Mark Wnek in the USA

OK, there's no 'I' in team but I'm sure there's an 'e' in United
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The Independent Online

I flew into the US last Friday on the first leg of a secret mission, only to be faced with the prospect of the mother of all snowstorms - they were predicting 18 inches in a matter of hours for New York the following day. I had an onward flight from LaGuardia that morning and, already a nervous flier, faced God knows what delay and associated stress and turmoil. So there I was, sitting in my limo (as you do) heading into the airport at dawn, and there were the huge US air company hangars with their giant signage: US Airways, Delta, Unit d - surely they meant United. Of course they did, only the giant red neon letter 'e' was out, giving the effect of a run-down, back-alley tattoo parlour. Now, there are certain things that brands can get away with and certain things they can't, and while I'm not suggesting we're talking about something as corporately cataclysmic as Gerald Ratner announcing that his products were crap, dare I suggest the one kind of company that doesn't want to announce its faulty electr

I flew into the US last Friday on the first leg of a secret mission, only to be faced with the prospect of the mother of all snowstorms - they were predicting 18 inches in a matter of hours for New York the following day. I had an onward flight from LaGuardia that morning and, already a nervous flier, faced God knows what delay and associated stress and turmoil. So there I was, sitting in my limo (as you do) heading into the airport at dawn, and there were the huge US air company hangars with their giant signage: US Airways, Delta, Unit d - surely they meant United. Of course they did, only the giant red neon letter 'e' was out, giving the effect of a run-down, back-alley tattoo parlour. Now, there are certain things that brands can get away with and certain things they can't, and while I'm not suggesting we're talking about something as corporately cataclysmic as Gerald Ratner announcing that his products were crap, dare I suggest the one kind of company that doesn't want to announce its faulty electrics to the world is one which relies on faultless electrics to keep its customers afloat and alive at 30,000 feet. Sometimes, all the brand-building in the world can be undone by one little, defective brick.

When in New York, I always return to my "New York family": Stefano Hatfield, the great, former editor of Campaign magazine and now a worldwide editorial bigwig at Metro in Manhattan; Maya Brewster, the head of TV production company Partizan - home to filmic genius Michel Gondry among others; and Brett Gosper, the world's greatest account man and Aussie president of TBWA New York. Even though he's been out of the ad business for over a year, Hatfield remains the biggest repository of knowledge and insight about the business and is the best non-professional, male cook of Italian food I've ever met. Brewster is always guaranteed to take you to the hottest place in New York for lunch which, I was amazed to discover, is still, after all these years, Balthazar at Spring and Crosby. In a city that's notoriously fickle about eateries, Balthazar - a kind of upmarket version of Café Rouge - had a queue down the block even at -10C outside. We sat next to an extremely thin and fit-looking Harvey Weinstein, who was having lunch with the second and third most beautiful women in the world; my wife, needless to say, being number one.

The current number one choice on top US trade rag Advertising Age's creative website, www.Adcritic.com, is a Publicis New York spot for the American Academy of Dermatology. I could spend this entire column writing about this spot for all kinds of reasons, many of which will become clear when I describe it. In the spot, we open on a high, aerial shot of a golden beach covered with sunbathers on their towels. As the camera slowly zooms down and in, we discover that we're looking at hundreds of dead bodies covered by towels. Meanwhile, a super appears which says: "Every year 10,000 Americans die of skin cancer." With the Asian tsunami still vivid in my mind, a commercial with dead bodies on a beach introduces a moral maze of bewildering complexity.

Needless to say, outside the US such a commercial would never appear and would be canned forever. Extraordinarily, not a single American I spoke to saw any connection between this spot and the tragedy in Asia. To be fair to Publicis NY and the dermatological association, the commercial will have been written and produced long before the tsunami and, as such, there is absolutely no question of any kind of monumental lapse in taste. Also, the association is not a commercial organisation but one which offers help and advice to the stricken, so making a spot of this quality will unquestionably have taken up a huge amount of their resources: they can't just go off and make another one.

Unlike, for example, Australia, where there is a high-level of awareness of the dangers of the sun's rays, there is nothing like the same comprehension in the US - hence, the huge number of deaths mentioned in the spot.

How should Americans respond to a suggestion that something designed to help save thousands of American lives should be suppressed on the grounds of offending the sensibilities of foreigners? We can probably guess the response from Fortress America.

US needs to soften blow of hard sell

There is a vast amount of appalling advertising on American TV screens; far more than in the UK. Then again, there is far more advertising on US screens. There are those, and I'm one of them, that believe the best of US advertising is the best there is. Are there really agencies in the UK as consistently good creatively as NY-based Cliff Freeman and Partners, Crispin, Porter + Bogusky in Florida, Goodby, Silverstein in San Francisco and Fallon in Minneapolis? I don't think so. And are there any creative directors in the world as good as Publicis Worldwide creative chief David Droga or BBDO's David Lubars? I doubt it.

But when it comes to appalling advertising, the US takes the biscuit, particularly with the new legislation allowing healthcare advertising: some commercial breaks are now wall-to-wall descriptions of how to fight weak-bladder control or other weeping orifices. All of these commercials look and sound more or less the same. They all star a middle-aged couple doing stuff like shopping for antiques or kite-flying (don't ask), and talk about how there is a new way to help you fight "X". That's the first 15 seconds. Then: "Side-effects may include..." followed by a breathless rush of horror, including things you can't quite believe you've heard, like profuse bleeding or violent diarrhoea.

My favourite of all of these side-effects was for Viagra-rival Cialis: "Erections lasting longer that four hours require immediate medical attention." Not so much a side-effect warning, as the ultimate in hard sell.

WNEK'S BEST IN AMERICA NIKE

The world's highest-paid athlete is someone you've probably never heard of: Michael Vick, the quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons gridiron football team. Nike's ad agency, Wieden + Kennedy, in Portland, showcase Vick in a commercial featuring a funfair ride called the Michael Vick Experience. In it, a young guy gets in the ride - a kind of hanging seat with padding - and is fitted with a football helmet and shoes, and given a ball. The ride then places him in Vick's position in the middle of a "down". The zig-zagging ride takes the terrifiedman past murderously onrushing, opposing players and into the end-zone. Great, exhilarating fun - Nike advertising at its best.

mark@adguru.co.uk

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