Here I go again on my own…

While there’s little chance any of these children know Whitesnake from asparagus (Hell, I doubt many of their parents do either) this back-to-school anthem from Walmart rocks.

The idea couldn’t be simpler, which is why I like it so much (that and my penchant for 80’s metal). You see, it’s time for kids to kiss summer goodbye and get on that big yellow school bus. But they are not moping. Anything but. Armed with supplies from Walmart they do so with a vengeance!

Historically, I do not have an affinity for Walmart. Nor their advertising. But this. This kills it. We barely see the store. No parking lots. No greeters. No deeply discounted back packs for $9.99. None of the tired tropes so familiar in retail advertising.

Instead it’s all kids, facing up to the un-face-up-to-able: School. And they do it with an awesome song in their heart.

Sing it:

Here I go again on my own,

going down the only road I’ve ever known.

Like a drifter I was born to walk alone.

But I’ve made up my mind. I ain’t wasting no more time…

So, let’s hold up our cigarette lighters –er, I mean iPhones- and shine a light on this joyously fun ode to new beginnings.

One request. Come Halloween I hope Walmart has the stones to go even harder. I’m thinking Motorhead.

Final note: If this indeed was The Martin Agency’s swan song for Walmart (having recently lost the account to a Publicis agency) then they should hold their heads high. They went out with a bang.

So, after all these years, Barbie is finally making her foray into the real world. A new commercial from Mattel heralds the diverse line-up of figures, featuring a curvier doll, a petit doll, and others, none as Stepford-like as the leggy, thin blonde who has represented the brand for decades.

For obvious reasons, this is a good thing. And the film does a nice job of introducing the concept. The spot has a more serious tone than what we see in most toy commercials, with softer music and adult language. Yes, young girls are shown playing with dolls, in a light airy setting, which is typical. But the children deliver lines that are far more socially aware. “It’s important for Barbies to look different,” a child says, opening the spot. Later, one states she likes her Barbie because it reminds her of her mom. I respect that the children are not mere shills. A huge improvement.

What’s even more unusual is that the film is intercut with shots of Mattel designers talking about their vision for these new dolls. Now girls have dolls “they can relate to,” says one. We see these designers making the dolls as well, spinning their hair and sewing their outfits. That’s radical. I can’t think of a toymaker ever showing its toys getting made. In the past, dolls were always seen imitating human behavior. Showing them being built defies that illusion.

But so what? I think children comprehend dolls are manufactured and can appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into it. Granted, a hip designer creating a prototype probably looks nothing like the factory workers who really do make these Barbies but that’s another story.

Before writing further, I have to commend Mattell and its ad agency, BBDO San Francisco for not only evolving Barbie into the 21st century but for making a commercial with a degree of gravitas. Both things are remarkable and deserve praise.

That said, I still wonder about the oldest stigma regarding Barbie and dolls in general: that they are only for girls. As with Disney’s Princesses, I think there’s something forced about steering girls into passive feminine roles. I have three daughters and lived through it. I always cringed when they obsessed over dollies. It’s all so weirdly Victorian. We boys grew up with Star Wars figures and G I Joe. Men of action, power and violence. Then video games. Science, technology and war. Not that that’s a good thing but it completely reinforces that it’s a man’s world.  Even though it’s understandable, there are no boys and only 3 seconds of one man in this commercial. Maybe in the next campaign they can find a way to be less “girlie.” Likewise, where is Ken? Will he be gaining weight and going bald? Or will they take him another direction a la Bruce Jenner?

While half-watching cartoons with my girls, I found myself staring at a familiar face: The Trix Rabbit. Although CGI, he was just as animated as I remembered, pimping a different kind of Trix, but still the same “silly rabbit.” After his attempt at stealing Trix from the kids was foiled another “critter” bombarded my living room. And another.

And then it hit me. How come we never hear about “critter” advertising in the trades, at awards shows, in the blogosphere and, most conspicuously, from the agencies creating them? It is as if these commercials, and all their colorful animated stars, exist in a vacuum, never-never land, like they were made in Bollywood not Hollywood.

I know absolutely no one in our industry that works on these accounts. Do any of you? What agencies are making all this work? Do they put it on their credentials? How deep does one have to go to find a Fruity Pebbles case study on the agency website?

Early on at Leo Burnett, I recall doing time on Kellogg’s cereals, though mostly for adults. Once, however, I was tasked with creating a new campaign for Apple Jacks. Remember those? While ostensibly made with apples and cinnamon, the cereal tasted wonderfully like neither. Our job was to define that taste and make it relevant for kids. I still remember my line: Apple Jacks tastes like what you like. Brilliant, right? It never got out of the agency.

Anyway, that was the last time I contemplated advertising (for) children’s breakfast cereal. Until I had children. Until just now.

As practitioners of the craft, we never “go there.”

There’s no category for it at award shows. (Is there?) Granted, the universal crappiness of the genre (if genre is the right word) precludes these sorts of creations from short-listing anywhere but on mom’s grocery list. But you get my point. Advertising for children’s cereal is a non-topic. Aside from occasional regulatory blather about advertising to kids, we (as an industry) neither criticize nor promote it. Scroll your blogroll. Check the archives. Try and find one story. Of Sir Martin Sorrel or Howard Draft there are hundreds. Count Chocula and Tucan Sam. None.

Is it a conspiracy or just the opposite, nobody cares?

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