tissue.


Forget the demonstration that follows, and the rest of the commercial. Is this really such an issue that a commercial needs to address it? Are so many people rising from their toilets with pieces of paper still stuck to them that the proper brand of tissue is seen as a welcome remedy?

If that's true, I really don't want to know. And if there's a next time I buy Charmin, which up to this moment has been my preferred brand, I don't want the salesgirl thinking I'm stricken by that particular tissue issue.

That would be... unbearable.




Gregg B said:

One of the VW commercials I find a little creepy. Brooke Shields says "people are having babies for German engineering." I get the joke, but that line I find a little distasteful.

Comment posted on November 17, 2008 10:54 AM

Eileen said:

Where is Mr. Whipple when we really need him? Sadly, gone to the big supermarket in the sky. I agree, the VW commercial is great, and one of the few "catchy" commercials on tv. Most annoying in the NYC area have to be the Optimum Triple Play. They are visuals and audio are actually painful to the senses.

On another note, David, I'm wondering how you like "Worst Week". I've watched it from the start, and I find it laugh out loud funny. The cast is great, but I wonder how long you can go on the premise it's the week before your wedding. (Too long already. Check out the British original, which stuck to its one-week premise, then vanished. -- David B.)

Comment posted on November 17, 2008 4:38 PM

Chris said:

As I was reading the article I was saying to myself "David must think those VW commercials are terrible." I guess sometimes we do disagree. I just find them and her extremely annoying. The auto industry could save money and do itself a favor by advertising less on television since most don't buy a car based on a television commerical they see. Toyota's "saved by zero" I think has overtaken the Optimum triple play commercials as the most annoying. A set of sopts I find quirky, funny and original is Burger King parodying Simon and Garfunkel with their 'shroom and swiss sandwich.

Comment posted on November 18, 2008 1:16 PM
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