Star quality changes commercial direction

As TV ads become more sophisticated, well- known movie directors are back in vogue.

Imagine the prospect of Quentin Tarantino getting his hands on Mr Kipling’s next campaign and creating the UK’s first blood-spattered pastry commercial. It conjures up a mixture of excitement, dread and hilarity.

“I would laugh outrageously,” says Manor Bakeries marketing director Colin Tether when asked his response, should its agency, J Walter Thompson, propose using the director.

But Tether would also be more than a little worried about the damage the feature film whizzkid would do to his pocket. However, with Spike Lee’s Red Stripe ads and the German art house director Wim Wenders’ first work for Ariston breaking this week, star name directors are back in vogue.

Tarantino, whose commercials production outfit, A Band Apart, launches in LA this month, believes he’s working with a new wave of directors steeped in popular culture. Agencies and clients have to decide whether – whatever the kudos – it’s worth taking on that culture, together with its unpredictable raw edge and premium price-tag.

At BST.BDDP, which created the Red Stripe ads, chief executive Paul Bainsfair insists that “in the end, Lee didn’t work out any more expensive than a top commercials director”. The script was along the lines of the opening sequence of Lee’s Do The Right Thing and his “modern style” was what it wanted. Added to which “if you use someone like Spike Lee you get additional PR”.

So just how much do the likes of Spike Lee cost? Top directors come in at about 10,000-a-day, although one informed guess is that you could double that for a really big name. Producer Jenny Edwards of The Producers Films represents Mike (Four Weddings and a Funeral) Newell and Mike (Internal Affairs) Figgis. She says feature directors are most often chosen for story-telling skills and ability to handle actors. They come in at roughly the same as a top commercials-only director, at not more than 7,000 a day.

Even if the cost is the same, Tim Mellors, creative partner at Mellors Reay & Partners, says if there is a risk factor he’d plump for someone in the commercials business rather than a big features name, “unless there’s exceptional relevance to the script”.

“It’s quite easy to sell the magic by showing a few clips of a well-known movie. But when it doesn’t come off like that it could be a huge disappointment.” He remembers Fellini, David Lynch, and Woody Allen making commercials, but “can’t think what they were”. In fact they were Campari, Adidas and the Italian Co-op respectively.

Gerry Moira, creative director at Publicis, is inclined to agree but questions the director’s motives. “At least if they [commercials directors] cock up it’s important to them. A major movie director must find it very easy to abdicate responsibility.”

Perhaps, more than most, it’s the lure of filthy lucre that drives feature directors to take on commercials. The calculation for an agency or client has to be the balance between the anticipated result, the extra money and the risk factor in catching someone in between movies.

The risk is more likely to be worthwhile with glamorous brands. Moira draws a distinction between trendier brands like soft drinks or clothing. He also marks out the British audience from other nationalities: “In Italy, film makers are more revered than in England.”

Guliano Gnagnatti, managing director of Italian white goods giant Merloni Domestic Appliances, says of the new Wenders work called Art: “The concept is art… we felt at group level we wanted to take on an artist to take the idea through.” His sentiment that “the name was good enough to give us the guarantee” might make Mellors quake, but Gnagnatti was also sold on using the director of Paris Texas.

“If you think of the scale of the operation – the benefit will be to go across many countries – it doesn’t matter so much that the cost of entry is so high.” Essentially Merloni has decided it is worth using an established film maker to get good work which, in the context of the overall spend, is a minimal overhead.

There’s the corresponding benefit that Wenders’ films have been box office hits across borders. “If you want a real international campaign, you have to start with someone with multinational appeal,” says Gnagnatti.

But of the millions spent on TV ad production in the UK each year, not much of it is going to be ear-marked for high-profile global advertising. Advertising Association figures estimate that 430m went on the screen in 1994, which is roughly 15 per cent of total media spend. So Wenders is likely to be in the frame for campaigns in the 7m-plus bracket.

Mr Kipling’s cakes might not have the spend or the inclination, but would Tarantino consider taking on the project?

His LA office would only say that “everything has to be put in front of the executive producers”. Who knows, it might be just the challenge the bad boy of Hollywood is looking for.

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