A new look for TV commercials -- On-screen text is popular with ad agency Wieden and Kennedy

Is it TV or is it a video printed page? These days, hype meets type in ads for sneakers (Nike), cars (Subaru), and clothing (Anne Klein) that augment audio-video messages with on-screen printed text — all three of them created by the Portland, Ore.-based agency Wieden & Kennedy, who also made us know Bo in Nike’s ”Just do it” campaign.

Right now the ad to beat is W&K’s Nike commercial, the one in which the lyrics to the John Lennon song ”Instant Karma” seemingly hurtle from the back to the front of the TV screen. ”Just hearing John Lennon’s words and what he’s trying to communicate is so powerful,” says W&K’s Michael Prieve, art director for the Nike and Anne Klein efforts. ”You kind of hum along, then you look up to read ‘And we all shine on.’ You see that, and you suddenly view Nike quite a bit differently.”

Maybe W&K is hooked on the approach because the agency thinks on-screen text imbues products with a kind of faux elitism. (At the very least, it assumes the viewer’s ability to read.) But love of the printed word is hardly an international affair, as evidenced by the grounding of the ”Instant Karma” flying type in certain European and Asian countries. ”France, for example, does not allow you to use English words on the screen,” Prieve groans. Rather than galicizing Lennon’s lyrics for the French, the art director has ”created shapes and stick figures and symbols that put across the meaning of the song. That’s how things go sometimes: It starts as a legal problem and it ends with you having to make up your own language.”