Early returns on the new Jet Blue campaign from Mullen, featuring the second coming of pseudo-famous fast talker, John Moschitta, have been mixed. Yes, the spots are entirely derivative of director, Joe Sedelmaier’s famous campaign for Federal Express. But so what? Ain’t anything new since the Romans. It’s obvious Mullen was riffing on the old Fed Ex campaign. In addition to bringing back the speed-talking Moschitta (still good at his stupid human trick by the way), the films were made in exactly the same way as Joe’s work: muted colors, locked down camera, comic casting, etc. And guess what? The technique still works. Funny then. Funny now.

As discussed before on this blog, The negative connotations associated with copycat creative is less controversial than it used to be, say back when Sedelmaier was making films. Back then it was called plagiarism. Now we just call it ‘building on’ or ‘mashing.’ Besides, the argument follows, most people under 40 don’t have a recollection of the fast talking Fed Ex guy, so it’s new to them. What’s important is what consumers think of the campaign, not the opinions of jaded advertising critics. That’s the defense, whether we agree with it or not.

It is fair to criticize, however, the strategy behind the new campaign. Is “Mr. Non-Stop” a relevant shill for Jet Blue? Do funny spots about going to a bunch of places, etc, differentiate Jet Blue from Southwest, ATA or any number of other low-cost carriers? For a 21st century airline like Jet Blue, it does beg the question: why such an old-fashioned approach?

My guess is Jet Blue’s modern period is over; its credibility with early adapters collapsing when a slew of delays and service issues beset the airline a short time ago. Rather than attempting to woo back this crowd with design and technology promises, the client and agency go to market with humorous vignettes from a bygone era.

Whether ‘cheap, fast & easy’ is or isn’t a good strategy for them at least it’s not another haughty anthem vainly trying to emulate the brilliant United Airlines work from the 80’s and 90’s. If you’re going to be derivative don’t be boring. Thankfully, these spots are anything but.

-Packers vs. San Francisco

-New England vs. Miami

“Bob’s a little P-O’d,” says the Green Bay Packer loving mama to the family priest, commiserating over coffee. While they chat about the new neighbors from “San Fran” Bob covertly delivers them a green and gold party platter. The cubes of salami and cheese spell “Dirt Bag.”

Another spot takes place on the “hallowed ground” of working class New England, “Foxboro.” Guys are shoveling snow when their new neighbor from Miami pulls up in his cute white car. They sneer at his obvious affiliation to the Dolphins. Throw snow at his doorstep. In a nightgown, someone’s mother opens her window and calls him a “Moron!”

The rest of the campaign is more of the same. Diehard fans hating other diehard fans encroaching on their territory. It’s blue collar. It’s stereotypical. It’s all American.

So, why do I love this campaign for DirecTV NFL Sunday Ticket? Because it’s a simple, fun idea executed with gusto. There’s no jaded irony. No disenchanted slackers. Just a bunch of great characters having a good time being mean. Watching these commercials from Deutsch makes me think of the now-classic comedies of John Hughes, who, by the way, once wrote copy at Leo Burnett. There’s a bit of Joe Sedelmaier (“Where’s the beef?”) in them as well. The casting. Those funny faces. Yep, these are old-school commercials, kicked through the uprights. And I find it damn refreshing.

The film is bright and vivid, not washed out. There are no fancy cuts or special effects. Every detail has been thought through and brings a smile. Take the green and gold coffee set in the Packer’s commercial. The stylist and art director must have had a blast. Sure, the dialogue is corny. It’s supposed to be.

Directed by Harold Einstein at Station Film, the spots work. The first time and the time after that. Like “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” I could watch them over and over again. Clever commercials don’t get better with age. Funny ones do.

Of the half dozen comments these spots drew on Agency Spy, only one was in favor of them. And even that one may have been sarcastic! Well, sarcasm has carried our industry far enough. On both sides of the camera. As fodder for brands it’s bankrupt. After years of Mumblecore or indie-rock infused art pieces, finally an ad campaign that works a tried and true formula to perfection.

(My only quip: I’m wondering if the Packer Mom’s nasal twang sounds more like a Vikings fan than a Packer backer, don’t you know?)

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The New York Festivals International Advertising Awards launched its World Tour showcasing the World’s Best Advertising™ in Chicago on Tuesday, July 21, 2009. Yours truly spent a better part of the day participating in the festival -first as a panelist during an afternoon discussion and later as an audience member during the actual ceremony.

Personally speaking, there were three highlights: the panel discussion, actually winning an award, and the Lifetime Achievement accolade given to famed commercial director, Joe Sedelmaier.

Let’s start with the Sedelmaier prize. If you’re in advertising and ignorant about whom this man is shame on you! Do some digging. In the eighties, Sedelmaier was widely considered to be the premiere director of funny. His fast talking Fed Ex guy and Clara Peller’s “Where’s the beef?” commercial for Wendy’s are icons of the form. There were others: a “Russian Fashion show” mocking the brutal sameness of fast food, a Southern Airlines commercial depicting coach class as a Jewish ghetto. Many of these can be found online. I’ve attached one below.

As was acknowledged by Sedalmaier’s son, JJ and guest presenter, Bob Garfield from AdAge, the thing Joe did better than anyone was finding and using REAL people. Very real people. Often older and comically unattractive, Joe’s cattle call was welcome respite from the very beautiful and mostly fake actors representing most advertising during the glitzy Reagan era. When I started at Leo Burnett, everyone –and I mean everyone- wrote (or tried to write) in the brutally funny style that Joe Sedalmaeir made famous. Good to see him being recognized.

The panel discussion, entitled “Is craft dead?” was about whether or not the aesthetic quality of creativity suffered given the influence of social media, the recession and other mitigating factors. Internet wag, Alan Wolk moderated the group. Other panelists included the Chief Creative Officer of Element 79, Dennis Ryan and Tribal DDB’s Managing Director, David Hernandez. We covered a wide range of topics, including viral videos impact on TV commercials, crowd sourcing (good or evil?) and even the Zappos RFP fiasco. I hope the audience got as much out of it as I did.

After the discussion, panelists were interviewed for a segment on WCIU TV’s “First Business.” If you’re surfing channels next Saturday morning, try not to hurl your Cheerios.

Euro RSCG Chicago took home a Silver medal for Valspar paints. This integrated campaign continues to be our creative front-runner at my agency. Bravo team!

Had fun visiting with the many Burnett people attending the ceremony. My beloved, old agency won a handful of prizes, including a much-deserved medal for Hallmark Card’s “Brother of the Bride.” I adore this commercial and, frankly, the entire long-running campaign. Hallmark and Burnett have been making these beautiful long-form stories for decades. If craft is dying elsewhere it’s alive and well here:

The many other winners can be found on their website: New York Festivals

Finally, a special shout out goes to NYF’s Gayle Mandel. Lovely woman, the green ensemble she donned for the ceremony was damn near worth the price of admission!

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