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Calling in the Big Guns: 4 Iconic Ad Campaigns That Stand Out for Their Star Power


The rights clearance and merchandise licensing experts at BEN Group reveal how they secured the intellectual property for these iconic advertising campaigns

Calling in the Big Guns: 4 Iconic Ad Campaigns That Stand Out for Their Star Power

‘Honour by association’ is a tried and tested trope that has been around since the beginning of time. The evolution of this concept in the advertising space saw the introduction of celebrity endorsements, a strategic form of storytelling that weaves star quality into the sale of products and services. When it comes to consumer behaviour, a sense of familiarity boosts customer confidence and, according to research, increases the chance of purchase by 71%. Whether on social media or on the side of a bus, ads that feature a beloved personality are popular with consumers, and by incorporating the intellectual property (IP) of a popular film or TV show, advertisements have the power to resonate with global audiences.

The more popular the IP, the more likely it is to entice and engage. However, with great popularity comes great responsibility, and no-one knows this better than BEN Group, the rights and licensing company responsible for some of the world’s most famous icons and IP from across popular culture. Andy Warhol, Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe and Muhammad Ali are just a few of the world famous names BEN is responsible for representing. An unmatched authority in the rights clearance and talent licensing space, BEN have been involved in hundreds of advertisements, playing an integral role in orchestrating complex and ambitious multifaceted campaigns. 

Here, senior client manager for Rights Services, Giulia Castelli writes about navigating the choppy waters of rights clearance for four of the biggest, long-standing ad campaigns in recent years and how BEN set new standards for brand storytelling with each project.

1. DIRECT LINE - “The Fixer”

Saatchi& Saatchi needed a bold, fresh idea to win the pitch for insurance company Direct Line. They had identified how, when calling upon insurers, customers looked for someone who could fix their problems without hassle. With that in mind, they felt the Pulp Fiction character of Winston Wolf a.k.a. The Fixer was the perfect fit.

After deciding on Winston Wolf, the next thing we had to do was to ask whether the studio and director Quentin Tarantino, would allow us to use IP from the movie, for advertising purposes. We are best placed to advise on these matters, as we have connections with both studios and agents, as well as being tuned into which properties are available and easy to work with. Luckily, the stars were aligned for Direct Line, and with a bit of convincing from Harvey Keitel, even Tarantino gave his approval to the idea - a very rare occurrence!

What followed were intense weeks and months of negotiations; from fees, to contract terms, to details on how the character could be used and what was or wasn’t allowed. As the campaign consisted of a series of spots featuring the character in different scenarios for each, we handled the granular approval of every single creative idea and script, to ensure it stayed faithful to the character Tarantino has created. Saatchi&Saatchi's decision to entrust us with the managing of this process meant the agency could focus on the creative, whilst all the work for trafficking the approvals was being handled on our end.

As a result of The Fixer campaign, Direct Line raised their profile amongst the sea of insurers and recorded a substantial increase in brand awareness by consumers. The campaign’s lasting pulling power is a testimony to the unique and iconic IP, demonstrating that when a brand chooses an IP partner, and invests in the storytelling over the years, it pays off in the mind of consumers. In these cases, the IP becomes intrinsically intertwined with the brand, and iconic equity becomes built into the brand campaign. The Fixer campaign performed exceptionally well, running for six years, from 2014 to 2020, and is now a truly iconic piece of advertising history. In addition to generating 12 months of continued growth, the campaign received accolades from the IPA effectiveness awards and marketing society excellence awards in 2016.

2. EE - “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”

With the launch of the new brand EE, Saatchi& Saatchi needed an idea that would combine the concept of connectivity with a recognisable celebrity. Cue “6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” 

We were presented with several scripts that featured numerous interlinked IP properties. The project was huge, with hundreds of references that needed clearance; from movie quotes, to famous people’s names, brands, TV references, visual references, song lyrics. For any link in the chain that couldn’t be cleared, we had to work alongside the agency to find valid substitutions that fit with the creative idea, as well as the clearance chain, without breaking it. 

In one iteration of the campaign, we helped secure the rights to use the “Deal or No Deal” IP and for the show’s main talent, Noel Edmonds, to feature in the advert. Part of the creative required Kevin Bacon to be on the set of the TV program and pick up the phone next to Noel Edmonds. We worked with the studio to deliver the actual set to the client so that they could rebuild it and shoot the spot.

When working with large-scale projects like these, our expertise, planning and project management makes all the difference, along with our close knit relationships with rights holders. Need to clear a still image from a Batman movie?  No problem. The lead actor portraying Batman is not available for the campaign? Also not a problem. We suggested Michael Keaton who also worked with Kevin Bacon and received approval in less than 24 hours, the day before the client’s shoot. 

We are able to deal with even the most outlandish requests in a timely manner, while finding suitable solutions that fit within an agency’s deadlines. In this instance, we encountered a few bumps in the road, but were able to overcome each obstacle thanks to our experience and far-reaching network. 

Once again our contract negotiation and admin services allowed the agency to focus on the creative, whilst we were dealing with hundreds of invoices and approvals on the back end. The campaign at the time had the perfect timing to associate a mobile phone company with streaming TV and movie content on the go, by using truly iconic references. The connection between Kevin Bacon and EE is now ingrained in the brand communication, and carries on to this day. 

3. HALIFAX - “The Wizard of Halifax” 

After dipping their toes into character licensing with Top Cat, creative agency adam&eveDDB knew that handling a high profile clearance project required the help of experts, and approached us to help deliver the next two chapters of their campaign for Halifax. The initial pitch required us to research and vet 100 possible film properties, with the agency and client eventually settling on Ghostbusters and The Wizard of Oz. The latter was the perfect fit for their mortgage product, with Dorothy’s mission to find her home. 

The most challenging aspect of the creative was the prospect of inserting a ‘real life’ Halifax employee into the scene who would interact with the main characters from the movie. Many iconic properties do not allow worlds to mix, as they wish to maintain the integrity of the original narrative. It was our job to provide input on the creative script that would both align with the studio’s needs and accommodate the agency’s creative idea, without clashing with the strict requirements of the movie. For example, the Halifax employee was allowed to have dialogue with Dorothy and her friends, but he was not allowed to touch them or be in the same scene setting. While these may seem like small details, when negotiating the rights licence and obtaining approvals on the materials, they make up a substantial part of the agreement.

When a complex project is on the horizon, our best advice is to carve out plenty of time because understanding the needs and requirements of both parties can be time consuming. Most times we will be able to provide a broad overview of the different types of intellectual properties from the very beginning, as we have likely been there before. Another time consuming and often misunderstood step is the approval process. Rights holders’ requirements might differ somehow, but generally they will want to review and approve every piece of creative materials, as well as have a clear understanding of which and how many assets will be created. A tidy, organised approval process is fundamental for the success of the campaign.

4. TESCO - “Prices That Take You Back”

Tesco and their agency BBH are very aware of the power of nostalgia. Taking inspiration from some of the most loved characters, TV programs, cartoons, vintage toys, and personalities of the last century, Tesco decided to incorporate these icons into their 100th anniversary celebrations. Throughout the year, several TV spots featuring icons such as Mr. Blobby, Anneka Rice, Mr. Motivator, Morph and Chas, Danger Mouse, and Gladiators were developed. 

What is fascinating, and perhaps not so obvious to the wider public, is the granular attention to detail required for these projects. Whenever an agency plans to licence a property, or cast a talent, authenticity is a key element. One example is Anneka Rice’s scene for this campaign. The agency has used an original clip from the TV program Treasure Hunt, with the addition of a body-double recreating the entrance into the supermarket. Not many people will know, though, that the suit worn for the scene is the original costume from the TV program, kindly provided by Anneka who still had it in her closet! The voice overs were also provided by the original talents, as well as archival photographs and clips, which we secured for the client. Partnering with nostalgic properties made for a very successful campaign, with achieved 201% ROI and becoming the highest recalled retail ad in the UK for 2019. 


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Greenlight, a part of BEN Group, Tue, 20 Sep 2022 14:24:22 GMT