It was a bigger surprise, though, to an Atlanta police detective, who tried to do a background check on Garrison Boyd, alleged head of the AfDB. On the subject of surprises, the cryptic Amstel marquees on 42nd Street are a continuing wonder to unsuspecting tourists and typically dim-witted Times Square denizens, and yet another shock is that the campaign comes out of New York's Wells Rich Greene BDDP.
Well, never mind the anorexic "95 calories never tasted so imported" song of Amstel's lite past; Amstel now has a lager and a pilsner and a whole new hoppin' image as the beer old white men love to hate.
The brewmasters of this image are Mark R. Fenske-not the lighter than Ayer Mark Fenske who does the lonely-guy voiceovers-and art director John Pearson (along with recently departed exec CD Linda Kaplan-Thaler), who are high on recklessly open-minded creative, certainly by WRG standards.
So how did all this heady misinformation happen? Well, the brief was simply to represent Amsterdam. "The things that make Amsterdam really interesting are the things that put some people off, like prostitutes and dope smoking," says Fenske. "Everybody knows what goes on in Amsterdam, we didn't need to show it. It's better to show the opposite. Everybody has their own idea of what open-mindedness is, but everyone can agree what close-mindedness is. It's like, 'We don't want to be that guy.' "
So who is that guy, that Garrison Boyd? A TV actor appropriately named Bruce Gray. His campaign name was originally going to be Ralph Forrest, but the way this works, explain the creatives, is you have to call one person for permission to use the name, and if that person refuses, you can't use it on pain of giant lawsuit. "So we did an Internet search and there are 28 Ralph Forrests in the United States," says Fenske. "We called one in Louisiana, and he's on life support. His wife rejected us, she wasn't in a good mood." So the boys went with Garrison Boyd, borrowed from a friend named Gary Boyd, an AD at Bates. "His real name is Walter Garrison Boyd, and he gave us permission just like that," Pearson chuckles. "We had to cinch this up," says Fenske, who, by the way, did not get permission from the other Mark Fenske to use his name.
The TV, directed by Phil Morrison, has Boyd doing endearingly right wing things like trying to turn back a beer-hauling freighter in his little zodiac boat, Greenpeace style, and watching a pseudo Dutch Amstel spot in which people kiss, smile, dance, wear silly clothes and do impulsive things like eat herring in the street. The closest Boyd comes to saying anything provocative about "Amsterdamed" behavior is "spontaneous social intercourse."
Then there are the midtown Manhattan marquees and billboards, which will run a gauntlet of confusion from Eighth to Ninth Avenues into August, and may be extended to other cities. "It was an opportunity that just fell in our laps," says Fenske. "An outdoor company asked us if we'd be interested in buying a whole block on 42nd Street, and we said, 'Hell, yes!' Forty-second Street really fits in with the whole fear-of-debauchery thing."
But what about fear of bewilderment? "We did a lot of testing upfront," says Pearson of the campaign, "and the only negatives were people who said, 'I'm not sure if it's real or not,' and some who said, 'I'm not sure everyone will get this.' But most of our focus groups got it; people are very media savvy these days. We have research that 80 percent of our target market has taken a marketing course. So they get the reverse psychology and they applaud us for slipping under the bullshit meter and making it look so real." The ads, you'll notice, are done in true Boyd style, with cretinous kerning and bad line breaks "like you'd get in Quark straight out of the machine," says Pearson.
And despite the chaos factor, this was not a hard sell, the team insists. In fact, the concept went over big with the apparently open-minded client. "We had to present it to the Dutch international brand managers," Pearson recalls. "They looked at it, they puffed out their cheeks for about five seconds, and the first thing they said is, 'It's a diamond.' It's flown right through, and it's really got no negatives. We're not saying that beer's bad. It's always based on a philosophical footing. It's not political, religious or sexual, and we avoid a lot of problems that way.
"One of the guys in the focus group actually wanted the 'Impending Doom' poster," Pearson adds. "This was pretty mindblowing for us. No one in a focus group ever wanted our work before."
"And we get some really funny e-mails," says Fenske (yeah, you can bet there's a Home Page of Decency at www.g-boyd.com). "There's a portion of the population that thinks this guy's for real. We get mail like, 'You bastard, I'm going to drink more Amstel just to spite you.' We also get people who get it, and write things like, 'Very clever, very funny, I'm going to drink more Amstel just because I like the ads.' So we're in a no-lose situation. We also had two people who agreed with Boyd. One woman wrote something like, 'Garrison, you're so right. Once my son tried beer, then he had premarital sex.' " Sounds like she wrote the next ad.
There is indeed a followup campaign in the works, but it's a secret now, of course. Fenske's tempted to talk about it, but he's practicing Disciplined