Riney Authors First Union Ads
Advertising in the financial services category often follows a predictable pattern and a boring stereotype--that banking is one big warm and fuzzy experience for consumers.
Better put away the cocoa: There's a new guy in town.
Well, not exactly a new guy. The legendary creative director Hal Riney, chairman of Publicis & Hal Riney in San Francisco, has his own macabre take on just how cold and harsh the financial world can be.
The agency collaborated with George Lucas' visual-effects house, Industrial Light & Magic in San Rafael, Calif., to create a fantastical place called the "Financial World"--a Metropolis-like planet where continents are shaped like dollar signs and almost everything is made from financial symbols, such as currency and huge Corinthian columns (as seen on the back of a $50 bill). This virtual world, several months in the making, exists in only one place--a new $80-100 million TV campaign for First Union Bank, the institution's first national effort.
The introductory 60-second spot, which broke last week, features a world filled with darkly dressed, clonelike people. When one man in a black trench coat and matching bowler hat collapses to the ground, his head (a plaster model from ILM) shatters and coins and bills spew out. A merry-go-round in the seedy and carnival-esque "money market," with garish bulls and bears as mounts, wildly spins riders who grab at brass rings. Compact red cars (representing debt) buzz past sleek black sedans (wealth) on the city streets.
The greatest challenge in pulling off the campaign, say ILM director Steve Beck and agency creative director Paul Mimiaga, was bringing Hal Riney's grand vision to life.
"There were no boards for this," says Beck. "We were given one-page, written concepts from [Riney], and we pretty much just took it from there."
"We had no fences," Mimiaga adds. "We realized we could create this place from scratch, and it was a daunting task."
To create the city, ILM assembled a team of more than 200 computer animators, model makers, animal trainers and actors. Production costs for the initial two spots are estimated at $8-10 million, and First Union is expected to shell out at least another
$30-50 million to develop upcoming TV, radio, print and outdoor work. (At least eight new TV spots are in production.)
In a behind-the-scenes video explaining the work, Beck claims the spot includes one scene that is "more complex than anything done for the first Star Wars [movie]." The shot, which takes a panoramic, sweeping view of the Financial World from the top of San Francisco's Emporium Building, involved the use of computer animation, bluescreen and matte paintings.
A second spot further illustrates financial dangers with remote-controlled sharks, real frogs, and live crocodiles with their jaws safely taped shut, all inhabiting a murky "sea of money" filled with $4 million in fake "movie money." Sprayed with Scotchguard, the faux money stayed afloat for more than 48 hours. The sea itself was created in a half-submerged bank vault, built in a swimming pool at the local, abandoned Alameda Naval Air Station.
Hundreds of feet above the fray--or so it appears--stands the futuristic and gleaming tower of First Union. In reality, the building is a seven-foot-high model that was filmed in a parking lot on a sunny day last summer, says Chris Perkins, account manager at Riney.
Hal Riney himself, who lends his distinct, commanding voice to the commercials, wraps each one with: "Come to the mountain called First Union, or if you prefer, the mountain will come to you." Riney's voiceover is delivered over a 72-piece orchestra (The London Philharmonic), playing an original score by composer Walter Werzowa of Musikvergnugen in Los Angeles.
The level of personal commitment to First Union by the low-key Riney is indicative of a time of rejuvenation for the chairman. With Scott Marshall firmly entrenched as president and with this year's acquisition by Publicis behind him, the 60-something Riney is "more involved than ever" at the agency, says Mimiaga.
In the past, Riney has been a hands-on creative force on work for Bartles & James wine coolers, Black Star beer and the shop's early ads for Saturn cars. But lately, he had been deferring to members of his team, such as longtime colleagues and creative directors Jerry Andelin and Mimiaga or executive creative directors Dave O'Hare and John Doyle.
Riney's decision to commit himself personally to First Union's campaign resulted from several "man-to-man, closed-door" sessions with bank chairman and chief executive officer Ed Crutchfield, who shared his personal thoughts about how he wanted First Union to be perceived nationwide. Although the bank does not have a large physical presence throughout the country, it does offer national financial services.
"This work is truly the result of [Crutchfield's] desire to do something different," says Mimiaga. "He has an open mind and an open wallet. He also has one of the last boardrooms where you can smoke cigars, which was definitely good for both him and Hal."
At a party held Sept. 24 at First Union's Charlotte, N.C., headquarters, Riney told his staff and First Union employees (in a prepared videotaped statement): "We're going to introduce the name of First Union to this country with an ad campaign that will not be mistaken for anyone else's. In fact, the campaign is unlike any advertising anyone else in any business has ever done before."
For such an important task, Beck of ILM (which also helped create Riney's award-winning launch spot for General Motor's EV-1 electric car) seems somewhat surprised at the level of freedom he was given by the agency and client. "This project has been a remarkable experience. This is the first time in my career people have said, 'Do what you want. We trust you.' That was the attitude of Ed Crutchfield and Hal Riney."