Ad Report Card: The “New York Miracle” Spots

Of all the various print and broadcast advertising that has in one way or another dealt with the aftermath of Sept. 11, none has been more widely applauded than the “New York Miracle” campaign. This series of six TV spots, featuring several celebrities of a stature rarely seen in U.S. ads, encourages potential tourists to head for the battered Apple and spend their money. If somehow you have missed these commercials, either in regular ad slots or at one of the many times they’ve been broadcast as part of news reports, you can view all six of them here, courtesy of the Advertising Age Web site.

The Ads: Because there are six spots, I’ll try to be brief in summarizing them. Fair warning: Several have “surprise” punch lines, which I am about to give away, so if you don’t want to read spoilers, stop here. In one spot, a woman at a tourist-trap Broadway diner orders “The Ben Stiller … with bacon.” The waiter calls out the order … and Ben Stiller himself saunters over to the table … followed by Kevin Bacon. In a second ad, Robert De Niro, dressed as a pilgrim, explains to Billy Crystal why the latter has to wear a turkey suit (“You know turkey-isms that I don’t know”); then they’re shown in the Macy’s parade. In a third commercial, Barbara Walters auditions for a Broadway singing role, performs rather poorly, and is swiftly dismissed.

The other three ads all feature footage of someone performing some impressive exploit and then reveal that person to be an improbable New York celebrity. A guy doing wild figure-skating moves? Woody Allen. A man circling the bases at Yankee Stadium and sliding headfirst into home? Henry Kissinger. The conductor leading the orchestra at Avery Fisher Hall? Yogi Berra. (“Who in the heck is this guy Phil Harmonic?”) All six ads show the tagline “Everyone Has a New York Dream” then segue to Rudy Giuliani saying, “The New York miracle. Be a part of it.”

I Love New York: It’s certainly not hard to agree that this is may be the most well-intentioned series of ads of the post-Sept. 11 world. Everybody’s rooting for New York City’s recovery, including the Ad Report Card, whose staff lived there for a long time.

Nevertheless, it is the job of the Ad Report Card to assess commercials as commercials. Several of these spots are quite good, but not all of them. The Crystal-De Niro thing, which seems to have the most tenuous connection to the “New York dream” theme, is also the least impressive overall. Everybody loves De Niro, and Billy Crystal was, uh, really good on Soap, but their shtick here is pretty lame. I heard one TV commentator raving about these ads and saying that much of the dialogue here was ad-libbed. You don’t say? I’m also not wild about the Barbara Walters spot, but I may be biased there. I gather that we’re supposed to be impressed that she’s willing to make a fool of herself, but that doesn’t really strike me as a new development in her career. The deli ad is funny, although there’s a pretty notable drop off in starpower: Kissinger, Allen, De Niro .. Stiller? Bacon?

Having said all that, the other three ads are all quite good. Kissinger’s politics aside, it’s amusing to think of him sliding headfirst. I got a chuckle from the Berra spot, and for whatever reason I think the idea of Woody Allen ice-skating is hilarious.

And to get back into the spirit of the ads, I will say that there is something admirablemaybe even movingabout so many big-name, big-ego personalities getting involved in a campaign that, as much as anything else, makes the case for New York as a truly (miraculously) one-of-a-kind place. Luckily for all of us, that’s an easy case to make.