Classics from the Advertising Archive


FedEx "Stick" by BBDO NY (2006)

Delivery company FedEx was a Super Bowl regular for several years in the mid-2000s and was usually happy to give long-standing agency partner BBDO New York considerable freedom to run with memorable and unusual ideas. The previous year's Big Game campaign had featured movie star Burt Reynolds, a dancing bear, a cute kid and gorgeous cheerleaders as four of the supposed "Top Ten" ingredients for the perfect Super Bowl ad. How to top that? BBDO NY ECD Eric Silver assigned creative team Jonathan Mackler and Jim Le Maitre to the project.

Jonathan Mackler: "FedEx commercials are always based on some kind of office truth - whether it's office politics, idea theft, or basic employee incompetence... with FedEx's speed and reliability being the one positive contribution or shining moment. It's the one thing a flailing employee could offer up to impress the boss. But that's assuming FedEx exists. Unfortunately for Grog the Caveman, FedEx wouldn’t open its doors for another 20,000 years..."

For a Super Bowl spot, though, it's surprisingly arty, despite the humour. The American public isn't exactly used to watching ads with sub-titles, even ones as big as these.

JM: "From the beginning we wanted to play it all - the spot, the acting, the locations, the costumes - as real as possible, as opposed to cartoony and broad. Think 'Quest for Fire' rather than 'The Flintstones'. So we insisted that the cave men grunt and yell their dialogue - as opposed to just speaking English. This meant the viewer, for better or worse, would have to read sub-titles. Most Super Bowl commercials are 30-seconds, which makes reading all those sub-titles problematic. The client understood, agreed and got us a :45. Pretty great client moment. And if you ever saw the :30 cut-down, you'd agree. That one decision opened a lot of doors in terms of pacing, and being able to book-end the spot with big, protracted visual moments.

"Traktor did a great job directing the talent and together they created a hilarious caveman language. For instance, to say 'FedEx', the caveman sniffs his hand. It's funny and even a little gross, but it worked and it ran. Great client moment #2."

A special nod to the post-production team at Framestore, who created the splendid dinosaurs. The ad won FedEx its first Best Primetime Commercial prize in the 2006 Creative Arts Emmy awards, as well as a Bronze Lion at Cannes that summer.

Tide "Talking Stain" by Saatchi & Saatchi NY (2007)

In recent years, Procter & Gamble has built up a reputation as one of the industry's more creatively adventurous advertisers. It hasn't always been this way. For years, the company was renowned for the dullness of its advertising, but this began to change in 2000 under new CEO AG Lafley, who faced the daunting task of turning the group around after dismal performance during the late 1990s. Better ads were high on his to-do list.

Lafley's new marketing chief Jim Stengel visited the Cannes Lions festival in 2003 with a large entourage - it was virtually P&G's first trip to the festival since its ads had rarely if ever featured among the winners. Soon after, he made a public commitment to raise the quality of the company's marketing output. That process reached its apogee five years later, when P&G was named Cannes Advertiser of the Year. A key contributor to that accolade was this highly original and wholly offbeat spot from Saatchi & Saatchi New York, made the year before for P&G's biggest US brand, Tide. Gone were the eager housewives and smiley family environments of the usual Tide ads. Instead, to promote the company's new Tide To Go eraser pen, Saatchi set about targeting a different sort of customer, the young single male, teaching him an important lesson about how to get ahead in life.

The ad was overseen by Saatchi NY's joint ECDs Jan Jacobs and Leo Premutico (later founders of admired creative boutique Johannes Leonardo), and created by a team led by Dan Lucey and Nathan Frank. It was conceived in early 2007 as an ordinary broadcast commercial, and was perceived at first by P&G as a little too avant-garde for the wider American public. That attitude changed after the film earned a Silver Lion at Cannes in summer 2007. This gave P&G the confidence to give "Stain" a wider audience with an outing on the ad industry's biggest beauty contest, the Super Bowl, the following February.

"It wasn't made for the Super Bowl," said Jan Jacobs. "It just gathered momentum and I think P&G was quite interested in the idea that there would be a lot of people watching this, eating food, probably a lot of stains going on. It was a relevant time to get it out there." It was in fact Tide's first-ever appearance at the Super Bowl, and only the second time for P&G. In the fashion of the time, the ad spawned a crowd-sourced campaign in which customers were invited to submit their own "Talking Stain" films.

JJ: "This was probably the lowest budget there. It was surrounded by these big budget productions, and yet it turns out to be one of the favourite spots of the viewers. If you have a strong insight, it's reassuring to know you don't need a massive budget or a special effects effort to entertain people now."

Let's give one final note of appreciation for actor Rory O'Sullivan, playing the memorably schlubby and clueless interviewee. You might also recognise him as the main "Dilly Dilly" cheerleader in several of Bud Light's current ads. Brian Carney plays the interviewer.

Hansaplast "Maman" by TBWA Paris (2004)

To France this week for "Maman", a fabulous ad by TBWA Paris from 2004. The Hansaplast brand - from German company Beiersdorf, owners of Nivea - is best known for adhesive plasters, but it is also extended under license to a line of condoms, sold mainly in France. TBWA, then Beiersdorf's house agency, put creative team Chris Garbutt and Matt Branning onto the project. Chris Garbutt: "We had so much fun producing this idea. It was almost too easy. Matt and I came up with the idea. We were just joking around, having fun and next thing it popped into our heads."

Belgian director Frank Devos was hired to to helm it. Frank Devos: "They invited me to come to Paris and we had a brainstorm on the different vignettes we needed to build up the story and get to the climax. They didn't have a lot of money but the idea was great so I persuaded my production company to go ahead with it. They were not happy that I wanted some extra scenes in it, like the plane/parachute scene. We shot it entirely in Brussels, which is my hometown so I could work with my own crew."

What really makes the ad, though, is its little star. CG: "Frank is an incredible director! So talented! He found the kid in a casting session. Matt and I knew immediately he was perfect for the role. He had a really cute/naughty glint in his eyes and so much charm."

FD: "I was really happy the agency accepted him because with that lazy eye he was definitely not what you would call a typical 'commercial' kid. But he was afraid of nothing - like when we were shooting the scene with the snake he was really enthusiastic! The trick was to treat him like an adult and not as a kid. The only trouble we had was when we shot the scene with the motorbike cop on the highway. That got a bit tricky, because real police arrived and didn't understand we were shooting a commercial!"

CG: "The funniest moment was when you saw those little hands sticking up in the air from inside the convertible, and the cop standing next to the car. The situation was so ridiculous one couldn't help laughing out loud. We just smiled all the way. You know you've got something great when you're laughing and having fun on a shoot."

The Gap "Back In Black" by Laird & Partners (2006)

The idea of resurrecting a cultural figure posthumously to sell product is always controversial, and for some reason no one polarises opinion as strongly as iconic actress Audrey Hepburn. Her son Sean Ferrer has guarded her image quite carefully, and the few instances where he has allowed it to be used have been memorable for their creativity, as well as highly beneficial to causes supported by the charitable foundation she left behind. Nevertheless, The Gap's 2006 campaign had as many critics as it did fans. But we think it's a classic.

The Gap was just coming to the end of a prolonged growth surge which had established it as the world's biggest clothing retailer. Music and dance had featured prominently in its advertising since the late 1990s, with considerable success. (Some other time, we'll bring you the splendid 1998 'Khaki Swing' campaign by Matthew Rolston which got that whole process started). Newly created agency Laird & Partners had taken charge of Gap's advertising in 2003 and had moved the campaigns away from pure dance to musical performance with a series of celebrity ambassadors. Their debut for the store partnered Madonna with Missy Elliott, and later ads starred musicians including Lenny Kravitz and Joss Stone.

For this campaign, creative director Trey Laird opted to return to dance without simply revisiting the sort of performance film the brand had already tried with 'Khaki Swing' and its successors. Instead, this spectacular culture clash remixed Audrey Hepburn's adorably kooky jazz dance from the movie Funny Face with AC/DC's rock classic Back in Black. It was a brilliantly clever way to reintroduce those same 1950s-style skinny beatnik pants Hepburn was wearing in the movie to a whole new generation. It marked something of a swansong for The Gap, though. The store's lead in global apparel was already under pressure from two even nimbler European challengers, H&M and Inditex. It responded with what was arguably a disastrous strategic move further upscale, and the beginning of a slow but steady decline.

Stella Artois "Pilot" by Lowe London (2004)

We might have chosen any one of Lowe London's superb series of films for Stella Artois between 1990 and 2005. Many of the best, including this one from 2004, were written and art-directed by Vince Squibb (who later became a successful director in his own right). Ivan Zacharias directed from Squibb's script.

The idea was to reposition what had previously been a budget beer as a premium brew, one that cost a little more than rivals because it was made from the finest ingredients imported from Europe. That worked pretty well, but opened the floodgates for a procession of other Continental imports. In 1990, Lowe's creative director Charles Inge (later co-founder of CHI & Partners) had the bright idea of making a pastiche of the movie Jean de Florette, which he had recently seen... "and let's make it all in French".

The idea became that Stella is so "Reassuringly Expensive" that people would do (or risk) anything for a sip of it, or in this case, to save it from being wasted. And so a series of French movie pastiches began, each a little more extravagant (and expensive) than its predecessor. The aerial dogfights for Pilot were reported to have pushed the budget to an astronomical £800,000. One more campaign in the series followed - "Ice Skating Priests" - before a change of strategy for Stella and soon after a change of agency as well.

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