If it wasn't for Ben Stiller's recognizable mug (even without a fishhook in it), the three-minute The Making of an Ad Campaign might have thoroughly confused the 1999 VH-1/Vogue Fashion Awards viewing audience. Stiller's voiceover starts the piece off: "Our campaigns over the last few years have definitely become a part of pop culture and we're very proud of that." His serious tone and deadpan delivery is almost enough to make you think you're watching a profile of one of the most successful companies in apparel history, not a marketing mockumentary aimed at rock 'n' roll fashionistas.
Stiller, in a memorable account guy imitation, is the condescending Kyle Fischer, EVP-global marketing, who explains the successes and failures of various advertising executions for his company. That company is quite obviously the Gap, even though the name does not appear anywhere in the piece.
David Levin of production company Hungry Man, who wrote, directed and edited the project for the VH-1/Vogue Fashion Awards, was a bit concerned about offending the Gap. On the other hand, he didn't want his little film to seem like a plug for the company and thus upset the show's main sponsor, Tommy Hilfiger. As it turns out, despite being the khaki-covered butt of a three-minute joke, Gap spokeswoman Anna Lonergan says she and the Gap crew laughed along with it. "It was Ben Stiller and the VH-1 Fashion Awards and it put a smile on everyone's face."
Stiller, seated behind a desk in a pristine office, talks about the company's three blockbuster campaigns. At one point he clarifies the term "spots" with finger quotes and says with a patronizing grin, "That means commercials." When discussing the failures of various executions, Stiller says that you can't please everyone: "It's not like we're trying to open a store on every street corner of every city in America . . . " He stops suddenly, realizing that's exactly what he's trying to do. Our hip exec goes on to admit that "there were some people who didn't work out." Cut to the familiar white cyc and New York's notable black activist Al Sharpton sitting on the floor plucking a sitar.
Though it's hard to believe, most of the finished piece was scripted. Stiller did ad-lib twice during the discussion of the "Khaki" campaign, once when he blasts "that bastard Keanu Reeves and his friggin' Matrix movie" for grabbing credit for the 3-D stop-motion technique used in the commercials, and again when he references the "wonderful musicians of the, uh . . . '20s," who gave us swing. He's characteristically unrepentant about the most unfortunate spot in this campaign, the "Hora," which shows the usual smiling group of dancers, a black man wearing a yarmulke, and a blond, blue-eyed shiksa being lifted up on chairs for the traditional Jewish wedding dance.
For the final "Everybody In" campaign, Stiller talks about how they wanted to get back to the street, with an "urban, gritty, in-your-face" song. Again, the Gap style is recognizable as the stoic-faced singers chant "Lookie, lookie, I did it for the nookie. Pop that coochie. Yeah. Yeah. Stick it up your ass, stick it up your ass, stick it up your ass . . ." The word "ass" in each refrain is bleeped, which leads Stiller to a diatribe about the absurdity of it all: you can put something "on your ass" or "near your ass," just not "up it." "I'm just trying to sell pants," he says with exasperation, "and you know what? They go on your ass."
Does the general public, or at least the Kid Rock crowd, get all the marketing humor? "Let's put it this way," says Levin. "I don't think my parents got a single thing that Stiller said, but when it cut to Al Sharpton or the hora, I'm sure the non-advertising people got it."