PETER YORK ON ADS No 302: SIMPLY PALM

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The Independent Culture
Commercials turn to mush at Christmas. It's all shops, especially record shops selling grim complications and soppy specials (little Charlotte Church with her reedy voice and calculating eyes is especially irritating). You're transported to a gentler time before irony, postmodernism or sex, and it's complete hell. Which is why the Simply Palm commercial looks utterly compelling; in a normal week it might not rate, but on this reel it could be This Life or Queer as Folk, it looks so much better than the competition.

It's very simple; it's got casual sex (initiated, so it looks, by the girl); it's nicely enough shot in an arty-angly way and well cast. It's even got trains, but the real clincher is that it demonstrates a Boy's Toy bit of tech in a proper "let me try" way suitable for 10-year-olds everywhere. Parents are going to get pestered for this expensive grown- up device.

The Extremely Brief Encounter 1999 story starts in a Victorian railway station with two hyper-modern trains - are they Eurostars? - parked in parallel in the platform. To a burst of classical Spanish guitar (it'll be copied) the camera picks up a dark-eyed sleek-haired Eurogirl, a sort of vaguely Hispanic Kristin Scott-Thomas type (KS-T's unutterably evolved, classy, FT columnist Euro-crossover look is deeply influential). She's studying her Palm Pilot affair, poking with its little stick, cruelly blanking a Bisto-tanned middle-aged senor who's giving her major eye-contact. But she sees a younger man in the adjoining train and gets a visible hormone surge: eyeing him in profile; willing him to see her. He's slow on the uptake, but looks thrilled when he cottons on. Do they know each other or does she just pick up strange men on trains?

The station master whistles - do they still do that? - and train wheels grind: it could be the Night Mail. She acts decisively, pressing her toy to the window, urging him to follow. "Anna, 0807-607-1101" comes up on his little screen as her train pulls out. Oh, how did they do that? Will it really work between passing trains? The grimmer reality, I've just been told, is a device for conference-goers, loaded with commercial co-ordinates like "interested in automated warehouse pallet markets in Malaysia" to ensure swifter business networking with no waste. It makes the Simply Palm thing look all heart.

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