Classics from the Advertising Archive

Each week we trawl the archives for a classic TV commercial from the recent past.

Stay up-to-date with our latest selections as we post them on social media on Adbrands Facebook, Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter

Adbrands Social Media 22nd June 2018:

Bud Light "Swear Jar"
by DDB Chicago (2008).

Who said the client is always right? Back in 2008, a brilliantly funny spot from DDB Chicago for Bud Light became a 12-million-views viral sensation and won a shelf-full of awards including a Silver Lion at Cannes and even the US Creative Arts Emmy Award for Outstanding Commercial despite having never been shown on television. Almost a year earlier, though, client Anheuser-Busch (then in the process of being acquired by InBev) had effectively shelved the finished spot as unusable. It's a classic tale of industry serendipity. So how did it happen? Galen Graham and Jason Karley were the creative team at DDB Chicago.

Galen: "Jason and I had been working on the Bud Light account for a couple of years and loved that our job was to stare at the wall each day and write jokes. The Bud Light campaign at the time was to 'feature the great lengths men would go to pursue and/or protect their Bud Light.' Tons of classic and hilarious work had already been done for the brand. We felt, however, there was an opportunity to update the tone a little, to be less broad and wacky. In my mind, where we really succeeded with 'Swear Jar' was to add a layer of innocence to the narrative. While previous work always felt pre-meditated - with the hero scheming to get the beer - in 'Swear Jar' we see the receptionist casually, even arbitrarily, suggest they might get Bud Light. She wasn't scheming. But of course a Bud Light drinker is going to pounce on that opportunity — he sees the scheme."

Jason: "We started talking about a tip jar, then as soon as someone said swear jar, it was one of those ideas that just appeared fully formed in our heads. Oh... what if a bunch of people swear as much as possible once they hear the money in the jar will be used for Bud Light? Yeah, that's funny. Perfect."

GG: "The script was kind of an outlier and we were fortunate to tack it on to another production package. The client liked it but wasn't sure it would see the light of day. They didn't really pay much attention to the casting and production process... "

JK: "They liked it, but because the bleeping device couldn't run on broadcast TV they didn't really care about it. This was before brands had their own channels on YouTube so running it online didn't mean much to them. Which made for an easy pre-pro when the head client literally said, 'Oh and now the one that will never even air, whatever, bye' and hung up."

GG: "We were thrilled to secure David Shane to shoot the spot. His understated style, his way of directing talent for natural and nuanced performances, was atypical for Bud Light and perfect for what we wanted to capture."

JK: "David Shane is pretty meticulous in casting anyway, but we went through tons of people to find the ones with the best, driest, funniest deliveries. Also the right look and reactions, like the meek copier woman and the guest sitting in the lobby when someone swears over the PA. Honestly, it really was amazing to write dialogue and film it with people swearing. And finding all the different angles for them to squeeze it in, like the, 'Good morning — F*ck you Dan' in the hall."

David Shane: "It was just a great idea that Jason and Galen had - with really smart comedic frictions built into it, this little tension chord was under all the scenes, so it was easy to find comedy. We wanted you to get the sense that some of these characters were just waiting for permission to drop f-bombs in the office all day, but others were clearly more tentative, feeling their way around, trying out curses. And that was pretty much the experience of the actors too. The boss was this very proper kind of old school guy...

GG: "We had him ad-lib those lines and the stuff that came out of his mouth was just... really really special.

DS: "After he would unleash these torrents of insanely aggressive cursing in the conference room scenes, he'd literally collapse in horror with his hand over his mouth."

GG: "I remember we were shooting a scene and the actor was cracking us up and we're all laughing, David's laughing and on the monitor the frame is bouncing around and the DP is shaking from laughter so David yells at him in mock anger. Turned out there were a bunch of hilarious shots from the day we couldn't use because the camera was shaking too much."

DS: "But then we were told the head client hated it and wouldn't air it. And that was it."

GG: "Originally we had pitched 'Swear Jar' as a secret Super Bowl ad... one that was too risqué for television. But the Super Bowl came and went and the spot sat on the shelf. The client had moved on from it. We couldn't believe it. But there was a lot of focus at the time on the launch of [This was pretty revolutionary at the time; an online content channel dedicated purely to Budweiser.] "The notion was that Bud could have their own CollegeHumor or FunnyorDie destination, despite all the legal hurdles of being a beer company. So me and Jason and much of the team at DDB created content to fill that site. However, traffic wasn't great. That's when someone had the idea we could use 'Swear Jar' as a promo for This is, I dunno, 6 or 7 months after we finished the spot, and it finally sees the light of day. And then it organically starts racking up millions of views and shares."

JK: "Bud Light never posted it to YouTube - long story, but it only ever officially aired on - but it was posted there over 200 separate times by regular people. It also went viral as an email attachment. I had it sent to me a bunch of times by people not even realizing I'd written it. That was pretty cool."

The final film is a miniature classic, perfect in every way. The bleeping even adds to the absurdity of the situation, by emphasising the incongruity of all the swearing. An unbleeped version wouldn't be anything like as funny. The number of times the ad has been watched by now, a decade later, you could buy a whole Bud Light brewery with the proceeds of that one swear jar. F*ck you too, Jim!

Adbrands Social Media 15th June 2018:

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas "Let Me Go"
by Fallon Minneapolis (2012).

The Fallon agency brand has rather faded since its heyday a decade or so ago. For a time though, initially in the US and later in the UK, the agency was one of the industry's most admired as a result of a string of exceptional and memorable films for clients including BMW and United Airlines in the US and Cadbury and Sony in the UK. We'll have cause to return to those at a later date no doubt. For now, though, here's a late flowering - almost a last gasp even - from Fallon's US office in Minneapolis, an extravagant campaign for Marriott's boutique hotel The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

The Cosmopolitan opened in 2010 with the aim of being a high style hangout for hipsters. The hotel's marketing chief Lisa Marchese described her target clientele as the "curious class", sophisticated urbanites seeking an experience, not just an overnight stay. "They have a real openness," claimed Marchese, "a willingness to try new boutique hotel concepts, to try new food, to travel. They have a less traditional view of the world."

That was the brief to Fallon, and they took Marchese at her word, riffing on the idea of Las Vegas as the capital of hedonistic indulgence. After all, everyone already knew that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. So Fallon took that one step further. 'Just the right amount of wrong' was the provocative concept devised by the trio of ex-pats from Australia and New Zealand who then ran Fallon's creative department: chief creative officer Darren Spiller, creative head Leon Wilson and head of art Christy Peacock. The brilliantly cheeky debut campaign featured a succession of vignette sequences illustrating just that: wild parties, tables overflowing with extravagant banquets, bellhops with no pants, and then - incomprehensibly - adorably fluffy kittens and puppies and even a deer running wild in the corridors. That ad caused a minor sensation and caused bookings to The Cosmopolitan to soar.

The follow-up required something different. "We always thought musicals were kind of wrong, when someone sings instead of just saying what they mean," says Darren Spiller. "Stealing someone's wife or girlfriend is kind of wrong as well. That's where we started." Somehow the idea of using Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody' as the backing track entered the mix, and it seemed to fit perfectly with the hotel's persona, especially since the song could be remodelled as a narrative story. "We wanted to see if we could ramp up the music component even more than the first. We thought the Queen track - apart from being known by everyone - was great for dialogue as it's almost a spoken script in its own right. It also had a part in the track that enabled everyone - the guests - to get involved, which created a great finale." Perhaps surprisingly it wasn't hard to secure rights to the song, but it was expensive, remembers Spiller.

The hardest part, ironically, was securing access to the hotel for the four days required for the shoot. Most of the ad was filmed on-site, but they wouldn't shut the pool to guests so director Steve Ayson had to shoot that part of the ad on a custom-built set.

The final film is bold and brilliant, and wholly unlike any other ad we can think of before or since. A clever bit of media planning had it debut in the middle of the Grammys music awards telecast. Lisa Marchese's plan was to "restimulate the market to think and talk about us three years in. People might love it or hate it, but they're going to notice it and talk about it." It's good to see we're still talking about it six years later.

Adbrands Social Media 8th June 2018:

Cinzano "Leonard & Joan"
by CDP (1978-1983).

You could easily fill a book about the huge number of classic commercials that emanated from British ad agency CDP during the 1970s and 1980s. (And indeed someone already has. John Salmon and John Ritchie's wonderful 'Inside Collett Dickenson Pearce' is no longer in print, but you can - and should - still track down a second hand copy). Numerous campaigns deserve another airing, but none were more beloved by the British public than the exceptional series of ten spots created between 1978 and 1983 for the Italian vermouth Cinzano. Here are four of the best, including the first spot. That's by no means a classic in its own right, but it sets up the joke that would be repeated with increasingly clever variations throughout the rest of the series.

According to Geoff Howard-Spink, then CDP's director of account planning, "The man who ran the business was related to the Cinzano family and he saw the advertising we were doing for other people and decided he wanted us to do it for him as well." Legendary art director Ron Collins took on the brief. "His idea," Howard-Spink recalled, "was basically to take the piss out of [Cinzano's main rival] Martini and the whole 'Martini lifestyle' campaign that had been created by McCann Erickson, based on trendy jet-setters on the Riviera in hot air balloons."

Collins' first choice to play a "sort of glumf James Bond anti-hero" was Woody Allen, but he wouldn't do commercials. Next on the list was Peter Sellers, but he wasn't available (and was expensive and had a reputation for being difficult on-set). Finally, they settled on comic actor Leonard Rossiter, a modest household name in Britain as a result of TV sitcom 'Rising Damp', who was both available and affordable. Next Collins wanted a different woman to play opposite in him in each ad, and drew up a list that included Claudia Cardinale, Sophia Loren and even Elizabeth Taylor. Inevitably they also all refused, but instead British actress Joan Collins was booked to do a single commercial in return for £1500 and a first class air ticket from Los Angeles, where she was making the TV series Dynasty.

With Rossiter on-board, the direction of the campaign changed to accommodate his familiar comic persona of a self-satisfied and slightly seedy buffoon. According to Alan Parker, who was signed up to do the first ad, it was Rossiter himself who suggested what became the series' long-running gag, a variant of the old music hall routine about the guy who spills a cup of tea on himself when he looks at his watch. Instead, it was Joan Collins who became the butt of the gag, not just once but, as it turned out, over and over again over the course of the series. Indeed, the first ad went so well on-set that Collins was quickly signed up the very same afternoon to do another two.

The commercials proved so popular with audiences that the initial three ads were gradually extended into a series of ten separate films over the next five years. As the series evolved, so too did the central running gag, so that audiences were left guessing each time about how and when and over whom the drink would be spilled. The two best were arguably the pair directed by Hugh Hudson in 1979, 'Airliner' and 'Ski Lodge', which deployed two clever variations on the traditional drink-spill.

It wasn't perhaps the happiest of partnerships. Rossiter, a notorious micro-manager of his own performances, was self-centred and demanding on-set, and referred to Joan Collins dismissively as "the prop". She, always professional, grinned and bore it. However, the edgy chemistry between them added to the joke.

The series eventually ended in 1983 after a change of management at Cinzano, which decided it needed a more international approach to its advertising. Yet those ads still live on, as original and as funny today as they were when they first aired.

Adbrands Social Media 1st June 2018:

Cravendale "Cats With Thumbs"
by Wieden & Kennedy London (2011).

More even than its dairy cousin butter, milk is a consumer staple that has long defied branding. Milk, most consumers feel, is just milk. That was the challenge facing Danish dairy cooperative Arla Foods with the UK launch of Cravendale, a premium-priced branded milk, filtered to remove bacteria so it lasts longer and tastes better. Early marketing campaigns (by DDB) featured sinister dairy herds following buyers of Cravendale milk home because "the cows want it back". But they didn't achieve the breakthrough Arla wanted. In 2006, the account moved to Wieden & Kennedy's London office, which was already working wonders for Arla's lead UK brand, Lurpak butter.

W&K's first creative concept was adorably offbeat: a series of bizarre animations featuring little plastic toys of a cow, a pirate and a cyclist. The ads were a big hit with the public, prompting a sharp rise in Cravendale's sales. By 2011, though, Arla were looking for a new approach.

"Cow & Pirate had its ardent fans," says Chris Groom, then joint creative director at W&K London with Sam Heath. "The animation style was pretty unique and the tone was quirky but it wasn't quite growing the brand in the ways Arla needed. The problem in the milk aisle is that there really isn't much brand loyalty. Consumers generally just grabbed the coloured lid they wanted and didn't pay a whole lot of attention to what they were buying.

"So Cravendale briefed us to create a new campaign that would jolt the category and really make the milk matter. Kissing goodbye to Cow & Pirate would piss off some diehard fans but we knew we had to do something broader without losing some of the unique tone the brand has. The clients were also brave enough to walk away from an already popular campaign.

"The genesis of the new campaign came when Hollie Sayers and Freddie Powell, the creative team on the project, came to Sam and me with the thought of using polydactyl cats as a device to show that cats were evolving and therefore our precious milk was under threat. That was the catalyst for everything that followed. Taking such a daft threat seriously gave us this interesting voice for the brand. And then we started to craft the visual approach, thinking about how we could build this arc of ridiculous conspiracy.

"It was shot in a couple of days with Ulf Johannson directing. The biggest challenge was obviously trying to shoot with real cats." In some cases - for example the shot of the cat reaching up to open the kitchen door - the action was enhanced by a puppeteer wearing a giant furry arm. "The final piece of the jigsaw was finding the right VO artist," says Groom. "We tried a bunch of different voices, from actors to stand up talent, but no one we tried seemed to have the right tone. I suddenly remembered Tim Curry as Darkness in the movie 'Legend'. I didn't ever think he'd answer us from LA but he did. Thank God, because he added an extra 50% to the whole film.

"Just before we launched the commercial we dropped a seemingly user generated YouTube video called Jimmy Cat which featured a cat with a thumb which went viral. It was the perfect way to get the polydactyl story out there in popular culture before the ad dropped.

"I've been lucky to not have much work put through testing through the years. This was one of the few things that has gone through that process. Thankfully it sailed through. I remember going to the meeting with the clients to be given the test results from Millward Brown and they said they hadn’t seen anything like it. The engagement results were through the roof."

Those results were echoed in the rapturous reaction to the ad from the British public. In an end-of-the-year TV special by commercial broadcaster ITV, a panel of 8,000 viewers voted Cats With Thumbs Ad of the Year. It was also commended throughout the industry, making most trade papers' Top Ten, and earning a Bronze Lion at Cannes. Jog on, kitties...

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