When it comes to advertising, it appears that nothing is truly sacred, and sooner or later, the eyes of the Mad Men will turn towards popular culture in order to hawk whatever product they have on the slate. One of the most recent examples of this was Peter Weller’s return as Robocop for a series of American KFC commercials. Or ‘Colonel Robocop’, to be precise.
Yes, it appears that he actually had a fifth Prime Directive all along: ‘Sell yourself to the highest bidder’. If you’ve never seen a cyborg law enforcement officer dressed up as a gentleman from the Deep South, well, frankly you’ve never lived. Hey, who needs to worry about Neill Blomkamp’s upcoming Robocop Returns, when we’ve got all the sequel we need right here. Buy some fried chicken? You have 20 seconds to comply. Want to go large? Your move, creep. Excuse me if I don’t buy that for a dollar.
But this is far from the first time that a character from film or television has been used as an unusual spokesperson in a publicity campaign, and here are five such examples.
Ferris Bueller – Honda CR-V
Back in 2012, a teaser video appeared on the Internet which appeared to show an adult Ferris Bueller, and speculation was rife that somehow a sequel to 1986’s John Hughes film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off had been filmed in secret, and was due to be officially announced. However, the truth was somewhat less exciting, and it was revealed to be a Super Bowl ad for Honda.
Okay, technically it’s Matthew Broderick in the advert, rather than him reprising the role of Ferris; however, seeing as how the commercial borrows so strongly from the original movie, I think we can let this one slide. Whole scenes and set pieces are revisited and recreated or emulated, and the commercial uses Yello’s ‘Oh Yeah’ as its soundtrack. It even has the very same central premise – Broderick calls in sick, only to have a day of manic adventures while playing hooky.
‘Oh Yeah’? Oh no, more like it. Perhaps he really wasn’t the greatest choice to front a car ad campaign, given his involvement in a fatal road traffic accident in 1987, after he’d finished filming Biloxi Blues. It seems Ferris was right: Life moves pretty fast.
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Captain Kirk and Scotty – National Power/Powergen
Back in the early 1990s, the Government was busy carrying out its privatisation of many British utilities, and it was soon the turn of energy companies. Powergen and National Power ran a TV campaign which promoted the public sale of shares, using the characters of Captain James T. Kirk and Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott from the original Star Trek, with William Shatner and James Doohan reprising their roles for the advert.
The Transporter Room and Engineering sets of Star Trek: The Next Generation were redressed in order to represent the Enterprise-A, seen most recently in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. The premise of the commercial is Captain Kirk and an Away Team being caught up in a meteor shower on an alien planet, and needing to be urgently beamed back up to the safety of the Enterprise. However, things end up going a little awry, and Kirk ends up with his head on a female crewman’s body, and vice versa.
The theme of needing power is intended to emphasise the connection to National Power and Powergen. Given what we now know about the antipathy which existed between Doohan and Shatner, it must’ve been a delicious moment for Doohan to deliver the line “the man’s power mad”, with no love clearly lost there. The ad is also notable for using the line “Scotty, beam us up”, which is tantalisingly close to the famous phrase which was never actually used verbatim in Star Trek. So there’s that, trivia fans.
Oh, and Simon Cadell from Hi-de-Hi also turns up. Because reasons.
R2-D2 and C3PO – Childhood Immunisation PSA
Not so long ago, in a galaxy that wasn’t far, far away, the two droids from Star Wars were being used to get the “parents of Earth” to immunise their kids against childhood diseases like Whooping Cough, Polio and Measles. Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker fronted the 1978 campaign on behalf of America’s Centers for Disease Control. In the TV advert, R2-D2 thinks he has Whooping Cough. You know, like you definitely would if you were a droid. Not a computer virus, or something.
It was a gentler, simpler time, before we had ever heard of anti-vaxxers, when all it took to get kids innoculated was having a slightly camp robot hector your parents. This was also around the same time as the Star Wars Holiday Special, so it wasn’t the worst piece of Star Wars ephemera to air that year (I’m basing that on the fact George Lucas has never said he wanted to smash every single copy of the ad with a hammer, unlike the Holiday Special).
It seems using Star Wars characters must have worked out a treat, because in 1983, the US Department of Health and Human Services also employed R2-D2 and C3PO for a commercial against smoking, where Theeepio sees smoke coming from Artoo’s direction, and thinks his counterpart has caught fire. Instead, he’s been sneaking a crafty Woodbine (look, I dunno just what brand they smoke in space).
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The Doctor – New Zealand Superannuation Services
Ever since leaving Doctor Who in 1981, Tom Baker was notoriously reluctant to be associated with the role which made him a household name. Until relatively recently, Baker had little to do with the show, bar doing the odd appearance here and there. For quite a long time the highest profile thing he’d done which was connected to the series was a brief cameo in character for 1993’s Children In Need special mini-tale, ‘Dimensions In Time’. But that was pretty much it. Until we got to 1997, that is.
Yes, it seems that even the most hesitant of actors can be persuaded to return, as long as the fee’s right. With Paul McGann having appeared in the one-off TV movie the previous year, the show’s profile had been raised once again, and Tiger Films put together a series of eight adverts for New Zealand Superannuation Services, as part of a campaign to promote their range of retirement savings plans. How better to get people to think about the future than by using somebody who’s already been there?
Cue the triumphant return of one Thomas Stewart Baker, who in these few brief ads managed to rack up more screen time as the Doctor than he did officially just four years earlier. Tiger Films certainly seem to have pulled out most – if not quite all – of the stops, having built a Console Room set which managed to roughly pass for what Baker had used in the series itself. However, the less said about the shonky Police Box they used here, the better. And just what they tried to pass off as being his Sonic Screwdriver… well, it made my teeth itch.
Morpheus – Kia K900
There’s nothing quite like jumping on a bandwagon. However, jumping on one when that ship has long since sailed isn’t just a horribly mixed metaphor, but also an apt description of what Kia did in the commercial they had for the 2014 Super Bowl, featuring the return of Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus. Given that it’d been 11 years since the last one of The Matrix trilogy had been released, it may have been seen as an odd choice. Mind you, clips of long dead actors have been used to advertise things before, so there clearly isn’t a cutoff point for these kind of things, evidently.
Morpheus has taken up a new role as a car salesman, apparently. He informs a couple: “Take the blue key and go back to the luxury you know. Take the red key and you’ll never look at luxury the same again”. You know, like that’s a perfectly normal thing to hear from someone who’s trying to flog you a brand new motor. Despite being a little weirded out, they choose to take the red key, and we get treated to a rehash of imagery from the Matrix films as they go for a test drive, with Morpheus in the back seat.
At this point, Morpheus decides to show us what luxury sounds like, and breaks into a rendition of ‘Nessun Dorma’. Like that’s a completely regular thing to do, and totally consistent with his character. The saying goes that the show’s not over until the fat lady sings. Sadly, the ad’s not over until Laurence Fishburne sings (or mimes along, anyway). It all just goes to show that the only time Hollywood and Opera should ever mix is as part of Bugs Bunny cartoons.
Do you remember an ad that featured beloved fictional characters? Tell us about it in the comments.