The marching orders were to do a whole bunch of cheap commercials. This was at BBDO Worldwide, New York, of course, where "cheap" can be translated as "in the low seven figures." But lo and behold, the creative team came back with less than a million dollars worth of five spots-including the Ad Age Best commercial of 1996.
The spot is called "Chefs." The advertiser is M&M/Mars. The brand is Snickers, the candy bar we are now told to have handy if you're "not going anywhere for a while." And the advice is apt. If subsequent advertising is anything nearly as strong as "Chefs," this slogan isn't going anywhere for a good long while.
The premise of "Chefs," shot by Bryan Buckley and Frank Todaro of @radical.media, New York, is like the rest of the 18-month-old campaign: through circumstances now beyond his control, the protagonist finds himself facing a long period of time stuck in one place, without access to real food.
In this case, he is the elderly endzone painter for the Chiefs football team, and the commercial opens with him applying the finishing touches to the "S" in the team moniker. A big lineman compliments him on his work, adding, "But who are the 'Chefs?'"
Yeah, he left out the "i."
The painter's exasperated-but unscripted-response: "Great googily moogily!" a line one of the directors remembered hearing an old uncle exclaim. Recorded as a wild line and dubbed in later, the frustrated snarl was hilarious. Also pointed. He's not going anywhere for a while, so he gnaws disgustedly on a Snickers.
Other people are doing the same, it would appear. Peter Littlewood, director of marketing for the brand, says Snickers has grown more than 10% since the campaign broke, about double the growth rate for the category. And he attributes the success to the BBDO campaign.
"People appreciate us when we don't take ourselves too seriously," Mr. Littlewood says. Under the previous agency, Bates USA, New York, "we had advertising that was not entertaining and that was not connecting with the target."
Whereas previous spots portrayed idealized role models such as firemen and investigative reporters scarfing down Snickers bars before committing nougat-fortified acts of heroism, the BBDO ads are content to commend the candy as a hunger-relieving stopgap measure.
"It's more credible and believable," he says. "Enjoyability, memorability and awareness on the thing has gone through the roof."
"Chefs" and the rest of the campaign were the work of BBDO Associate Creative Directors Gerry Graf and David Gray, along with agency Vice Chairman and Senior Executive Creative Director Charlie Miesmer. They had collaborated on the campaign's first spot, a locker-room vignette in which Coach Marv Levy told his Buffalo Bills that nobody was leaving until they figured out how to win the Super Bowl. That spot was hilarious, too, but very expensive. Football stars don't come cheap.
"So," Mr. Miesmer explains, "I said to these guys that we have to figure out how to make the production scope of this campaign smaller. We have a great idea here. Let's simplify it."
And they did, with "Chefs" and other funny iterations- and at very low cost relative to some of the agency's Cecil BBD'Omille productions. One trick for saving money: paying no license fees to NFL teams. For instance, nobody said this was necessarily the Kansas City Chiefs being depicted.
"We only used two colors out there: red and white," says copywriter David Gray. "If we had used another color, say yellow, we might have been in trouble. The guys at @radical.media have a remarkable wardrobe person."
And Snickers has a remarkable commercial. Everybody at the agency was certain they were onto a bona fide Big Idea, but if a big idea falls in a conference room, and the client doesn't like it, the only noise it makes is a dull thud. So the creatives were most curious to see the reaction of the notoriously all-business John and Forrest Mars.
"They laughed," Mr. Gray recalls. "They do laugh. They're an interesting pair of guys."