In the world of Super Bowl car ads, Jaguar is a small player. But just as British actors punch above their weight in Hollywood, often by playing villains, the brand is hoping to do the same with a campaign that plays on its quintessential Britishness.
Its first Super Bowl ad is a cinematic, 60-second spot entitled "Rendez-Vous" and centered around the idea of "British villains." British actors Ben Kingsley, Tom Hiddleston and Mark Strong are seen converging in London, via helicopter and an Jaguar F-Type Coupe, for what's assumed to be some kind of evil summit meeting. The spot is directed by Tom Hooper out of Smuggler, who won an Oscar for "The King's Speech" and also directed "Les Miserables."
Its script plays on the well-known truth that British actors are often cast as bad guys in Hollywood. From Alan Rickman as the lead terrorist in "Die Hard" and Terence Stamp as General Zod in the original "Superman" to more recent movies such as "The Avengers," an upper-crust British accent has long been shorthand for a kind of elegant evil. Mr. Kingsley in particular is well known for portraying villains on screen, most recently in "Iron Man 3." According to the brand's creative agency, Spark 44, the actor also made a good point during filming: British actors tend to be classically trained, and "Shakespeare writes the best villains."
Behind all this is a new creative approach meant to position Jaguar as the cool, elegant Brit that will disrupt the luxury sporty car market, currently dominated by the likes of Audi, Mercedes and BMW, in the same way that stylish British villains do in films. "It's about the audacity of a British brand taking on the sports car market -- hence, the Super Bowl placing," said Spark 44's managing director Simon Binns.
Since its sale from Ford to Tata Group in 2008, Jaguar has been trying to win back its brand reputation, which had become somewhat tarnished both by inconsistent marketing and quality issues (at one stage S-Type Jaguars were built with Ford Mondeo parts). In the meantime the German brands have come to represent desirable sporty chic.
Spark 44 was formed specifically to handle its marketing, the thinking being that Jaguar brand is too small for a global network but too big for a local boutique or hotshop agency. Its team has automotive expertise; Mr. Binns worked on some of BBH's great '90s advertising for Audi and was at Ogilvy's Blue Hive Ford business prior to the launch of Spark 44. However, unlike other "in house" car agencies such as Innocean, it is a joint venture -- the management team owns 50% -- and at some point it will take on other clients.
The agency is responsible for all of Jaguar's creative communications, including digital. Alongside the villains campaign, it's developed an online hub, Britishvillains.com, and, together with Mindshare, will be encouraging social media buzz during the Super Bowl centered around the hashtag #goodtobebad.
At this point the question must be posed: isn't it a risk for any brand, let alone a car brand, to be promoting itself as "bad"? While there might have been some initial client reservations, the agency had a very clear list of what British villains are and are not. This is a stylish, intelligent, sinister, somewhat raffish bad guy, who certainly isn't overtly violent or thuggish. (Example: Mr. Hiddleston is seen sipping a cup of tea in his helicopter in the spot). As Mr. Binns puts it: "We're talking about elegant villains, not 'The Sopranos.'"
Matt Page, creative director on the campaign, explained how this was echoed in the casting. "We were definitely not looking at the 'Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' type," he said. "It's more about having a certain flair and style, something that we hope will appeal to our target market -- for example, they might be entrepreneurs or tech startup guys who themselves like to disrupt the status quo."
Mr. Page said the agency looked for inspiration in all kinds of film -- even Disney, with Jeremy Irons voicing Scar in "The Lion King." The real coup, however, was getting Tom Hooper (and his production company Smuggler) on board. The agency was determined to have a British director, and particularly one with a background in film, in order to "get the tone right," said Mr. Page. When Spark 44 approached Mr. Hooper with their script, "he loved it" and hardly changed a word.
Mr. Hooper's involvement was clearly instrumental in persuading film stars such as Mr. Kingsley, Mr. Hiddleston and Mr. Strong to commit to the project. Mr. Binns said "We didn't break the bank," Mr. Binns said, declining to elaborate. And although Jaguar might not have the budgets of its rival German marques, loyalty to a classic British brand may also have been a factor.
The three actors were deliberately picked to reflect a balance of older and younger generations. While Mr. Kingsley is the best known for films such as "Iron Man 3" and "Sexy Beast," Mr. Strong (who starred in "Kick Ass," "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Sherlock Holmes") has a cult following and Mr. Hiddleston, best known in the U.S. for "The Avengers" is "huge on the internet" with a young female following. "The idea is that the combination of these guys coming together is going to be formidable," said Binns. "The story deliberately open-ended; you don't know if they're working together or out to get each other."
The shoot itself was also done movie-style, with actors filmed at different points in time due to their commitments and scheduling (for instance, Mr. Hiddleston was shot early as he had to grow a beard to perform in "Coriolanus" in London). London landmarks seen in the spot include The London Eye, Big Ben and The Queen's House in Greenwich, which an American audience might mistake for Buckingham Palace. "We wanted to suggest that these guys are very close to the heart of British power," said Mr. Page.
Mr. Hooper also brought on board film composer Alexandre Desplat (who worked with him on "The King's Speech" and whose other credits include "The Queen," "Harry Potter" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox"). His score was recorded by the London Sympthony Orchestra At Abbey Road.
For Jaguar, the Super Bowl spot is the start of a global roll-out, and further campaigns will also star some of the actors. Mr. Hiddleston is slated to do another shoot next month. "We will take forward the idea that the Brits are the disrupters and challengers," Mr. Binns said. "The Super Bowl is the best way to introduce that to as wide an audience as possible."