25 July, 2013

Raising the Dead to Make a Pitch

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday July 25,2013

In his latest TV commercial Bruce Lee looks you intently in the eyes and advises "Follow your instincts, it's the most honest path." He dips his hand into a pool of water and lets it trickle through his fingers, "Be water, my friend".

This philosophy might be a little startling - after all the 90 second ad is promoting Johnny Walker Black Whisky to a Chinese audience, and is spoken by a renown teetotaller. Even more startling for a piece shot a few months ago, Lee has been dead for 40 years.

No, this example of raising the dead is done through the magic of computer graphics - with such skill and precision that you will have to look at it a couple of times to work out that it is in fact not real.

It took Joseph Kahn nearly a year to make and he is very proud of it. Which is really saying something - Kahn has made music videos for all the greats: Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Christina Aguleira, Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson and almost every star of that magnitude.

His key piece of practice in CGI was the video for Kylie's All the Lovers. You know, the one with hoards of near-naked couples making love in the middle of New York and ending in orgy pyramid nearly as high as the surrounding skyscrapers. He's obviously not a man for simple solutions.

But computer graphics are going to bring a lot more spokespeople back to life. In Britain a superb commercial for Galaxy chocolate features Audrey Hepburn. Once again painted in CGI, this is the young, beautiful, sparkling Hepburn of Roman Holiday, as heart-melting as she was in life. Set to the music of Moon River, just in case you neglected to sob.

The animation was a long, hard process for the creative team and not surprisingly the most difficult part was getting those eyes right. But they do, which diffuses some of the anger at her ghost being brought back. It was done, incidentally, with the permission and support of her son.

Perhaps thinking about the range of colourless celebrities featuring in current boring ads, it's not surprising that directors would search back in time for interesting personalities.

For last year's J'Adore perfume campaign, Dior enlisted four of them, one living, three dead. Charlize Theron needed every ounce of her beauty and presence to match up against her co-stars: Grace Kelly, Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe. Just to add to the glitter, this over-the-top French commercial was shot in the Hall of Mirrors, in the Palace of Versailles.

But the process doesn't always work. When an American agency resurrected popcorn king Orville Redenbacher, who had spent a lifetime pitching his wares, it cost a fortune in CGI. Except... they didn't pull it off, and his attempted jollity was plain scary. It earned him the title: "Orville Deadenbacher - The Popcorn Zombie."

In fact, presenters can be a poor way to advertise your product, unless you have the right match between the speaker and what he or she is selling. Digging up a ghost adds some novelty value to the pitch, but that doesn't last long.

What you really need is an outstanding product, and a compelling reason to buy, within a clever commercial. Then whether you use a famous person or not is a factor - but it does not overwhelm the message. In fact, surveys have shown that celebrity endorsement is unimportant in whether the ad reached the viewer or not.

As researchers Ace Metrix observed in one report, "Creative components—not celebrity endorsements—drive positive responses from viewers and resonate across demographics."


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