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Best and worst commercials of the year

HP ‘Frames’ earns the love; Tampax rocks the boat
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Our winner was established fairly early. But it was a fight to the bottom for the losers. I'm not sure if that's because there just aren't as many good commercials, or because it's just more fun to write in about the really bad ads.

In Test Pattern's summer of TV commercial debate, the HP frames ad (watch it here) established itself fairly early on as a front-runner. It drew so many raves that I devoted an entire day's worth of posting to it, asking whether it could be "the perfect commercial."

Readers loved the commercial for many reasons. Donna from Michigan sums it up well: "For me, it's the HP commercial with the guy and the picture frames. Love the music and am fascinated by the technology and the 'how did they do that?' factor."

The music, the Kinks' "Picture Book" in some ads, the Robins' "Out of the Picture" in another, was a big part of the ad's success. The songs are catchy and fun, and their lyrics fit well with the topic (unlike some others we could mention). But more than the music, it was the truly unusual technique that stopped many viewers and made them really watch the ad. HP attempts to explain how they did it in a message on their Web site. The most memorable version of the ad features a star who's not really an actor — he's François Vogel, French director. He put himself in the ad to show HP how it's done, and they loved him so much they kept him in it. According to this fun story from NBC's "Dateline," it took Vogel 37 takes to get it right, but when he did, he nailed it.

Not every reader put the HP ad campaign on the "best" side of things, though. More than one viewer wailed that the commercial is shown too many times, and that the frame technique is cute at first, but gets old fast. Still, those dissenting voices were all but buried by those of you who love the ad. It's an easy winner, accepting the crown from last year's Citibank identity theft ads.

We don't really have a second-place award (well, to be honest, it's not like we have a first-place award either — there are no trophies or anything, except in my mind). But if we did, it would definitely go to the GE elephant who dances to "Singing in the Rain," which can be watched here. And third place would be a tie between the puppy who goes to camp and sings "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah," for K-9 Advantix, and the Capital One huns (Vikings? berserkers? still not sure...) who have to get new jobs.

Other ads that competed for the "Best" title included Starbucks giving Hank a cheering section, Chase's couple aging to the tune of "100 Years," Office Max's wonderful "Rubberband Man," and yes, even Baby Bob for Quizno's. No fear, you'll see Bob again in this story.

Bad ads, bad ads, what you gonna do?The bad-ad title was up for grabs up right until the last week of voting. It takes a really bad ad to grab the title from last year's loser, the beyond-hideous Digger the Dermatophye in the Lamisil ads. Digger is so nasty, so creepy, that I often had to skim past your e-mails that mentioned him, mentally covering my eyes and thinking instead of happy, cute, peaceful sites, like PandaCam. Ah, soft, cuddly pandas. I feel better now.

For a while there I was convinced that the Pepto-Bismol Macarena danceline was going to be named worst ad. It's not as immediately jolting as Digger, but once you realize that the people are pointing to areas of their body that uh, are suffering from problems PB is meant to fix, you want to dump a bottle of the pink stuff all over your screen so you don't have to see them anymore. (A lone dissenting opinion: AdWeek picked it as one of their Best Ads. AdWeek, she be crazy.)

But while people were indeed grossed out by the Pepto-Bismol danceline, it was another oh-so-personal ad that earned the crown of Worst Ad. Like Pepto, it was an ad for a personal product — and helped inspire a whole rant about personal products. The Tampax ad with the tampon stopping the leak in the boat was our winner, and in the end, it won fairly easily.

Just a word to those who are bound to shout "Cavemen!" — it's not that our readers want to go back to the 1950s, when personal products couldn't be discussed, ever. Oh sure, I received the occasional e-mail from someone squeamish about hygiene ads in general, but they were in the minority. Most people agreed that there are tough products to advertise, but that it can indeed be done in a tasteful, even slightly humorous matter. It's just that this particular commercial was both bizarre and unfunny, and so it takes Digger's title.

I'm talking of course about the young couple on a romantic boat ride. He's rowing, and when the boat springs a leak, he looks frantically for a solution. She happens to have brought along an ENTIRE BOX of Tampax tampons, and uses one to plug the leak.

How do we hate this ad? Let me count the ways. It starts out all 1950s, with the heroic male rowing and then thinking he has to fix the problem. Maybe Tampax thought they were being all "You've come a long way, baby" by demonstrating that it's the woman who actually saves the day, but it just didn't come across that way. Readers wanted to know who carries a whole box of tampons with her on a date — I seriously think this ad would not have bugged as much had the woman simply grabbed a single tampon out of her purse, but of course Tampax had to display the brand by showing the box. Some readers were fixated on the physics of whether a single tampon could actually hold back an entire lake. For these and numerous other reasons, Tampax wins Worst Ad.

Runners-up included the Pepto-Bismol danceline, as mentioned above, and another personal product ad, the Zelnorm ad where women have symptoms such as "BLOATING" written on their stomachs.

Not all the ads you hate are for personal products. The new Burger King campaign with a creepy, plastic-headed King was mentioned often, as was BK's new Coq Roq campaign. (I didn't make up the name...) Other fast-food campaigns came in for the hatin', too, including Sonic and Hardee's, as well as the new Wendy's Ranch Tooth ad. (Sonic and Hardee's don't have franchises in all states, so many may not have seen those ads.)

The AOL crumbcake lady, who brings cake to a cube farm full of AOL support folks, was hated for many reasons, including the woman's annoyingly measured and whiny way of speaking.

And, of course, we can't leave the commercial topic without mentioning Baby Bob for Quizno's, the tot (played by a baby girl, we hear) who speaks with the voice of a full-grown Chicago Bears fan. Baby Bob earned more "we hate it!" votes than it did "we love it!" votes, but there was a decent number of folks who just Love That Bob.

That's part of why I find this summer commercial discussion so entertaining. There's such a fine line between funny and stupid, between cute and nauseating. And even when a commercial is fine the first time you see it, when you've watched it multiple times, even the best ad can wear on you. Baby Bob, the Sunday Ticket Singers, Johnson munching Raisin Bran Crunch, these were all examples of ads that had viewers, even those living in the same house, coming down on different sides of the fence.

I really do admire most of the commercial makers out there. They have to make mini-movies these days. An audience raised on the flash of "Star Wars" and the humor of "Seinfeld" isn't easy to impress. That's part of why the HP commercial was such an almost-universal winner — even in "Star Wars," we didn't see that kind of freeze-frame action.

I hope you've enjoyed our discussion too. After this, Test Pattern will move back to more general pop-culture and television topics. And next summer we'll start again, and name a new best and worst commercial. HP and Tampax won't be eligible, and beg all you want, I'm never letting Digger the Dermatophye back in the game again, just because I shudder every time I think of the stupid thing.