Ad campaign for American Express card delivers much-appreciated smiles.

December 7, 2009

While I struggle to understand the relevance of American Express in our modern world I absolutely adore their new TV campaign, which I’m calling “Smile.” These spots have been running for several months now and yet I stop everything to watch when one comes on. Don’t you? The imagery is, in a word, lovely. Not in a baroque way but pure, unfettered and almost childlike in it’s simplicity. A series of inanimate objects appear, first depicting sad faces, which then become smiling faces. A soothing voiceover addresses our fears regarding credit card purchases and then assuages them. Throughout we hear the hypnotic Cello Suite No. 1 by Sebastian Bach.

That’s it. No special effects. No celebrities. Nothing but inanimate objects subtly propped to mimic smiley faces. While there are no actual people in the commercials these spots illicit more humanity than just about anything on the air. They are masterpieces.

Appropriately, it was my 11 year-old daughter who first brought the campaign to my attention. She asked me if I’d done it (alas, no), telling me it was her favorite TV commercial. A month later I got the same question from an in-law over Thanksgiving dinner. She, too, adored the campaign.

I believe this is the work of Ogilvy & Mather in New York, though my online searches failed to produce credits. Yet, everyone responsible deserves praise: the writer, the art director and especially the director. (If anyone can provide names please do.)

The last time I was so moved by an ad campaign was when Saturn launched “a different kind of Car Company.”  Then as now the awesome power of TV proved itself without so much as breaking a sweat.

There is sincerity about Amex’s work, which belies the rampant turmoil and cynicism gripping the financial (and advertising) world. Kudos to American Express and their advertising agency for giving us pause to smile. In my novel, The Happy Soul Industry God wants an ad campaign to market Heaven. Something like this would’ve done quite nicely!

The Happy Soul Industry on Amazon

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21 Responses to “Ad campaign for American Express card delivers much-appreciated smiles.”

  1. Jason Fox said

    I also like this campaign. It proves that straightforward can be interesting and that irony is not a requisite ingredient for good advertising.

  2. Yes, such a great spot. Directed by Kevin Thomas of Thomas Thomas Productions.

  3. shiv said

    Brilliant ad campaign. Proves that simplicity is king again. Thanks a lot for posting it!

  4. Thank you for posting this ad…. Simple, creative, and effective. The incidental frowns and smiles are adorable and so full of personality that it made me smile too!

    After watching this ad twice, I’m able to recall all the details of the product and the brand itself. The jingle is just amazing. “Don’t Take Chances…Take Charge.” Love it.

    I think that what makes this ad effective is how the faces aren’t “traditional” smiles. The faces are more organic and quirky, and for some, you actually have to look hard to see the face. The standard Walmart/Joe Boxer yellow happy face is so engrained in our cultural landscape that the task of looking hard to find the faces forces viewers to actively engage.

    It’s authentic, simple and adorable. I love the lumpy leather chair’s frown… the challenge of coming up with the smile and frown expressions must have been fun for the creative team.

  5. Ron McCrea said

    What strikes me is the amazing ey and patience needed to see the faces and smiles (and frowns) and collect those images, especially the happy small plane at the end o “Smiles.” I also loved an unzipped pair of jeans with a rivet becoming a shark’s face in an AMEX ad about identity theft.

  6. Ron McCrea said

    What strikes me is the amazing eye and patience needed to see the faces and smiles (and frowns) and collect those images, especially the happy small plane at the end of “Smiles.” I also loved the unzipped pair of jeans with a rivet becoming a shark’s face in an AMEX ad about identity theft.

  7. […] I admired more in 2009. Two months ago I wrote about the campaign in detail. Fittingly, that post (Amex review) continues to be one of the more popular stories on my blog. The comments it received are […]

    • Jane said

      The faces idea has been shamelessly lifted by Olgilvy & Mather from Francois and Jean Robert without credit or permission. Their many books have been published since 1978. It’s not the first time that O&M has done this, Just look at the Audi A4 commercial on youtube. Search Audi Faces. It’s ironic that this ad promotes the idea of protection. Shame on you American Express for the plagiarism of this very popular idea. I hope AMEX was not charged for reuse of the same idea they already sold Audi.

  8. May said

    Love your commerical of sad and happy faces. However, I am left with a taste for more. I am suggesting the picture of the American Express Card at the end of the commericial have a smile made out of the words under the card, then the smiles and music would end at the same time and the audiance would end up with a smile instead of a quest for more!

  9. Jane said

    Yes, everyone has seen happy and sad faces because Francois and Jean Robert have been producing books with faces since 1978. Francois and Jean Robert have helped all of you SEE the world in a different way because of their books.
    An original idea? Perhaps, perhaps not… but they have produced 4 books with copyrighted images.

    Ogilvy & Mather Johannesburg approached Mr. Robert through his rep in NY in 2006 about using his faces for an Audi commercial, didn’t use him, but used the “faces idea” anyway… then Ogilvy & Mather uses “faces” for American Express in 2009. Coincidence? I think not.

    The agency basically used Francois Robert’s book as a story board to create this commercial. The shopping bag, wallet, are headphones compared side by side are almost identical.

    The question is, who owns an idea?

    Is is OK to steal the idea for commercial gain in the case of Ogilvy & Mather?

    Is it OK because agencies do this all of the time?

    What if it were YOUR idea? YOUR music? Your industrial design?

    How would you feel?

  10. Brilliant. I could watch this over and over until I die. Just brilliant. Softly. And we don’t expect to see this on television. Thank you, whoever you are.

  11. OK, I just bared my soul but left an incorrect email address. Hope you received my kudos. KD BHD

  12. Joel Modelo said

    Who does the voice-over for the amex smile commercial?

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