Davidandgoliath Ups Universal’s Scare Factor

LOS ANGELES Taking its controversial “Halloween Horror Nights” campaign to new levels of terror, Universal Orlando Studios today breaks ads that introduce a demented film director with a skewed vision of cinema verite.

The effort, from davidandgoliath in Los Angeles, includes two 30-second TV spots, as well as outdoor, print and radio ads, that feature “The Director.”

The ads, tagged, “Have you met the director?” tout the theme park’s 21-night event. Both TV spots, which were shot in black-and-white, open to the strains of a re-recorded version of “You Ought to Be in Pictures. ” In one execution, a jester is tied to a chair. The director frames the scene with his hands and tapes the character, who has crumbling makeup and tears in his eyes. Hooks are fastened to each side of the jester’s mouth as a torture device pulls his mouth into a smile. A ball from the jester’s cap falls, and theater-style curtains close.

The second spot, “Electrocution,” has a man strapped down and immersed in a dirty bathtub with a few inches of water on the bottom, a rubber duck floating by his feet. He struggles to free himself as the director films the scene. A hand is shown throwing the switch on an electrical breaker, which is followed by a scream.

“We try to capture this whole notion of silent horror and try to not give away too much,” said chief creative officer David Angelo, adding that the agency wanted to “up the scare factor” in the campaign. “The way Universal does it, they scare you in the most unexpected, extraordinary way.”

The campaign targets 18- to 24-year-olds, said davidandgoliath management supervisor Mike Braue.

Last year’s ads, which featured a creepy character called “The Caretaker” who tweaked the toes of cadavers and plotted dismemberment with gruesome tools, made headlines on Florida news station WKMG-TV. The station assured viewers it would not air the ads before 11:30 p.m. and had a clinical psychologist weigh in on the ads [Adweek, Oct. 14, 2002].

“This is Halloween, at the end of the day,” said Angelo. “This is the type of audience that would die to be on Fear Factor.”

Spending could not be determined. Universal Orlando spent $7 million on ads in 2002 and $2 million for the first six months of 2003, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

TV spots are running in Florida markets that include Jacksonville, West Palm, Miami, Fort Myers, Tallahassee, Orlando and Tampa.

The associate creative directors on the spots were Ben Purcell and John Figone. Anne Bioty handled art direction, and Melissa Pipeling was the copywriter. Anne Kurtzman was the executive producer, and Dean Karr of The Mine in Los Angeles directed the ads.

Five radio spots, which are tied to the client’s promotional partners, Burger King and Coca-Cola, will run in Orlando and Tampa.

Halloween Horror Nights is now in its 13th year. Since it launched, attendance has grown by more than 900 percent. In 2002, it reached an all-time attendance record of 400,000 people, up 53 percent from 2001, the agency said.