Chew on This

With a lingering shot of a dog eating a human tongue, Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s latest “Truth” spot for the Florida Department of Health offers a new interpretation of the chew in chewing tobacco.

The spot was shot by American History X director Tony Kaye, an Englishman with a flair for bizarre and shocking visuals. He delivers the message—chewing tobacco can cause oral cancer—with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

A burly young man in a blue T-shirt stands on one side of a barrier, taunting a vicious junkyard dog. He whips the animal into a frenzy by slathering his own tongue with barbecue sauce and sticking it through a knothole in the wall. The payoff is played out brutally: The dog lunges at the wall, bites off the guy’s tongue, then gobbles it up. The raw quality of the scene is topped off with sounds of the dog’s lips smacking together.

A voiceover asks, “How attached are you to your tongue? If you chew tobacco, you can lose your tongue, part of your jaw, even your life.”

“Junkyard Dog” is the Miami shop’s first broadcast piece focusing on the lesser-known health risks of chewing tobacco. And it’s a departure from the anti-smoking message in much of Crispin’s well-known “Truth” work on behalf of the Florida Department of Health.

“We were looking to get peoples’ attention,” says Bogusky, creative director at the shop. “But the finished spot is a lot more shocking than any of us envisioned.”

So disturbing, in fact, that Bo gusky suspects that skittish TV executives in the spot’s north and central Florida target markets—where a “chaw” of Red Man or Skoal is somewhat a right of passage—will refuse to air it when it is distributed as a PSA next month.

Bogusky met Kaye in May at the Clio Awards in Miami, where the director picked up a lifetime-achievement award. Kaye gave a presentation to Crispin’s creatives on the hurdles he encountered trying to fund and film American History X and—on the ad side—how he approaches projects and clients. A relationship was born.

“Eight days after I met them, they sent me a script,” says Kaye. “I want to do good work in every arena, and this was an opportunity to engage my work in a worthwhile project.” After reading the script, Kaye set up the piece by adding the opening shots showing the guy taunting the dog.

Kaye admits he used a typical suspense formula. “The image of someone slathering their tongue with barbecue sauce and sticking it through a hole is the seed for a sensational piece of imagery. The jeopardy for that tongue is huge!” he says, borrowing the lingo of the slasher-film business.

The tongue belongs to Alex Sol, a Miami actor now based in Los Angeles who worked with Kaye in American History X. Sol spent half a day last month pouring barbecue sauce on his tongue (and rinsing it off) in Joe’s Junkyard, a fly-specked wrecking yard near Home stead, Fla. “He was really good about it,” says copywriter Brian Tierney. “We didn’t want too goofy or too intimidating.”

Tierney and art director Alex Burnard decided on the junkyard-dog concept after working their way through a series of over-the-top scenarios—tongues tied to door knobs, the bumpers of speeding cars or an anvil that is tossed off a bridge.

“The research shows that when you chew tobacco, you don’t care about your tongue,” says Tierney. “We wanted something that communicated this idea at the visceral level. Like it or hate it, you’re not going to forget this spot.”

Florida Department of Health
Agency: Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Miami
Creative Director: Alex Bogusky
Art Director: Alex Burnard
Copywriter: Brian Tierney
Producer: Rupert Samuel
Director: Tony Kaye
Production Company: Tony Kaye Films, Los Angeles