Loco AmEx Promo Takes Conan to India

The long-awaited Conan show debuted last night on TBS. And while it was a solid start, one of the best things about the opener is that it means no more pre-premiere Team Coco promos.

Sure, it was a tremendously democratic body of work, born out of a certain kind of faux-outrage that resonates right now with the no-job economy. That alone is interesting. Combine the smarts of the TBS promo factory with the sort of self-deprecating anger/endless creativity and ability to use free media of the freckled-one’s crazy-loyal fan base (1.8 million Twitter followers; 309,705 “likes” on Facebook) and you get a whole new folk social media movement.

For example, how else could we have discovered that in domino form, Conan looks like a cross between the Burger King King and Vincent van Gogh, give or take an ear?

With the Live Coco Cam, however, we learned the limits of transparency. The whole thing took place on a staircase landing, which reminded me of the advice our now departed photo editor gave us for shooting at Cannes: try to avoid doing interviews with anyone in front of a bathroom door. Too much coming and going. (And I couldn’t decide whether the Dancing Taco was supposed to be so theme park lame that it was funny, or whether it was supposed to be actually funny. Nice use of orange felt in the shredded carrots, though.)

Having Steel Train play one chord from its new song was the funniest part of “Show Zero.” Washing the desk, a la Paris Hilton, was a good idea, but unfortunately all that hosing time demanded a focus on our lately bearded boy’s “sex face,” which was awkward. Ditto the spot showing the carrot-topped beanpole dancing. He has only one good move: pulling each hip up with invisible string, and we’ve seen that many times.


By far, the best promo showed Conan driving an exploding Dodge Dart off a cliff, a metaphor almost too apt (and clever) for its own good. The whole amazing super-stunt, backed by an orchestra in the desert, ended with O’Brien emerging from the blown-out wreck, dusting himself off, swatting away some errant fire from his sleeve, and saying, “Well, that was expensive!”

Speaking of expensive, the Coco goes to India spot, by Ogilvy & Mather for American Express, blows away all that came before it. Of course, given the budget ($1 million or so to Mr. Coco, for starters) and the director (Bryan Buckley) it’s like comparing having an old-time, well-paying job with lavish benefits to working for free on the Internet.

I imagine most of us are ready to go back to the former anytime. And what a visual treat it is. We see Conan traveling across Japuir, on among other conveyances, an elephant. And he really exercises his mock-heroic, Moses-like acting chops. Not only is it gorgeous to watch (with those deeply saturated colors, it seems hard to take a bad shot), but there’s a real story with a payoff. We see our sad Funny Man bargaining in Hindi with the locals over spools of silk thread; once he is satisfied, he spins his own cloth, weaves it on a loom, stomps on berries to make his own red dye—it gets very Rumpelstiltskin-esque. The Survivor music underscoring his movement is funny, but also moving and poignant. I actually had no idea where it was going until the dye part.

Cut to the moment before the semi-starched, suited-up Conan steps out to his new show, standing before his hand-loomed, hand-dyed, hand-hung fabulous red silk stage curtain. “If you’re really serious about entertainment, every detail counts,” says the announcer, over the AmEx logo.

There’s no real link to the American Express brand except all the great spots using comics and talk show hosts that came before it. That’s pretty powerful.

This might be my favorite AmEx spot of all, and the timing, breaking the night of the premiere, is impeccable. You are no longer a stranger in a strange land: welcome home, Conan. May your stay be full of real, high-end advertising.