The Best and Worst of 2001: Advertising

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1 NIKE, FREESTYLE Was it a commercial? Was it a music video? And did anybody care? These breathtaking TV spots, a 2 1/2-minute extended version of which ran on MTV, barely mentioned the product, except for a flash of the swoosh logo. Instead, against a spare backdrop, they showed expert dribblers dexterously pounding basketballs and executing trick maneuvers. Call it basketballet. The squeak of their soles and the thump of rubber provided a primal, trance-inducing soundtrack (with some help from hip-hop legend Afrika Bambaataa). The message: Sport is music. Sport is dance. Sport is art. And so was this ad.

2 BMW, THE HIRE In five short online films by directors including Ang Lee and Guy Ritchie, a chauffeur undertakes different missions. The common thread: spare story lines, action, high production values...oh, and the car. BMW aimed the pricey campaign at computer-addicted upscale buyers. For everyone else, it was reason to shell out--for high-speed Internet hookups.

3 GAP, GIVE YOUR GIFT Having hot musicians (Sheryl Crow, Macy Gray, Shaggy) sing about giving of yourself--so you'll give your business to the Gap--would be dicey any year, much less after Sept. 11. Yet once again, the retailer's holiday ads were culturally pitch-perfect. On a stark set, the singers, covering Supertramp's plangent Give a Little Bit, gave a little uplift to a Christmas season that needed it.

4 THE NEW YORK MIRACLE After Sept. 11, New York City's most recognizable faces joined in a series of fanciful spots to bring visitors back to Gotham. The inspired sleight of hand--Woody Allen executing a professional ice-skating routine in Rockefeller Center, Henry Kissinger belly-sliding into home plate at Yankee Stadium--reminded us all that New York is a city where the impossible is possible.

5 AI WEB-MARKETING CAMPAIGN Love the Spielberg movie or hate it, this stealth campaign for the robo-Pinocchio story was popcorn entertainment itself. A network of websites spun a complex murder mystery, never mentioning the movie's plot or its main characters, but hardwiring curious surfers into AI's fictional future world.

6 LIPTON, SIZZLE AND STIR "When you cook," said commercials for this prefab meal kit, "you're a family." And what a family! In one of the spots, surreally cast with a potpourri of midlist celebs, "Mom" Sally Jessy Raphael and "Dad" Chuck Woolery fuss in the kitchen, while the "kids," squabbling over setting the table, turn out to be Pat Morita and Little Richard. Does that dinner mix come in tutti frutti?

7 E*TRADE, MONKEY II At Super Bowl 2000, in the glory year of the dotcom ads, the online trader proudly blew $2 million on a spot featuring a dancing monkey. At Super Bowl 2001, the monkey rode through a ghost town littered with the graves of Tieclasp.com, Pimentoloaf.com"--and the lifeless body of a familiar-looking sock puppet. At least the Internet boom could laugh at its own funeral.

8 REEBOK, WOMEN DEFY They're not quite strong. They're hardly invincible. They are...men. In spots that upend the male-female sports dynamic, male dancers shake their booties at a women's basketball game, female bodybuilders laugh at a feeble guy at the gym, and Missy Elliott raps, "It's a woman's world." Hear her roar.

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