Cannes: All Thai’d Up

In Thailand, geckos are known not as Cockney-accented insurance salesmen, but as vital parts of the ecosystem. They eat mosquitos and most citizens tend to have a few of the little green guys scampering around their houses at night.

All of which makes “Jing-Jok” from Publicis Thailand (Bangkok) for Shera Flexy Board—an unsexy product that is used in the construction of walls and ceilings—doubly clever. In fact, the spot is one of three Thai contenders in the Cannes Film category this year that I predict will win big. They’re all fresh, funny and sometimes over the top, but somehow never cynical. Their unique sensibilities have universal appeal, which tends to go over well with judges.

“Jing-Jok,” which features the Romeo and Juliet of gecko-dom, is full of surprises. It opens with Mr. Gecko and his lady love (both animated) running toward each other in the classic slow-motion of romantic movies. The upright pair embrace, but then, suddenly, their whole world falls apart. Literally. It turns out the two are canoodling on a roof that has started to crack and, unfortunately for the Mrs., she’s at the wrong place at the wrong time. She falls through the broken roof to the patio below, where men are playing chess, landing—splat—in the middle of the board, where she dies a bloody death.

But that’s not what upsets the chess players. They look up to where the male gecko, too bereft to live without his beloved, is contemplating suicide. Someone says, “That must be her lover!” They watch as Mr. Gecko melodramatically jumps to his death.

“Why didn’t you use Shera ceiling board?” the horrified guests ask their host.

Selling ceiling board as gecko suicide prevention is probably an idea that wouldn’t come up much in other cultures. But in any language, it works.

Speaking of geckos, these days insurance has become a hot creative category in the U.S. But the Thai population is just warming up to the idea of forking over for life insurance and is not always enthusiastic about it. Another sure winner is the episodic campaign for Bangkok Life Assurance from Creative Juice/G1 (Bangkok) that plays off such wary attitudes.

In it, an insurance agent turns into a giant cockroach (has someone been reading Kafka?). It’s a very well produced bug, too. But lest we get too swept away by the high falutin’ literary reference, in the first spot (introduced with the title card, “Golden rules of a salesman. Chapter one. Close the deal at the first meeting”) a preyed-upon client kicks the sad salesbug to the curb with a Thai recrimination translated on screen as, “Get lost, you scumbag!” Now there’s a line that wouldn’t come up a lot in ads here. (The insect’s sales pitch, though, “If you die, your children will be damn rich!” could use some work.) Anyway, a cockroach version of Willie Loman, the bug gets rejected wherever he goes. (This is the narrative of all three episodes, all of which start with chapter headings.)

Finally, the cockroach saves a boy who’s gotten into an accident and the grateful dad—the earlier epithet hurler—makes the bug his agent. As they sit together in the hospital, the agent turns into a human. By American standards, the change is a bit sentimental. But just as it seems to get obvious, there’s a redeeming joke: The salesman still has two antennae growing out of his forehead, which his new client removes.

The most-watched shows in Thailand are evening soap operas, and the advertising often matches that genre. Case in point: Another episodic campaign, this one for Smooth E face wash from JEH United (Bangkok); it won gold in the Film category last year and has gotten even better.

Aimed at teens, the seven-episode campaign aggressively takes shots at Paris Hilton types. (I guess she’s an icon of airheadedness that’s now universally loathed.) Whereas Dove’s “Evolution”—an Internet film from Ogilvy & Mather Toronto that will be the toast of the award show—ends with the lofty question, “How have we so distorted our notions of beauty?” the Smooth E serial hits a little harder.

One spot shows a starving teen saving for the right handbag. (In another spot, a teen in a blonde wig that resembles Paris’ hair wants to leave school to be “a star.”)

“Don’t be an idiot!” the saleswoman tells the girl who hasn’t eaten in days. “Material things come and go like bubbles. Now,” she says, facing the camera, “let me sell the product first…”

It’s hilarious when the woman breaks the fourth wall and addresses us directly—she’s all business. That could be because in Thailand, advertising is also a vital part of the ecosystem. And maybe the key to its greatness is that while it’s important, it never takes itself too seriously.