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 20th September 2018:

Centraal Beheer "Acupuncture"
by DDB Amsterdam (2006).

Insurance company Centraal Beheer is a legend in the Dutch advertising industry. For over 30 years it has been running what is essentially a single advertising campaign. Longtime agency DDB Amsterdam has delivered more than 60 different commercials over that period, each one a new but always brilliantly inventive riff on the same well-established concept. Some terrible - but always funny - disaster befalls the ad's protagonist, setting up a comic punchline and then the company's long-running tagline: 'Even Apeldoorn Bellen'. For international audiences, that tends to be translated as 'Just Call Us', but literally it means 'Just Call Apeldoorn'… Apeldoorn being the town in the Netherlands where Centraal Beheer is located, and which is now wholly synonymous with its most famous inhabitant.

There are any number of great spots we could have selected as a Centraal Beheer classic – we've featured several over the past few years among our 'Ads of the Week' – but a particular favourite is this one: 'Acupuncture' from 2006. It was also among the first few developed by Dylan de Backer who, until his departure from DDB earlier this year in pursuit of fresh challenges, had worked on the Centraal Beheer account for almost 15 years, the last five as executive creative director and main lead on the business.

Dylan de Backer: "Centraal Beheer are very big and very trustworthy. I don't think they're so very different from any other big insurance company, but they have one great asset, which is the most well-known advertising campaign in Holland, ever. That sets them apart. And what they have always done is make great ads, and also expensive ads. They don't do 30 second ads or shorter. They actually say to the agency, OK how long do you think it needs to be. If it's better that it's longer, then you make it longer. That's not common for advertisers. Most are not keen on the seconds because every second costs a lot of money. But that's not the case here. They put a lot of effort into creating a very good concept. It's always worked like this. It's very brave. I don't know many clients that have so much trust in their campaign as they do. Some advertisers buy media exposure, but Centraal Beheer goes for media impact. And in the end, they get a bigger bang for the buck with earned media and enormous word of mouth.

"As a result, 'Even Apeldoorn Bellen' has become an everyday saying in Holland for when something goes awfully wrong. People really look forward to each new ad, and when it arrives, it's almost like a premiere, it's the talk of the town. It's always the big topic of conversation around the coffee table in the office. Even more so because the public doesn't know when the new one is coming. Sometimes, it's a complete surprise. For example, in the case of 'Acupuncture', no one knew this was an ad for Centraal Beheer until the end. One of the reasons we put the guy in a Grolsch beer t-shirt at the beginning is to make people think, oh it's a Grolsch ad – which was another of our clients – right up to the surprise at the end when everything goes wrong.

"Of course, it's been over 30 years and the ads have really developed in that time. To be honest, for the first ten years the ads were more superficial. For example, one of the first ads was just something like two guys in a car, they run into a tree, and one says to the other, 'Even Apeldoorn Bellen'. That's it, no extra layer of humour or anything. But it grew and a couple of really good creatives before me took the first steps to make the ads more memorable and special and turn it into a really nice tradition. For the last 20 years, the bar was set really high and the ads have always been really good.

"But coming up with each new one is a big challenge. A lot of people work on the account. Whenever there's a new brief – which of course is actually always the same brief: just come up with the next ad – we give every team on the creative floor the opportunity to work on it. I just put in the calendar that there's gonna be a big review of ideas for the new Centraal Beheer ad and I hope you have some really nice scripts. Many teams work on it in their own time, so there are a lot of scripts made up. Every time we come up with maybe 50 or 60 scripts. Of which maybe 40 are crap. So there's 10 left and, of those, 5 are only so-so. But in the end you only need one that is better than all the others…

"For me, Acupuncture was especially memorable. It's meant to look like China of course, but actually we shot it in Bangkok. It was planned as a three day shoot but it took us five and a half. In Holland we had designed a special silicon suit for the main guy – an English actor called Kevin Ashley – with the needles already in it. It only took about an hour to get him dressed in that… But after we arrived in Bangkok it became clear that the suit wouldn't work. Because of the heat in Bangkok and Kevin's perspiration it just wouldn't stick to him…

"Plan B? Well, there was no Plan B. So instead Plan C was that every morning Kevin had to get up at 3am to start four hours of make-up. Every individual needle was glued separately onto his body with silicon. That was the beginning of every shooting day, from Monday to Friday. Then for the close-ups he had to have real needles in his face, so we had an acupuncturist on-set to do those. It all took so long. And of course it was also a complicated shoot with stunts and with fire… And on top of everything else he had to go through, Kevin has a real fear of heights, and he had to do that shot when he's at the top of the window…

"Also because of all the time we were losing every day with the make up, we made the decision that for some shots where his face is not in frame, let's work with a stand-in. So we were thinking, who has a little bit of the same body as Kevin? And that was me. So in a couple of shots, it's my body with real needles in it. There was no time to glue them, so we had the acupuncturist put needles all over my back, just to be a little bit faster getting the shot. It's such a strange feeling when you have those needles in your back for one and a half or two hours… But, you know, everything for a good ad…."

Perhaps they should have made an ad about the making of the ad. Are you having a disastrous time making your new commercial? 'Even Apeldoorn Bellen'…!

Adbrands Social Media 7th September 2018:

Discover Card "Peggy"
by The Martin Agency (2010-13).

Between 2010 and 2013, one of America's most popular – and most unlikely – advertising mascots was a charming but wholly incompetent customer service call-handler located in some remote and unspecified Eastern European country. The Martin Agency created this comic anti-hero for Discover Card as an illustration of everything that was bad about other credit card companies; not least their habit of outsourcing customer service to obscure foreign sub-contractors. Kevin Ragland was Martin's associate creative director in charge of the account, with Hal Tench as creative director. Copywriter was John Mahoney with Marco Howell as art director, and Baker Smith was the director for the whole series.

Kevin Ragland: "It was a fun campaign to work on. We had won the account and done a big anthemic 60 second spot with these scissors running around cutting up people's cards. It was the spot we pitched with and it won us the business and it worked well, but it didn't really lead anywhere. After that we were struggling a little to get something that they could stick with and feel good about and build on.

"Discover had this thing they kept coming back to strategically, which is that they're ranked #1 in terms of customer loyalty. They kept saying, can't you use that, can't you do something with that? So we dug a little deeper and customer service really came to the top. A lot of those big monolithic banks think of their customers as just a number: this is an account and I want to milk the account for what I can get out of it. But Discover don't… Not to make it sound like I've completely drunk the Discover Kool-Aid, but they really don't think that way.

"So we had a meeting. We had maybe seven or eight campaigns to share with them. All fully fleshed out ideas, with story arcs and multiple spots; all printed out on boards on easels in different parts of the room. But then we also had this one little spot in the corner of the room… Not a full campaign, just a one-off single television spot. Yet that's the one they kept coming back to. So we all said, well, maybe this is the one. We did some testing, and it did quite well so they said, OK let's make this one. So we made it and they said, well this seems to be working, people seem to like this guy and they like the premise… so let's make another… and then another… and we ended up making something like 15 of them.

"At the time, a lot of companies were outsourcing their customer service to save a buck and they really didn't care how well it was performing. Those outsourcing guys from who-knows-where would always use a false name; they'd Americanise their names to make you feel more comfortable, so you'd feel like you were getting a better service. We thought, let's be really obvious about it and have this guy who's so terrible at his job he doesn't even know he's picked a name that's obviously not his."

The crucial part was finding the right actor to embody Peggy. Castings were held in three cities, and in Los Angeles, the agency happened to stumble upon a Romanian-American actor named Tudor Petrut.

Kevin: "I think he had been some kind of movie star or something in Romania, but he ended up here in the US and was working as a high school algebra teacher, with a bit of acting on the side, trying to keep that part of his life going. He was a great guy, not dissimilar from the character in fact; he's a very big personality. But I know he caught a lot of grief from his algebra students once the ads started running…

"Once we had bad customer service as the hook, we could use that to talk about other things that were important to Discover, like rewards or acceptance or whatever. But we kept that baseline: we care about you, we think about you differently from our competitors.

"Eventually the campaign concept moved on to the one that's still running now. It's still about customer service and the way you treat your customers, and it still takes place in a call centre but it's kind of the flipside to Peggy. We started by showing you an exaggerated version of what we're *not*, and once that got very well-established the campaign transitioned into, so this is what we *are*. It's a little more strategically focused."

Peggy, though, developed a life of his own. In the days when brands were only just beginning to develop a direct presence on Facebook, Peggy had his own page, and attracted thousands of followers. Kevin: "People really connected with him in a weird way that I don't really understand. We got all sorts of letters asking us to bring him back. Weirdly, there was a whole group of soldiers in Afghanistan at the time who kind of adopted Peggy. They sent us a picture of themselves, and we put it up on the wall in the background of one of the later ads. We even had a guy ask Peggy to help him propose to his wife." The video the agency made is still here on YouTube.

"I give the client a lot of credit for all of that. They're a credit card company; they're from the Midwest; they're somewhat conservative, but they really took a chance on doing something off the wall and comedic. And I think it really paid off for them. It helped bring them back, have people reconsider them in a way that they hadn't for a little while."

Let's spare a last thought for character actor Tudor Petrut. For a few short years, he was one of the most famous men in America, and his 'Peggy' remains one of the most memorable ad mascots of the past two decades. "My name is Peggy… you have problem?"


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