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Caustic Comic Leary Stars in New Work for Quaker State

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Quaker State motor oil aims to attract a full range of auto enthusiasts, from casual to hard core, with a $50 million campaign from Tucker, Hampel, Stefanides & Partners that stars comic Denis Leary in one set of spots and a Nascar driving team in another.

Leary, who last pitched the brand in 1998, appears in three 30-second commercials from the New York agency, formed in February when Hampel/Stefanides closed and partners Larry Hampel and Dean Stefanides joined The Tucker Partnership. Quaker State was a client of the latter.

In two spots set to break in May, Leary touts Quaker State's synthetic-blend and high-mileage motor oils. One has the comedian, crowbar in hand, bashing an engine at a used-car lot, sending oil spewing everywhere, to show the beating old engines take. In the other ad, Leary and a fisherman attempt to pull a boat into a driveway. Because the Bronco is not using Quaker State, the boat morphs into a cement truck, lifting the car's front wheels. The strain eventually causes the engine to pop out and sail down a quiet suburban street.

In an ad that broke in late March, the comedian strolls into an auto shop and says, "Listen up, lug nuts," while grabbing a piston from a gearhead. To the mechanic's dismay, Leary subjects the piston to a grinder, demonstrating what friction can do to a poorly lubed motor.

The goal is to play off the comedian's attitude to grab attention, said Sean Kane, THS&P senior partner.

"We last used Denis in 1997 and 1998, but there was no thought of this as a return to what we had done before," Kane said. "We got Denis because he's a vehicle that connects Quaker State with viewers, and he can convey a certain dynamism about the product."

While they also target consumers interested in high performance, the Leary spots are more mass market than a second set with Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick, Kane said. The ads show a montage of racing footage, deconstructed engines and shots of Hendrick Chevy Nascar drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. The Hendrick ads break next week on auto-enthusiast programs such as Nascar Winston Cup races, TNN PowerBlock and ESPN2's RPM Tonight.

The Tucker Partnership's work last year for Quaker State, which featured ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons, racing-school instructor Skip Barber and baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr., was aimed solely at expert enthusiasts, said Kane.

Quaker State, whose competitors include Valvoline and Castrol, is part of Shell Lubricants, as is Pennzoil, said Steve Hanson, svp, motor oil brand management, Shell Lubricants. Pennzoil targets so-called "busy drivers," mostly women, while Quaker State seeks performance enthusiasts, mostly men, Hanson said. The former is in review; finalists in the $30 million pitch are Deutsch/LA, Marina del Rey, Calif.; The Martin Agency, Richmond, Va.; and TBWA\Chiat\Day, Playa del Rey, Calif.

"Part of what we hope, with this effort, is to trade people up from cheaper brands," Hanson said. He added that last year's merger of Quaker State and Pennzoil under Shell rounds out the portfolio. "With that merger, we have Formula Shell [brand] allowing us to compete with the cheaper products."