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Ask The Expert: Which In-Movie Ad Would Make It In The Real World?

Image for Ask The Expert: Which In-Movie Ad Would Make It In The Real World?

You’ve got a great business idea – say, mobile parapsychology using cutting-edge proton packs and a big old ambulance – but no customers yet. Who you gonna call? Well, an advertising agency, naturally. Peter Venkman and co. may have taken the homemade approach but there are plenty of movie ads that have brought a professional sheen to things. But which would work in the real world and which would be consigned to advertising Mordor? We asked John Yorke of UK agency Fold7, co-creator of Carlsberg’s Great Escape-riffing campaign, to cast a professional eye over ten favourites.

Movie: Ghostbusters (1984)

You're a small band of parapsychologists who need to get their name out to market, only you've spent all your money on an ex-ambulance, fancy overalls and the rent on an old fire station. Who you gonna call? Well, nobody actually. You just get a Camcorder and make an ad for yourselves. And not just any ad: a seriously lo-fi, homemade affair the majority of which camera-shy Egon Spengler spends trying to locate his mark. Surely this would get the big fail from a top advertising creative, right? Wrong! “This is brilliant,” stresses Yorke. “I love this ad.”


THE
EXPERT'S
VIEW "Would this ad work? Definitely. You get this style of no-budget self-promotion with car lots in America: you're buying into the personality because there's no money to build a brand. The Ghostbusters message that they're 'ready to believe you' is very reassuring. The visual aspect is almost secondary because it's got a great selling point, a great strategy, a friendly tone and it's reassuring for its audience. I don't know if I could do it any better. If Fold7 were to do this ad, yes, we'd add bells and whistles and sell the Ghostbusters as a brand more, because the guys have actually got a great logo – you'd include some iconography that people can recognise and remember. But the strapline that they have - 'we're ready to believe you'- is perfect and you can layer the creative execution on top of that in lots of different ways. Are the Ghostbusters marketing geniuses? Completely."
Movie: Prometheus (2012)

Even before Prometheus hit the big screen, the substantially creepy David 8 (Michael Fassbender), subject of this fake Weyland Industries commercial, was giving us that ants-under-the-skin sensation. This viral ad expanded the world of the Ridley Scott's film to show how Davids might be sold to the public, suggesting a clear gap in the market for flower-sniffing, Laurence Of Arabia-obsessed psycho droids. It wouldn't, stresses Yorke, shift many units these days.


THE
EXPERT'S
VIEW "If you were selling David to a consumer you wouldn't show him in a plastic bag – that's just creepy. People are being sold iPhones with Siri on them, [so] it's not a giant leap forward to put that into a moving object. We're already packaging technologies to make them palatable. Does this do a good job of humanising David? No, but it sets up the character and makes you suspicious and scared of him. But even in an imagined future where David is a viable product, you wouldn't sell him in this way. It's too clinical. If people allow something that appears to be human into their home, [an advertiser] is going to work even harder to make it seem normal, safe and useful. David, here, is sold very much on the fact that he's an emotional being. As a consumer, what use is an emotional being to me? It's a beautiful piece of communication but it's not seriously trying to sell us David."
Movie: RoboCop (1987)

Paul Verhoeven is the past master of the in-movie ad. The Dutchman's arch jabs at the corporatised, amoral worlds found in his movies have satirised big business (Rekall in Total Recall), big auto (6000 SUX in RoboCop and MagnaVolt in RoboCop II) and big, erm, army (the Mobile Infantry in Starship Troopers). As Yorke points out, this commercial for the frankly terrifying board game Nukem riffs on those fun Saturday morning TV spots of our childhood. It's as good a reason as any not to cross anyone's Line of Death.


THE
EXPERT'S
VIEW "This is a direct parody of the Battleship ad – 'You sunk my battleship!' – only elevated to a comical level. Verhoeven is very intelligent and by putting a magnifying glass on what already exists and blowing up the scale, excuse the pun, he raises big questions. We used to play Battleship without thinking about it, but the only difference between that and Nukem is the holographic nuclear explosion at the end. You're still blowing people up to entertain children. It's questioning where the line is for entertainment in society, and just stepping over it. As an ad, it's very true to the world of New Detroit. In fact, it's as good as that Battleship ad in the '80s – and that sold a lot of games."
Movie: Lost In Translation (2003)

"For relaxing times make it Suntory time," intenses Bill Murray in this pretend ad for a real brand of Japanese whisky. While the joke here is about what's being lost in translation between director and star, there have been plenty of real examples of this kind of advertising down the years. Western stars like Sean Connery and Peter Lawford were both enlisted to spruik the brand, and even the great Akira Kurosawa popped up to produce a few.


THE
EXPERT'S
VIEW "Hollywood A-listers have often appeared in ads they wouldn't do in North America or Europe because they don't want to be seen to be tarnishing their brand by advertising this stuff. But it's different now because Hollywood films are going into Asia and vice versa, and there's so much more crossover, so those things can't be kept separate any more. Scottish whisky brands do very well in Japan. They have their own brands too, but the aspirational versions are the originals. Would I pick Bill Murray to deliver brooding intensity? Well, there's a lot of actors who can do that very well but he's probably not one of them. Maybe that's one of the things that was lost in translation."
Movie: Minority Report (2002)

Sitting somewhere between the current advertising landscape and the brave new worlds of Prometheus and Blade Runner is Minority Report's near-future retail blisstopia. Unwittingly, policeman-on-the-lam John Anderton (Tom Cruise) stumbles into the single worst environment to go incognito, as intelligent billboards hail to him from across a packed shopping concourse promising all manner of retail delights. "John Anderton! **You could use a Guinness right about now" blares an ad for a certain Irish stout. He could now.


THE
EXPERT'S
VIEW "Would a Gap ad ask how your extra large pants are working for you? No, a brand would want to avoid embarrassing customers or declaring to the world who you are. But many of the things in this sequence are already happening. Advertisers are working to target their ads better because they don't want to spend money putting a commercial in front of eyes that don't want to see it. What becomes oppressive here is the fact that everything is directed at this one man. Narrow-beam technology means we already have directed sounds, so you could have the same advert talking to different people walking down the same street, and we also have facial recognition. Technology like Google Glass and, in two or three decades, Google contact lenses, means that as I walk down the street an advert can be put in my field of vision – just targeted to me. For me, a real-world version of Minority Report is 20 or 30 years away, but focused targeting is just around the corner.
Movie: Blade Runner (1982)

If you have any kind of aversion to Tannoy announcements, or you've just mislaid your brolly, Los Angeles might be worth avoiding in five years' time. Advertising comes at you from all angles in Blade Runner's perma-drizzly nightscape. It even has a hover-billboard promising "a golden land of opportunity and adventure" to willing wayfarers – modelmaker Jason Eaton created a stunning replica – but the overall effect is a sensory overload that's writ large on Deckard's (Harrison Ford) world-weary face.


THE
EXPERT'S
VIEW "A lot of these things will happen, because there's always going to be people finding bigger and louder ways to shout. Ridley Scott has these huge electronic billboards in Blade Runner, the size of a skyscraper wall, and clients are always going to want big announcement boards. I'm sure Michael Bay looked into projecting the Transformers 3 onto the moon, because the question is 'How big can we get?'. But Tannoy announcements aren't an effective form of advertising: it's oppressive. Good advertising isn't untargeted noise, it's engaging and focused communication. But this works so well in the film to give this sense that Big Brother is watching you. That the Tannoy comes from a corporation rather than a government makes you question whether, in Blade Runner's world, corporations are the new government."
Movie: Tropic Thunder (2008)

The hip-hop world loves a product tie-in and Tropic Thunder's Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) is no exception. Though this 30-second spot, a carnival of rump-shaking tastelessness, might have got the rapper-turned-actor-turned-unwitting-combat-veteran through some tough moments in the film but, says Yorke, it's unlikely to win him too many friends at the Advertising Standards Authority. Then again, maybe the ASA are just late to the charms of "popping an ass open".


THE
EXPERT'S
VIEW "Do I think this ad would make it past the Advertising Standards Authority? No, I don't think so. This is a pastiche of real ads and you can get away with stuff that's kind of close to acceptable, but the question is would you want to? What's the benefit? Particularly because these are products that you're not going to consume. Who's going to drink 'Booty Sweat'? There was an energy drink called Pussy a couple of years ago – I don't know if it still exists – and you wondered who was going to go into a bar and say, 'I'm drinking Pussy'? You wouldn't get as far as making an advert for it because no-one is going to drink Booty Sweat, whatever the ad does."
TV Show: Breaking Bad

A man who never knowingly lets any ambulance go unchased, Saul Goodman brings a similar sweaty tenacity to his low-budget advertising efforts. Complementing his website in a way never imagined at marketing colleges, this is the kind of shouty slab of give-me-your-business promo that might have been thought up by someone with, say, a meth baron on speed dial. "An absolutely car crash" is Yorke's considered judgment. We think it might have been directed by Huell.


THE
EXPERT'S
VIEW "This is ridiculously entertaining but you'd have to have one ballsy lawyer to approve this ad. Obviously Saul is aiming for the worst kind of gutter scum who want protection, but it's actually scarily close to some of the no-win-no-fee ads that are out there. There are also ads made to look deliberately bad, and some bigger clients deliberately make their products look more homemade for effect. They're made to look like they were shot on a phone at the dentist so you believe that it's a real dentist talking to you. But this litigation stuff is a very direct form of advertising. Really, it's just people making money out of you – it's very murky, shady."
TV Show: Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

Painful memories? Agonising break-up you'd like to forget all about? Lacuna Incorporate can help! Especially if the idea of being hooked up to some kind of random H. G. Wells contraption by Carmine Falcone to a soundtrack of terrifying lift music holds no fears. Even a clever-clogs slogan ("Don't forget… with Lacuna, you can forget") can't save this one from advertising prison. Here John Yorke explains why.


THE
EXPERT'S
VIEW "Rule number one here would be not to show the equipment. It's intimidating. Instead of focusing on the procedure, you'd show what a bright future you would have once it's done. If I'm going to have memory erasure, I want to be reassured that my life is going to be better afterwards, rather than focusing on the actual process. There's a reason why ads for laser eye surgery don't show you the laser. Instead, they'll show you the pristine world you'll be able to see, with blue skies and flowers and your grandchildren suddenly in focus. Same with this. If I'm going have memory erasure. I want to be reassured that my life is going to be better afterwards, rather than seeing the actual process. I don't think you'd show the patient here, either. You'd evoke how life will feel when it's done."
Movie: Monsters, Inc. (2001)

Monsters Incorporated's advertising agency gets the seal of approval from Fold7's John Yorke. Riffing on real-life energy advertising, Sully and Mike's employers' TV spot is a touchy-feely showcase of the benefits of the scaring-industrial complex (check out Wall•E's Buy N' Large ad for a more sinister example from the Pixarverse and Toy Story's Buzz Lightyear spot at the shoutier end of the spectrum) and does a convincing job of sanitising the morally suspect business of terrifing young minds in the dead of night. Sensibly, they keep Randall Boggs the heck out of it.


THE
EXPERT'S
VIEW "This one is actually quite true to life. The opening is very believable as an energy company commercial: they don't show you the oil rigs, they show you the fact that you can warm your home in winter. It's about showing the benefits and giving the company a friendly face. It's reassuring; it shows you how your life will be because of the product. Pixar has obviously looked at a lot of Exxon and technology ads. It's true to how these corporations would want to show themselves. What would be my dream movie product to design an ad for? The Back To The Future hoverboard!"

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