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 17th August 2018:
by Lowe Howard-Spink (1997).
If you visited the cinema in the Nineties in the UK, you will certainly remember the series of three 'Through the Bottle' films made by Lowe Howard-Spink for vodka brand Smirnoff, and shown along with other ads before the movie. 'Smarienberg' was the last of the trio, an electrifying spot directed by Michel Gondry.
The cinema was already virtually the only place where advertising for spirits could be seen, and Gondry's film was the perfect appetiser for the main feature, mashing up a succession of familiar movie scenarios to a thrilling breakbeat soundtrack. (This version has the original soundtrack - 'Naked & Ashamed' by Dylan Rhymes. Later edits have a different backing track.) Even now, more than 20 years later, it still looks revolutionary, not least for its early use of a 'bullet time' camera set-up to show objects frozen in time. Gondry's sequence predated The Matrix - the movie usually credited with inventing that trick - by almost a year.
Lowe's previous two spots for Smirnoff had been far more sedate, presenting a bottle of vodka as a prism through which the dark reality of seemingly ordinary people and objects was revealed. Immediate predecessor 'Russian Wedding' had a bored wedding guest peering through the bottle to see a succession of comically nightmarish visions: monsters hiding in the gifts, a gluttonous guest revealed as a giant walrus, the bride as vampire, and finally himself as a demon. Lowe copywriter Derek Apps had worked on that spot with celebrated art director Vince Squibb. For the third film he was teamed with a new art director, Mitch Levy.
Derek Apps: "Mitch and I thought it would be great to give the ad a narrative. We wanted to make it more involving than the previous ones. They were very clever but they left the viewer as a spectator watching a moving gallery of images. Instead, this ad would take them on a journey, take them through the bottle into other strange worlds. It was a very intricate piece of knitting and drove us nuts trying to write it. Especially when we decided the story had to end as it began in a great ouroboric loop. The campaign would be more exciting that way and Michel Gondry quite naturally became our choice of director to put it all together."
Shortly before he signed up for the Smirnoff film, Gondry's luminous monochrome 'Drugstore' ad for Levi's had been the toast of the Festival circuit. But the French director had first made his name in music videos with quirky hand-crafted films for the likes of Bjork, Daft Punk and the Chemical Brothers. (He brought the same eccentric and playful approach to later movies including Be Kind Rewind and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.)
Apps: "His reel was sheer genius. It had to be him. It needed a devious mind. He liked the idea of going through the bottle to follow the story. He kept the opening and closing setups. We had a mermaid and merman set up he didn't like, and a straw boater that turned into the spacecraft, where he kept the spacecraft - thank goodness - but not the boater. But I think all the rest was pretty much as we wrote it.
"It was cast in the UK with a French actor playing the male lead - Michel's suggestion. Then when we couldn't find anyone over here and were running out of time we cast the leading lady in Hollywood. We shot all the exteriors in California - it gave us the Napa Valley train, the Mojave desert and San Francisco Bay and a Western Ghost town. All the rest, the interiors, were shot in glamorous North Acton. This was a cinema ad in the UK but it also existed in a number of other versions because it had to appear in over 20 different countries, each with their own requirements. A logistical nightmare for the poor producer.
"You have to remember that back then the agency and the client were united in wanting the best. Having given us the task of producing the ad, they provided us with plenty of time - I remember a long hot August, which was always a slack time in the agency just after the Spring rush yet too early for the Christmas madness. And, of course, money. You have to marvel at the power and involvement of the creative team in those days. They wrote the ad, recommended the director, went to castings, picked music, saw locations, approved set designs, helped choose wardrobe, went on the shoot, looked through camera, made helpful suggestions to the director - who was always so grateful! - sat with the editor, then finally took their baby back to the agency for approval. Of course there were many glorious battles along the way between team and director, or creative director and team... Sometimes even the creative teams themselves were found rolling on their floor pummelling each other in pursuit of a creative agreement. But on the whole it was a brilliant job to have."
What about that title? Why 'Smarienberg'? "When we were dreaming it up we trawled through a lot of stuff, graphic novels, art house films, animations. And while we sat chewing pencils in contemplation of 'the anguish of oblivion and the fixity of time', we watched 'Last Year in Marienbad'. You couldn't imagine a film more different stylistically, but it was all about enigmas and puzzles. Berg was our nod to Steven Spielberg. And 'Sm' is for Smirnoff of course!"
Adbrands Social Media 10th August 2018:
by Grey New York (2008).
The "E*Trade baby" became one of the iconic marketing campaigns of the late 2000s. First unveiled in January 2008 during the Super Bowl, it carried E*Trade through the global financial crisis that erupted a few months later and then beyond into what would turn out to be a extraordinary seven-year run. Here's the original spot from 2008 - known as 'Whoa!' - and 'Wings', a sequel from the following year, post-credit crunch.
Nick Utton was E*Trade's chief marketing officer. "In September 2007 we were looking at which advertising campaign we might run in the following year's Super Bowl," he said. "E*Trade happened to be going through a very tricky patch at that point in time because we had to declare some loan loss provisions on our mortgage book. It was important to maintain awareness with customers so we made the decision to spend more money on advertising to make sure that E*Trade stayed front and centre. Out of sight means out of mind, and consumers want to be reassured. And there's also the logic flow that consumers have, 'Well, if they're running on the Super Bowl, they must be a healthy company.' So we really pushed the agency, we said 'Whatever advertising we run, if it's running on the Super Bowl, it has to be outstanding. It has to break through the clutter and connect; and more importantly it has to ensure that millions of consumers become more interested in the E*Trade proposition'."
Grey's new chief creative officer Tor Myhren had recently joined the agency from Leo Burnett's Detroit office. "The year before I had done the first Super Bowl spot of my whole career, and it was a complete flop," he said. "It was largely blamed for our agency losing Cadillac. So all of a sudden it was like 'Ok here we go again. I've gotta make it right this time'. So personally there was a lot of pressure on this spot." Grey initially came up with a concept showing real people communicating directly with the audience as if over a webcam, talking about how E*Trade helped them make better investing decisions and choices. They put several scripts into testing, including one which happened to feature a talking baby. That was the one that got the best results from the focus groups.
Myhren: "When we first created the baby, we had no idea if it was the dumbest thing we'd ever done or if it was genius. I was terrified. I had just come to New York, and this is my big chance and it's a talking baby, which had been done a million times. It was scary." Utton: "They came back with the idea of having a baby saying, 'Look, if I can do it, you can do it.' It had the humour we wanted but it also had a very very practical message. When I saw the initial testing results, I loved it. What I didn't know, what none of us knew, was how big the baby would become..."
The idea is one thing; making it work on camera is another altogether. Myhren: "The first thing we did was go out and we shot a lot of babies. But out of 100 babies that we shot there was really only one that was usable, just this one baby, this amazing baby." They filmed him sitting in his high chair, acting up for the camera; but of course he couldn't voice the lines, so a different four-old was filmed for the mouth movements, which were then digitally overlaid onto the main baby. Comedian Pete Holmes provided the actual voiceover. The fact that the results were shaky and raw only seemed to add to the effect. Myhren: "It was all about the humour... we were, like, 'Let's not worry about the craft; in fact let's go almost anti-craft'. It was totally by the seat of our pants." The first spot came out so well, that after Utton saw it, he decided to buy another Super Bowl spot, giving Grey just three weeks to devise a completely new script (this one featured a creepy clown), shoot it and edit it. Then it was a question of waiting to see the reaction...
Myhren: "There's nothing more intense than sitting watching a Super Bowl with all your friends and you know that your spot is going to be coming up. '*I* think this is funny... but who knows if *America* is gonna think it's funny.' But the minute it hit, the text messages were blowing up, everyone was messaging, calling, 'Oh my God! I saw it! It's amazing'..." It was almost certainly the most popular ad of the whole Super Bowl, and the following day, E*Trade registered more new accounts than it had on any other day in the company's history. The effect on Grey's reputation was also dramatic, finally putting to bed those old snipes of 'Grey by name, grey by nature'. "We won a lot of business based on the success of the E*Trade baby," said Myhren.
The campaign was a huge hit for the next seven years. Over that time, the original baby was replaced a couple of times, and he also gained a few onscreen friends. But nothing lasts forever, and gradually the formula got harder and harder to build upon. There was also a big shake-up in E*Trade's management team following another run of disappointing financial results. In 2013, new CEO Paul Idzik decided that the company needed to be more scientific in its marketing. Nick Utton was replaced, and the account was put into review. Grey declined to defend, and eventually the business was awarded to Ogilvy. A final ad was filmed by Ogilvy in which the E*Trade baby quits because he's been saddled with a new sidekick, a talking cat named Beanie. "The baby was a wonderful iconic expression of what we were," said new marketing chief Liza Landsman. "But we want something that better reflects our present and where we are going." But, boy, was it fun while it lasted...
Adbrands Social Media 3rd August 2018:
Intel "Rock Star"
by Venables Bell & Partners (2009).
This year (or in fact July 18th last month to be precise) marks the 50th anniversary of Intel, the business that has arguably done more to make the computing revolution of the past half-century possible than any other company. For a corporation specialising in technology components that consumers can't actually buy directly it has an unusually high public profile. That's because marketing has always been an integral part of its DNA.
Intel was one of the first tech developers to explore what became known as "ingredient branding" aimed at consumers as well as to the industry that actually buys its products. First, there were the "Red X" press ads of the late 1980s; then "Intel Inside" co-marketing with PC manufacturers from the early 1990s; the "Bunny People" ads - offering laboratory clean-suits as a fashion statement - later the same decade; and of course the ubiquitous Intel "bong" first introduced in 1994. That musical theme was conceived by Austrian electronica composer Walter Werzowa after singing the words "Intel Inside" to himself over and over again.
However, few of Intel's campaigns caused as much of a stir or have inspired as much affection as the 'Sponsors of Tomorrow' campaign launched by then-CMO Deborah Conrad in 2009. The idea was not just to show how Intel's innovations had changed and were still changing everyday life, but also give a human face to the technology, arguably for the first time.
Intel had by that point reached an all-time high. Long associated with DOS and Windows-based computers, it had finally just persuaded Apple to start accepting its chips for the first time. That gave the company almost complete dominance of the computer industry. But as a result it was swamped with different chips, all with their own separate brandnames, terminologies and tech specs: the Centrinos, the multiple different Pentiums, the Core 2 Duo, the Core i7 etc etc ad infinitum. "We had become a bit of a mess," acknowledged Conrad. "We were looking for a fresh take."
Conrad called a pitch to find an agency that could offer a new approach. She found San Francisco independent Venables Bell & Partners, itself launched only a few years earlier. "Most of the world knows Intel as a huge, multi-national chipmaker," said Paul Venables, the agency's founder and co-creative director, at the time. "But the company is much more than that. The more we learned about Intel, the more we realised how narrow our perception had been. This company is forging the future in so many unfathomable ways. What a shame it is that the general consumer has no idea."
Venables Bell's approach was, by tech industry standards, entirely radical. Stop talking about the latest technological breakthrough and how it will improve your life. It's not the technology that matters, it's the people who make it. "Our approach had always been, 'We're so important to your everyday life' " said Conrad. " 'Imagine a world without Intel. Your lights would go out. The world would stop revolving.' Venables Bell said, 'You got that wrong.' "
"Their take was different than anyone else," said Nancy Bhagat, Intel's VP marketing strategies & campaigns. "They said you need to stop talking about the everyday where we're in competition with other tech companies for share of mind, and leapfrog into what makes you different and why does that matter to the future."
"We started thinking about Intel," said Venables Bell co-founder Greg Bell. "Like, 'OK, what's it like in the cafeteria when they're in there eating lunch together?' There's got to be a whole hierarchy of people in there who they admire." That eventually led to the idea 'Who is the tech industry's idea of a rock star?'. And one thing was clear - as the campaign tagline proclaimed - "Our rock stars aren't like your rock stars".
That approach caught Intel short. "We were just not accustomed to turning the attention to ourselves in that way," said Conrad. Gradually, though, the idea began to grow roots, especially after Paul Venables started acting out the scripts for the proposed commercials in person for CEO Paul Otellini and the senior management team.
One of the first possible "rock stars" identified by Venables Bell, was Ajay Bhatt, the Intel staffer who led the invention of the Universal Serial Bus, better known to you and I as the USB port. It's one of those components with which every computer user is intimately familiar, but probably no one had ever taken the time to wonder who came up with the idea.
“My wife said, ‘Take your name off this, are you crazy? This is not you!’” said Bhatt. “But I decided to trust Deborah Conrad. Quite frankly, my answer was: You guys do this. I'm sure you'll do the right thing." However playing himself in an ad was a little outside Bhatt's skill set. "Several of the engineers we're personifying confided that acting isn't within their comfort zone," agreed Sandra Lopez, Intel's global consumer marketing manager. "Their focus is on winning patents, not Clios." For the sake of comic timing, actor Sunil Narkar was cast in the role, and totally nailed it.
Even now, almost a decade later, the campaign is still a delight, one of the few that gave everyday human depth to what had previously been a entirely faceless industry. (It even, in its closing seconds, gave a human face to that ever-familiar Intel bong). Within Intel, too, it inspired immense pride. "I've worked on many campaigns over many years," said Intel's VP creative services and digital marketing Johan Jervoe a few years later, "but I've never seen any campaign inspire such a passion and pride internally than this campaign."
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