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Revealing the secrets behind the best TV ads

The 100 Best TV Commercials . . . And Why They Worked

By Bernice Kanner

(Random House, 252 pages)

Reviewed by Teresa McUsic

"If Michelangelo were alive today, he'd probably be working on Madison Avenue."

That statement by industry journalist and author Bernice Kanner reflects the power of what she terms a modern art form _ advertising.

"More than movies or TV programming, advertising holds a mirror up to show us who and what we are _ or long to be," she writes in her new book. "The language of advertising becomes our vernacular; their dress, our wardrobes, their mores, our customs. . . . Like it or not, it is a pure expression of the world we live in today."

Maybe Kanner needs to take a break from her world as a marketing correspondent for CBS News, a marketing commentator for Bloomberg News and a columnist for Working Woman. Maybe her 13 years of writing the "On Madison Avenue" column for New York magazine has completely warped her vision.

Or maybe she is just not afraid to tell us what we instinctively know. Regardless, her vision of the advertising age comes shining through in her book The 100 Best TV Commercials . . . And Why They Worked.

After a glance at this book, it is easy to understand why Kanner is so impassioned about her subject. Who can forget the powerful image of the Native American man silently letting a tear roll down his cheek after observing pollution, or the young adults of every nationality singing about teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony _ and buying them a Coke as well.

This collection of TV commercials was organized by Leo Burnett's Creative Exchange, an archive of more than 5,000 commercials put together by the international advertising agency. The list was organized by Burnett and then passed around to other creative and advertising industry luminaries.

It is interesting to note that though most consider the United States to have elevated advertising to such Everest heights in the power of persuasion, just 42 of the top 100 commercial winners were made here. Twenty-eight were from the United Kingdom, with the remainder from France, Japan, Spain, Brazil, Singapore and New Zealand.

And it is because of this global look at the industry that the book loses some of its impact. After all, this is video and audio we are talking about. Though the commercials from the United States lose some of their punch on the printed page, it is not hard to recall viewing them as commercials.

But when the reader hasn't seen the commercial but merely is reading the dialogue and scene-setting, it is often hard to imagine its effectiveness. I am sure the collection on a master video is much more compelling than the book in this respect.

Still, for those involved with the industry, this book has many practical means for hands-on learning.

Consider the Spanish Danone yogurt commercial in 1985. Children urged their father to eat yogurt, offering such parental suggestions as "It'll make your hair curly, Dad." Yogurt sales had dropped 8 percent before the spot, but sales soared 9.9 percent the year the ad ran and an additional 5.9 percent the next year.

The message: "Children can be more than just adorable props grabbing our attention; they can elicit profound emotion in us," Kanner writes.

By using the commercials described, she engages the reader in the basics and secrets of advertising. "Demo" advertising, a few well-crafted words, a catchy tune, a comedic situation, using children, using animals, using sex, using violence _ all of this and more are discussed.

But the book goes further in showing us a history of this amazing industry. Kanner shows how Apple's 1984 introduction of Macintosh (in which the product wasn't even shown) was "probably the most publicized moment in advertising history."

Other such moments that have changed the face of a powerful medium are discussed, further evidence, perhaps, that Michelangelo would have ended up in advertising.

_ Teresa McUsic reviews business books for the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram.