Commercials are a fact of life for every television watcher. Usually taken for granted as a time to run to the refrigerator or dash off to the bathroom without missing a precious minute of the game or the show, commercials have generally been regarded as a necessary annoyance. Still, these inevitable breaks in television programming undeniably reflect the culture of the times and, for some, are even held up as art. Selecting from more than 4,210 commercials from 16 countries, the Cannes International Film Festival in 1996 recognized 98 ads as being the world's best. Together, they form a 72-minute look at the similarities and differences in international culture.
The commercials were divided into five categories: food and Drink, Public Awareness, Products and Services, Travel and Transport, and Entertainment and Leisure. The big winners, not surprisingly, were American, Japanese, and Western European advertisers but the Australians, Russians, and South Americans were not overlooked. The majority of the American winners first aired during the Super Bowl, the launching pad for new, creative commercials. Interestingly the judges at the Cannes Festival usually failed to resist cultural stereotypes, almost all of the winning American commercials were ones for Little Caesar's, Pepsi and Budweiser.
The advertisements came from around the world but the marketing strategies were often the same. The playing off of cultural stereotypes and the use of humor produced the best commercials. A winner in the Entertainment and Leisure category shows a Japanese woman giving birth. When the baby is born it immediately begins taking pictures with Fuji film.
Absurdity seems to be the buzz word around advertising agencies, as almost every winning commercial took a normal situation and bent it to a ridiculous conclusion. A Pepsi ad, for instance, features a boy on the beach drinking a Pepsi who then sucks himself into the bottle. Japp, a European candy bar, runs an ad where a West Indian man, having eaten the candy bar, mistakenly pushes a Porsche over a cliff. The slogan is "Japp--Extra Energy to Push You Over."
The traditional stand-bys of celebrities and cute children still have their place in Public Awareness advertisements. Michael Jordan urges kids to participate in sports and poor children in South America ask for help, appealing to the viewer's conscience.
Humor, as well as sentimentality, has also found a place as a strategy in Public Awareness commercials. While not making fun of serious concerns, advertisers are striving to make a statement that is light-hearted but still hits home. One such ad shows a man being chased around a copy machine by a dog to illustrate how a woman feels when she is sexually harassed at work. The commercial asks, "There are no animals at work...Are there?"
Even in Public Awareness announcements, advertisers are looking at current trends and trademarks that appeal to their target audience. An ad urging people to wear seatbelts uses the simple, yet culturally appropriate slogan, "Death Sucks."
Not all advertising practices are the same world-wide, however. One European commercial for a drink called "Solo" depicts a girl in a restaurant making eye contact with an attractive man at another table. Just when it seems like one of them is going to make a move, another man enters, approaches the man at the table, and gives him a kiss. This is an area American advertisers are hesitant to venture into.
"World's Best Commercials" offers a look at the world from a perspective we are usually unable to see. While each advertisement is unique and addresses a different aspect of a culture, the similar strategies used to reel consumers in assure us that we are not all that different: Humor and absurdity are universal.
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