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Commercials worth not changing the channel for

One of the larger organizations dedicated to convincing you to buy things you don't need, The World Federation of Advertisers recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. Why this should be of any interest to you or me is the fact that part of the October 28 ceremony was the selection of "inductees" for the WFA's advertising Hall of Fame - and while the majority of TV commercials are, at best, annoyances worthy of ridicule or indifference, most of these ads are actually worth the trouble of the download.

Perhaps the best feature of the Hall of Fame is that, unlike many other collections of online advertising, viewing this site's files won't cost a cent. (The concept of paying for the privilege of watching a commercial is as repugnant online as it is in the movie theater.) Files are available in QuickTime format, and consist of entries judged in four categories - Best Saga, or long-term campaign, Best Campaign, Best Socially responsible advertisements, and the overall Golden Jubilee winner. (The overall winner was Apple's "1984" ad. Levi's occupies 9 of the first 13 spots.)

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The ads themselves are divided into 48 Finalists and 13 Winners, and can be sorted at the visitor's discretion by commercial brand, media type (print or video), award level, category, or agency. Clicking on an ad's thumbnail reveals details about the production - which in some cases includes the year first broadcast, the context behind the spot's creation, a synopsis, and a list of creators and agencies involved in the campaign. A second click opens the 320 x 240 pixel QuickTime video clip while retaining the background data.

Like the Cannes advertising awards, Hall of Fame entrants are gathered from around the world - which adds welcome variety to even the best UK and North American contenders. A prime example is a German-language Audi ad, which first has English-speaking viewers wondering how they'll get anything out of the unintelligible narration, then makes its point so simply and elegantly as to make translation completely unnecessary. British humor is well represented in such spots as "Photo Booth." The originality of Reebok's "Field of Dreams" had me wondering why the concept hasn't been adapted to the North American market.

Of course, every hall of fame has its debatable inductees, and despite an undeniable recognition factor, Nescafe's "Neighbours" campaign of the 1990s (that infuriatingly coy couple sharing mating signals over - and through - coffee, while taking six years to work up to a kiss) is as annoying as ever. But my major complaint about the Hall of Fame collection is its lack of size and scope. Considering that this anthology is marking the WFA's 50th anniversary, it seems odd that three of the four categories are limited to ads no more than 15 years old. (Surely there were some respectable efforts before 1988.) The limited number of entries also means that there isn't much in the way of product variety. That said, the modest selection that is available is almost certainly better than what's on your TV right now.

The World Federation of Advertisers Hall of Fame can be found at http://www.wfanet.org/public/index-hall.html

(If the WFA site is too busy, you can also access the collection at AdForum. In fact, for those with smaller screens, AdForum may be the better choice, as the WFA's Framed design tends to cramp the exhibit space.)