I enjoyed listening to Carol Bartz, the CEO of Yahoo!, who was in London last week to address the European press and analysts. She’s smart, focused and entertaining – a rarer combination than it should be. But one thing in particular struck me. When she was asked about the future of online advertising, she commented that in the future, “ads should be as interesting as the content.”

A truism? Perhaps, but one that still eludes many advertisers off- or online. And while my usual focus is on the content side of media, let me extend my brief a little to comment on some current ad campaigns, bearing in mind Bartz’s words. Excuse the non-scientific survey, but three campaigns I’ve watched in the past week have stuck in my mind.

John Lewis’ lengthy TV ad has been extensively written about  – with several commenters noting its uncanny ability to make them cry. It’s all about brand positioning, but it’s a beautifully crafted bit of content that bears repeated viewing.  In my household (like many others in the blogosphere) this is a rare example of a TV ad that viewers actually hope will be shown. In essence it’s not revolutionary, but it’s hugely effective (and affecting). Check it out here.

I saw it on TV last week when in a cruel twist it was shown before the corresponding new campaign from Marks and Spencer, its erstwhile competitor as the UK shopper’s best-loved retailer.  But what a terrible ad (no link – unsurprisingly it has not been uploaded to YouTube). Uninspiring, unaspirational, humdrum and failing to convey anything great about the M&S brand. Its message? Something about shopping at M&S if you can’t be bothered to cook. That’s what I recall, anyway. Not the finest call to action I’ve ever come across.

On the other hand, the Waitrose ad featuring chef Heston Blumenthal cooking Steak Tagliata had me hook, line and sinker. Rather than aiming for emotional impact, the ad is shot in the style of a how-to video (clients can see my report on this new format), or what TV types would call a "takeout."  It shows a great dish being assembled effortlessly. Cue a trip to Waitrose, where all the ingredients, plus a recipe card, could be found together, the in-store experience seamlessly synching with the onscreen ad. Great content, great execution. And, even in my hands, a delicious result.

William Morris once famously declared that one should not possess anything that is neither useful nor beautiful. In terms of ads, we value the beautiful (John Lewis) when it works. But don’t underestimate the power of the useful (Waitrose). And sorry, M&S, but you fail on both counts.