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'...!