A Bug’s Life

Nervous viewers might want to hide loose objects around their easy chairs. Televisions may suffer collateral damage as people throw things at the on-screen cockroaches in J. Walter Thompson’s new work for Orkin Pest Control.

Like last year’s “Fake Out,” which was structured around a low-budget ad for a fictional fabric softener, the agency’s new 15-second spots set up unsuspecting viewers with commercials so commonplace, Mike Lollis, executive creative director at JWT in Atlanta, claims, “They have almost become clichés.”

In “Fake Out,” a computer-generated roach skitters across the picture, followed by the Orkin man wielding his spritzer. (The commercial caused so many people to damage their sets that Orkin sponsored a promotion to give away free TVs, a tactic it plans to repeat this year.)

The new spots that broke last week, part of the $10 million budget, parody a perfume ad and a promo for a fictional new TV show starring Gary Coleman.

The former Diff’rent Strokes star plays private investigator Timmy Townsend in a series reminiscent of one the networks cobble together after their lineup bombs.

Coleman, in a white trench coat and fedora, stands on a wall with the well-known Los Angeles skyline behind him. The spot was shot on location at the Dodger Stadium parking lot. The soundtrack kicks in with Timmy’s theme song, “He’s looking for some clues and busting some moves …” as Coleman breaks into a cheesy dance number. “A lot of thinking went into the choreography,” jokes director David Dryer.

As the cockroach appears, a shocked Coleman goes tumbling over the wall. Enter Orkin: “When bugs get into your house, there’s only one way to get them out.”

Despite Coleman’s reputation in Hollywood as a temperamental personality, sources say he performed beautifully. He refused a stuntman, tumbling over the wall like a trooper and into the arms of a catcher below. “There’s a big hill behind the wall,” says Lollis. “We needed the catcher to keep Gary from rolling 300 feet down.”

In the second spot, “Pegasus,” shot in slow motion using gauze filters by SunSpots Dryer in Los Angeles, a model rides Godiva-like on a winged horse through puffy clouds. The voiceover intones, “On the wings of a legend, he senses your arrival.”

“We’re walking the line between pure parody and wanting people to kind of believe,” says Lollis. “Besides, a perfume spot is a nice counterpoint to a cockroach rolling across the screen.”

The spots, which will air on various cable networks, including A&E, TBS, TNT, The Learning Channel, MSNBC and Bravo, follow last spring’s successful effort. Orkin’s cockroach made prime-time appearances on many TV broadcasts and guest starred on the CBS Eveni ng News With Dan Rather.

“The response was so overwhelming I stopped counting after the 100th media call,” says Lollis, who created “Fake Out” for the Atlanta client. “We thought we’d revisit, and see if the joke works a second time.”