American Express "One Hour Photo" by Ogilvy & Mather NY (2003)
Martin Scorsese is almost certainly Hollywood's most recognisable movie director since Alfred Hitchcock. Not only do most people know what he looks like, but like Hitchcock, he has a widely recognised persona as well: intense, fast-talking, self-deprecating, perhaps slightly sinister... Like Hitch, he appears to enjoy poking fun at that image, not least in a series of ads for American Express in which, less usually, he has appeared in front of the camera rather than behind it.
That relationship began in 2002 when American Express became founding sponsors of the Tribeca Film Festival launched by Robert De Niro and his business partner Jane Rosenthal. Scorsese was a key contributor to the Festival, curating a collection of newly restored film classics, as well as a selection of his favourite films about New York. One thing led to another, and American Express or its longtime agency Ogilvy & Mather raised the question of Scorsese making a personal appearance himself in an ad to launch the 2003 Tribeca Festival. Probably to everyone's surprise, Scorsese agreed. Ogilvy New York's creative directors Chris Mitton and Terry Finley assigned the task to the team of Stewart Krull and Frank Guzzone, with Jim Jenkins, then a comparatively inexperienced filmmaker, signed up to direct.
Jim Jenkins: "I’m sure it was a gift to a creative team to be told that Scorsese would appear in an ad, something I don’t believe he had ever done up that point. The concept naturally gravitated to Scorsese’s known self-flagellation, and it just built from there. I had only been directing for about two years when that opportunity came in, so it was a gift to me as well, especially considering Scorsese asked to see reels before approving the director."
"Was it daunting? A little, yes. I had to meet him in his suite the night before the shoot to talk over the script, and I think I was more intimidated by the size of Scorsese’s top-floor hotel room than by Scorsese himself. The most intimidating part of the whole shoot wasn’t the shoot; it was the pressure to make it great. Let’s be honest, if the commercial wasn’t great, do you think anybody would blame Scorsese?"
In fact, the resulting ad is a gem. Director of photography was Emmanuel Lubezi, now one of the industry's top cinematographers, with three consecutive Academy Awards under his belt for Gravity, Birdman and The Revenant. He and Jenkins came up with the odd framing, designed to suggest that the ad had been captured on the drugstore's closed circuit TV. But the most important factor was the superbly self-deprecating performance by 'Uncle Marty' himself. (It's hard to imagine anyone less like an 'Uncle Marty' than Scorsese). "As far as being on set, he was into it," says Jenkins, "and very willing to take all the many script options that I threw at him. He just wanted to be funny, and trusted that it would be."
The spot was a big success at the Tribeca event, introducing each screening, and later on TV. It also collected several awards on the ad festival circuit including a Bronze Lion at Cannes, and inspired subsequent ads in which Scorsese riffed on his movie director image, not just for American Express (in a double act with fellow card-endorser Tina Fey) but also for AT&T. In fact the AT&T cinema ad spot, encouraging cinemagoers to turn off their phones before the movie, was also directed by Jim Jenkins. "We were talking in his trailer before the shoot, and he told me that more people yelled out lines to him from our AmEx spot than from his own movies! I think we both agreed that Goodfellas should probably have more cultural impact than a TV spot..."
Nike "I Feel Pretty" by Wieden & Kennedy Portland (2006)
Nike Women is an important strand within the sportswear giant's marketing these days but it wasn't always this way. In fact, this superb ad from Wieden & Kennedy from 2006 was the first time that a female athlete had been the focus of any Nike TV advertising campaign. "We were completely aware that it had never happened before," said W&K art director Mira Kaddoura later, "so we wanted to create something super. Up until that point, only superstar male athletes were getting all the money. It was a chance to prove to the client that you can do something just as impressive with a female athlete."
Then the brightest star on the circuit, Maria Sharapova - who had only recently signed to Nike - was the perfect choice. Still only 19, she combined supermodel looks with a steely determination, and above all that celebrated almost animalistic on-court shriek.
Yet Sharapova had plenty to prove too. She'd won her first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon two years earlier, but needed to demonstrate that there was more to her than looks, and that Wimbledon hadn't been a one-off fluke. "Nike wanted to support Sharapova because she was a kick ass athlete and not only a pretty face," said Kaddoura. "That duality was the coolest thing about her. Yes she's pretty, but she's also badass. We wondered if there was a song out there about being pretty and whether we could do something with that. As soon as we found 'I Feel Pretty' we really felt it was right."
Star director Ivan Zacharias was signed to direct. "I hate musicals but this was something different," he said. "This was about people thinking she was pretty but maybe useless. But then at the end, we see she's f***ing great at tennis. And if you have a great song, why not get people to sing it? It's a nice idea."
The song was rerecorded with a full orchestra in a revised version to fit the 60-second framework, with the vocals dubbed over afterwards. Each supporting actor's contribution was also recorded live with an on-body microphone. The final sequence was shot in New York's famous Arthur Ashe stadium, home of the US Open, with extra stardust provided by cameos from former champion John McEnroe and his brother Patrick. There was an audience of just 100 extras in the stadium. Post-production house The Mill then painted in another 25,000 or so digital spectators with the magic of CGI.
"Funny little detail," added Kaddoura. "The spot was killed after it was approved and it was one of those little advertising miracles that it ended up seeing the light of day at all." Clearly the advertising gods were all looking on with approval: the ad aired a week before US Open in 2006. Sharapova went on to win it, earning her a second Grand Slam title. It also proved a big hit on the awards circuit, earning a shelf-full of awards including two Gold Lions at Cannes a year later, one of them for Best Use of Music. (It was beaten to the Grand Prix by Dove 'Evolution').
"This will always be one of my favourite campaigns to have worked on," said Kaddoura, "because the big idea and the craft were on par with each other. We were so excited about the script and even more excited to craft the work. From recording the song with a live orchestra in Prague, to the puzzle of casting and picking every person, to filming and editing with such talented people. It’s really an example of the magic that happens when everything lines up."
Peugeot "The Sculptor" by Euro RSCG MCM Milan (2002)
Now to Italy (by way of India) for a memorable campaign from what was then Euro RSCG MCM (now Havas Milan) for Peugeot's 206 compact. Originally made for the local market, the ad was so good it was used widely across Europe, and was subsequently credited with establishing the 206 as Peugeot's best-selling car. Creative team Roberto Greco and Giovanni Porro developed the concept.
Roberto Greco: "This ad followed the same strategy as a previous spot called 'Osaka' (directed by Bruno Aveillan) where a Japanese girl takes a Peugeot 206 into Japan by hiding the spare parts of the car in her luggage. The idea was 'You'll do anything to have a 206 (especially in a country where they don't sell it)'. The Italian client was happy with that strategy so it wasn't difficult to sell this new story to Peugeot headquarters in Paris.
"The Indian location was suggested by my partner Giovanni Porro who had just come back from Pondicherry. Actually, when we met Peugeot in Paris, we also had to think of an alternative setting, because our client feared a diplomatic incident with Tata, the biggest car company in India and Peugeot's partner at that time: they worried Tata would not appreciate seeing one of their cars smashed up and transformed into a Peugeot...
"The alternative location we choose was Cuba (I still have the storyboard somewhere), but luckily we went back to India. After all, there are no elephants in La Habana... We shot the film in Jaipur in one perfect week where almost everything went right apart from some little intestinal disorders due to the market cuisine.
"The choice of the main actor was pure chance: the guy we and the director Matthijs Van Heijningen had chosen broke his leg one week before shooting; therefore we went for the second choice and the result was really satisfying. We debated different ways about how to end the spot but we agreed on one simple thing: after all those efforts, the boy needed to show his successful results to his friends. All humans do this, after all.
"We also discussed a lot about the music and we bought a huge amount of Indian CDs, but at the end the soundtrack was made in Amsterdam by two friends of Matthijs. ['Heaven is a Place on Earth' by Raja Mushtaq]. The edit was done in Paris and we came out with 45 seconds that were so good that we never created the classic 60 second version for the awards. The client approved it at first sight."
'The Sculptor' cleaned up on the awards circuit, winning shelves of different prizes, not least a Gold at Cannes. One measure of the ad's enduring charm: earlier this year, BBC TV show Top Gear recreated the ad to mark the 20th anniversary of the original 206. They actually converted a Hindustan Ambassador for real into a Peugeot 208. Main difference was that they used a JCB crane instead of an elephant for the bonnet...
Carlton Draught "Big Ad" by George Patterson Partners (2005)
Beer is a funny old category for advertising creatives. Regulators won't let you say much about its social effects for fear of condoning drunkenness, and there's very little to differentiate one lager from another when it comes to taste and ingredients. That gives the creative department a virtually blank canvas on which to paint their wildest and most entertaining ideas. Not surprising then that the category as a whole has inspired many of the global industry's most memorable campaigns. Nowhere perhaps more than in Australia during the 'Noughties' in a feverish battle between the country's two dominant brewers as their respective agencies sought to outdo one another for beer-fuelled excesses.
The process began at what was then Fosters Group (now Carlton & United Breweries), who in 2003 set out to build a national profile for their Carlton Draught lager, popular mainly in and around Melbourne. Fosters' agency George Patterson Partners (now Y&R) came up with "Made From Beer", a concept designed to poke fun at the pretentiousness of the packaged 'designer beers' then flooding onto the market.
"It was a take-down of all the bullsh*t in beer advertising," Fosters' marketing manager Andrew Meldrum told trade source Adnews. "We wanted to be brutally honest about where we're from and we kept coming back to the fact that it's a great beer with an unquestioned heritage so it doesn't need to say anything."
Fosters' main rival Lion Nathan fought back with their own similarly comic campaigns for lead packaged brand Toohey's and draught XXXX, and the mocking tone of both companies' ads quickly evolved to embrace not just beer, but also advertising in general. For their third "Made From Beer" ad, Patts' creative team Ant Keogh and Grant Rutherford were given the green light to blow rival beers out of the water with a truly epic concept that also took the p*ss out of Saatchi & Saatchi's widely celebrated "Face" campaign for British Airways from the 1990s.
"Big Ad" was shot over three freezing days near Queenstown, New Zealand, in a valley which had already featured in the Lord of the Rings movies (and with the same director of photography Andrew Lesnie). Director Paul Middleditch put a team of around 300 extras through their paces, then spent three months in post-production, expanding the crowd to more than 20,000 through the magic of CGI.
Released at first only online with its own dedicated website, "Big Ad" quickly found an enormous audience, not just in Australia but also internationally. It went on to hoover up a host of awards, though it was beaten to a Grand Prix at Cannes in 2006 by another beer ad (Guiness's "noitulovE").
"Big Ad" established Carlton as one of the country's top-selling beers and cemented a global reputation for Keogh and Rutherford and the rest of Patts' creative team, but it proved a tough act to follow. Another Carlton marketer, Chris Maxwell, later recalled "It was an epic ad, one of the greatest ads ever made by an Australian agency or brand. It left a legacy in the business of 'we are famous because of our famous advertising', and as the brand grew we needed to do that again and again and again. But it's like catching lightning in a bottle, you can't just do that on a whim."
Over the next few years, Carlton threw "millions and millions of dollars", said Maxwell, into making "Big Ad 2 and Big Ad 3 and Big Ad 4". Carlton "Skytroop" from 2008 featured a team of choreographed skydivers freefalling into a sports stadium. "We literally spent A$3 million on that ad," said Maxwell. "It's the most expensive ad we ever made, a ridiculous number. We don't even spend that much on media for many of our brands... You start forgetting that you are there to sell boxes of beer and not win Cannes Lion awards." As a result, both Carlton and rival Lion reversed their strategy in the early 2010s, with a return to less extravagant and more traditional marketing. In fact Carlton stopped viral and TV advertising altogether for more than five years from 2012. Ah, but it was fun while it lasted!