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Commercial Emmy Production Values at a Premium

Great Look Helps to Distinguish Nominees in Field That Attracted 120-Plus Entries

"Why do you insist on treating me like an adult?" the teenage girl screeches at her mother in the Emmy-nominated commercial

"Battle" for Cingular's Go Phone. "Because you insist on acting like one!" her mother retorts. "You're getting this new phone!"

This Cingular (now AT&T) alternate universe is the brainchild of BBDO New York, which pulled in three of the seven Emmy nominations for commercial. (Normally there are five nominations, but there was a tie this year.)

BBDO isn't the only agency or production company churning out creative spots.

MJZ Production Company pulled down two nominations -- one for "Snowball" (Fallon Ad Agency, for Travelers) and the second for "Singing Cowboy" (Arnold/Crispin Porter + Bogusky, for Truth.com).

"Snowball" shows an accumulating pile of debris that grows to include a motorcycle, a Jeep Cherokee and a bride and groom, zeroing in on a hapless guy moving down the streets of San Francisco. Peter Jackson's company Weta Digital, which did the special effects for his "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and "King Kong," provides the visuals.

Michael L. Faulkner and Rick Fishbein, governors of the commercials division of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, were quick to note the high production values in this year's crop of nominees. And high production values tend to be expensive.

"The per-second production value on a TV commercial is the most expensive media on the television or film screen in today's world," Mr. Fishbein said.

Even with today's expanding markets and the ongoing debate as to how commercial viewership should be measured, "Commercials are still an important part of the television industry," Mr. Faulkner said, "because, in fact, that's still what supports their business."

This year's nominees include the usual clever ads for Coke and Pepsi, but not all the spots are aimed at selling phones or soft drinks. "Jar," also masterminded by BBDO, is about GE's attempts to harness wind power for energy.

"Singing Cowboy" is a disturbing public service announcement -- maybe it's only disturbing for anyone who has ever smoked -- that shows a cowboy, accompanied by a guitarist and a couple of horses, as he croons his tune: "You don't always die from tobacco; sometimes you just lose a lung." The cowboy must use an artificial voice box to get his message across.

More than 120 applicants submitted commercials for this year's Emmy nominations. A few were disqualified because of air date or other constraints.

"We only give out one Primetime Emmy, so there's a real distinctiveness to it," Mr. Fishbein said. "Other categories, you've got more than one chance."

"And because there's only one, it's hard to win," Mr. Faulkner added. "You're competing against public service, small spots, everything. It makes the best and brightest apply."

Other nominees are "Animals" for American Express, produced by Hungry Man (Ogilvy & Mather, ad agency); "Happiness Factory" for Coca Cola, produced by Psyop (Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam, ad agency); and "Pinball" for Pepsi, produced by Partizan Entertainment (BBDO New York).

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