Banana Republic vs. Old Navy, Pepsi vs. Dr. Pepper, and more go head to head

By A.J. Jacobs
Updated April 16, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

We will return to your regularly scheduled Remote Patrol next week. But first, these messages about the latest high-profile commercials.

Best Exploitation of Dead Celebs: Mercedes In a highbrow twist on the car-factory cliche, great artists tinker on an assembly line. Salvador Dali welds. Picasso works a wrench. Da Vinci test-drives. The beautifully simple punchline: ”Art.” Understated, wry, and suitable for framing.

Worst Exploitation of a Dead Celeb: Claussen Pickles A spot as mystifying as quantum mechanics. Over a shot of pickles, a Germanic voice identified as Albert Einstein intones: ”It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know it tastes good.” C’mon! Everyone knows Einstein preferred Vlasic.

Best Ad Featuring Hippies: Beyond.com When a commune discovers the joys of buying software online, bad vibes run amok. One peacenik orders up an ultraviolent videogame (”I’ll kill you all!”); another discovers gourmet cooking (”Can we try something besides brown rice for once?”). Broad, yes, but just as entertaining as watching a lava lamp when you’re stoned.

Worst Ad Featuring Hippies: Tampax Did the copywriters drop some bad acid? A long montage of Woodstock footage — peace signs, scraggly guitarists, flower children — is followed by the bizarre tag line ”Tampax was there.” Yeah, well so were Sha Na Na, so quit your bragging.

Best Clothing Chain Ads: A tie: Gap and Banana Republic Two dialogue-free visual stunners. Gap follows up its brilliant swing-dancing spot with more cool choreography. The best of the bunch: a delightfully groovy go-go spot (just in time for the Austin Powers sequel!). Meanwhile, Banana Republic scores with an Andrew Wyeth-esque music video for chinos: bucolic vistas (Mount Rushmore, couples prancing in wheat fields, bare feet) layered with an enchantingly indecipherable Portuguese tune.

Worst Clothing Chain Ad: Old Navy At first, we smiled at the C-grade celebs (Morgan Fairchild, Carrie Donovan), the hokey song-and-dance numbers, the scruffy dog. But a few years later, these grating spots put the old in Old Navy.

Best Aging Mascot: Little Caesars The chain’s toga-wearing ”pizza-pizza” guy’s turning 40, so he buys a sports car, picks up a hot chick, and gives away free pies. The clever concept — plus the Muppet-y Mr. Caesar — make for the most amusing midlife crisis since Woody Allen wooed Soon-Yi.

Worst Aging Mascot: KFC In a desperate bid for street cred, a cartoon Colonel Sanders plays hoops and makes like a Ricki Lake audience (”Go, Colonel! Go, Colonel!”). It gets worse. The tag line? ”The Colonel — he da man!” The most embarrassing exploitation of urban culture since Vanilla Ice. The Colonel’s neither fresh nor phat, he’s just a big white dork.

Best Soda Spot: Pepsi That button-eyed little girl’s destined for child stardom (followed by a slow descent into petty larceny). In three cute new spots, 6-year-old Hallie Eisenberg’s voice morphs into those of Isaac Hayes, Marlon Brando, and Aretha Franklin. The one sour note comes from Aretha herself, who shouts that most noxious of ’90s cliches, ”You go, girl!”

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