Coen Brother’s masterful TVC for Mercedes AMG demonstrates why quality film making still matters in advertising.
January 27, 2017
The high degree of craft demonstrated by the Coen Brothers is obvious in this new “film” for Mercedes AMG. The casting, wardrobe, acting, editing: it’s all first rate. Seeing Fonda at the end is wonderful – the cocky peace sign he flashes. Yet, everyone in the commercial shines, transcending the biker stereotype. You’ve got to love the two brutes getting stuck in the silver chains adorning their leathers. Or the grizzled biker chick wearing her lines like so many badges. Good stuff, which is what we’d expect from a Super Bowl commercial directed by the Coen Brothers.
Beyond the obvious, however, a thing I really dig (60’s verb intentional) about this film is how damn analog it is, on both sides of the camera. No smartphones. No CGI. Nobody’s tweeting. Instead we see a jukebox. Playing Steppenwolf. Dude holds up a cigarette lighter not an iPhone. Gloriously absent is all evidence of the modern world.
That is until we see the sleek new AMG roadster at the end.
Lots of commercials riff on previous decades but we can often sense the phoniness, kind of like viewing an off-Broadway production of Hair. Something about the cast or wardrobe gives it away. And we’re like: Oh, here’s a commercial making fun of the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s.
But not here. The righteousness of this commercial lifts it above mere advertising content. Rich in detail, fun to watch and just plain good the Coen Brothers remind us of why quality filmmaking still matters. Even in advertising. Especially in advertising.
Agency credit (and kudos) to Antoni, Germany and Merkley + Partners, USA
Say what you will about the horror franchise but the latest Purge movie is eerily prophetic in its depiction of the divisive state of our Union. For those unawares, the concept deals with a government sanctioned night of rage that takes place once a year in America. All crimes, including murder, are legal for 12 hours. The subsequent carnage is supposed to “purge” everyone’s pent up frustrations and lead to less crime overall. Something like that anyway.
Regardless of what we think of this science fiction one cannot deny how prescient the idea is. So ripe is the concept I don’t know where to begin. Ragged race relations? Check. Police brutality? Check. The gun debate? Check. Political unrest? Check. Rich vs. poor? Check. And on and on. Clearly, The Purge has tapped into the zeitgeist in ways unimaginable and uncomfortable.
None more so that the latest entry, aptly titled The Purge: Election Year.
One scene has a corrupt, white officer shooting a young black man dead through the window of his car. Another has angry black civilians rampaging against a stronghold of rich white people. At times it was like watching You Tube videos of chaos in our streets. And I haven’t even mentioned the gross similarities between the “Election Year” depicted in the movie and the one we are enduring now. The two Presidential candidates are a fearsome and corrupt rich white man and a liberal leaning female. Sound familiar?
Of course the film is over-the-top and grossly distorted. But it’s all too freakishly on point. That the film was produced well before the recent mayhem in our country further adds to its power. If America wasn’t going through what it is going through right now this movie would come and go as a mildly entertaining piece of pulp genre. Instead, it damn near passes for a documentary.
According to Tim Nudd’s marvelous piece in Adweek, this Secret deodorant commercial debuted on the season premier of The Bachelorette -a show I deplore but my wife and daughter’s adore. I’m not going to get into a rant on that but I do recognize the genius of this media buy. Like the Bachelor, the Bachelorette is a reality show about choosing a mate for life. Though such outcomes rarely happen long term for these contestants, the show acts as if it most certainly will. And that mythology is a potent one for lots of women and, I suppose, a fair amount of men. Whatever. This commercial flawlessly plays off and pays off the proposal ritual.
Instead of a rose, we get a fortune cookie. And the result is charmingly messed up. I won’t go into the plot. Watch the film yourself. It’s fabulous storytelling. Nudd’s analysis is spot on:
It’s a sly mix of comedy and tension, with great casting and subtle acting that really lets the scenario build nicely. When the reveal happens—even if you see it coming—it feels believable, and like a breakthrough, because of the obvious stress of the situation. Which by the way makes for a fine connection to the brand, even if inverting gender roles to sell product can still feel icky, however pure the motive.
The craft is first rate as well. Directed by Aoife McArdle for Wieden + Kennedy, the realness is laudatory – far more authentic than the Bachelorette that’s for sure. Everything about the spot rings true. (Not faux true.) The cast. The location. Direction and acting. It all works. I especially love the woman. Rather than get into specifics, let me just say it feels like we’re eavesdropping on a totally genuine moment and one that is delightful, romantic and full of life. Real life.
December 21, 2015
I keep ruminating over this film for Johnnie Walker the way one might ponder a glass of scotch itself. It’s that good, completely deserving of Adweek’s hyperbolic praise. Maybe it’s even better than the Cannes winning “Keep Walking” film done a few years ago by advertising giant, BBH London -attached below. Pitting the two is perhaps insulting to both. Still, the fact that the newer piece is a spec film made by a pair of film students, Daniel Titz and Dorian Lebherz is truly remarkable. Everything about their film is done with grace and beauty. I hesitate to even call it a “spot.” This is a statement piece, for them and the brand. Clearly, these two young men have old souls. Brave ones, too. Blessedly unaffected by the myriad politics of Adland, they merely did the right thing. Oh, were that it were!
Scotch whiskey has always been known as a thinking man’s drink. It has depth and character best appreciated by sipping. This differentiates the liquor from most other spirits. Unfortunately, this difference is seldom romanced by the advertising industry. Instead, we get endless variations of people having a good time. While in some portrayals the partying around whiskey may be more uptown it’s still partying. Advertisers are hell bent against exploring deeper truths about these brands for fear of coming off as old fashioned, melancholy or maudlin. Drinking alone was and is considered verboten for 99% of all spirits’ advertising. Likewise, men drinking without women (or vice versa) is almost as taboo. And so on. In Adland, solitude means loneliness and depression. God forbid a gentleman has a neat drink at twilight. Next, he’ll be reaching for a gun!
I know of what I speak. As a creative at Leo Burnett, I worked on Johnnie Walker Black Label and Red Label. I was thrilled to have written and sold the campaign, “Welcome to Civilization.” But Lord, what an uphill battle. Alex Bogusky considered it the best thing in my portfolio. Probably because it went deeper. Though not as deep as what we have here.
In this film, two young men –brothers- return their father’s ashes to the sea. In the process of their journey, they share a glass and toast the departed. By no means are they whooping it up. But they’re not crying or miserable either. They are celebrating a good life and yes, a good death.
The kiss of death? Hardly. Even if its topic is an ending, there is something deeply life affirming about this story. These young men are graceful and true men, doing something wonderful. And in doing so aren’t they just extensions of their father – a man who obviously taught them well?
This is the very best thing a spirit can be a part of. Not the dumbass partying of frat boys looking for a good time but a reflection and celebration of a life well lived. It’s easy to blame brand managers and the like for insisting on “happy” and “fun.” But I actually think we are all culpable. Quiet moments, especially the quieting of life, are topics we constantly push aside, mostly out of fear. Advertising yields to this fear like butter to a knife.
But this “commercial” gamely looks right at death and in turn reaffirms life. Finally, I should add that though the script is lyrical and stunning, it is also hard working copy, seamlessly integrating the brand’s longtime theme, “Keep Walking” in a way that elevates it like never before.