Play Fair.


How is it that even small children have a built-in notion of justice and balance? Why is my old employer—I briefly worked as a cashier for GMAC, now Ally Bank, in my 20s—playing on that sense of fairness in a series of new spots?

screen31Maybe you’ve not yet seen the one with the truck—another winner—or the bike one. But you’ve almost certainly caught the “Pony” spot, above: In an 18% neutral gray playroom, right, a suited slickster with a huge schnozz asks a dark-haired little girl if she wants a pony. She says yes, and he hands her a toy. She’s happy. He then asks the other girl there, a blond, the same question. She says yes, also.

The man calls out, and a horse—a real one, dressed identically to the toy—comes from behind a large playhouse. As the second girl gasps, oohs, and aahs, the first registers what people twelve times her age would: I’ve been taken.

In disbelief: “You didn’t say, ‘Could I have a real one,'” she pleads.

He turns to her, with a whaddya-want-from-me-kid? expression. “Well, you didn’t ask.”

screen4The nakedness of the switch, played out against the bland backdrop and the trusting naiveté of the young girl, is what grabs you. But what seals it follows: A close-up on the child, right, as she gives him a look that, even in kid-ese, anyone can read. It says, “You’re wrong, and you know it.” She sets her jaw, clenching it. You see her adjust it through her fragile, pale skin. And then, miracle of miracles, just before they cutaway to the graphics, she makes this small shift in the posture of her head, never breaking eye contact with the huckster off-screen, and it blows the spot out of the water. She’s telling him to do right by her, but she does it with her posture and expression. Wow. In truth, it’s an ad for the ages, as timeless as they get. When I first saw it last week, I just about shrieked.

Now, it’s got a major problem as a piece of advertising, which Mark Dollive of notes.

The idea is to convey that Ally Bank, unlike its competitors, “alerts you when your money could be working harder and earning more.” That’s potentially a useful feature (leaving aside the fact that lots of people lost lots of money in the past year through efforts to make their money “work harder”). The problem, typical of ads that focus on a villain, is that the positive message about Ally is far less vivid than the negative message about other banks. The disappointed face of the girl who got the dinky little toy pony is a memorably forceful image, after all. A voiceover’s allusion to Ally’s helpful services can hardly compete with it for our attention.

But if they gave out Clios to commercials that worked for clients, instead as visual compositions, no one would get nominated. Prediction: Bartle Bogle Hegarty, the agency of record, can expect heavy metal next May. The competition? A pony’s head on the mattress.

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#1 giles on 06.05.09 at 1:05 pm

this is a great commercial. i think the truck one is just great too, but this girl’s reaction couldn’t have been better.

#2 CDF on 06.25.09 at 11:32 am

good call!

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