Creative Campaigns: Fashion Statement

Fallon to Buddy Lee:Let the games begin
Fearing that its popular Buddy Lee campaign for Lee Dungarees was becoming “commodified,” David Lubars, president and creative director of Fallon in Minneapolis, and group creative director Mike Lescarbo decided to give the work an added twist. And who better to tap than Linus Karlsson and Paul Malmstrom.
Known as “the Swedes,” Malmstrom and Karlsson have created such offbeat ad characters as Dick, Miller Lite’s self-proclaimed advertising superstar, and MTV’s Jukka Brothers. Lubars and Lescarbo were sure the duo could find the right tack to make Buddy appealing to a younger generation.
“We had to push [the campaign] back toward the edge of the road,” Lubars says. “The Swedes are good at that so we let them run with it.”
The result is another unusual campaign from Fallon. The new work (with an undisclosed media budget), which broke last week on cable TV, features three villains–longhaired go-cart racer Curry, tracksuit-wearing disc jockey Super Greg and self-taught martial-arts expert Roy–trying to beat Buddy in head-to-head competitions.
The spots are part of an interactive campaign intended to drive viewers to Buddy’s Web site, There, viewers get a chance to compete against the 70-year-old spokesdoll online.
Having devised the gist of the campaign–that each spot should involve a contest–Lubars and Lescarbo turned the actual creation over to Malmstrom and Karlsson to bring to fruition.
The Swedes considered several ideas before making their final selections. “We saw the potential in how [these three competitions] would play out in terms of variety,” says art director Malmstrom.
With the contests ready to go, Malmstrom and Karlsson created composite sketches of Buddy’s challengers. But the characters didn’t come to life until casting. Karlsson and Malmstrom were looking for actors who could portray a balance of arrogance and incompetence.
“In their heads, they’re champions; but to the viewer, they’re not,” Malmstrom says. “Buddy Lee’s persona is quite the opposite of these characters. They’re loud, cocky and arrogant; Buddy is not.”
Shot this spring in London by Fredrik Bond, the spots show Buddy defeating the villains at their own game. In one, Super Greg scratches out a beat on his turntables, then challenges Buddy to do better. With the help of a fork and an electric eel, Buddy easily wins.
In the other ads, Buddy survives Curry’s underhanded tactics to win the girl at a go-cart race. The rivets of Buddy’s jeans reflect Roy’s laser back at him in a martial-arts competition. In a wink to the hometown team, Minnesota Vikings’ defensive lineman John Randall was cast as Roy. Last season, Randall kept a photo of Buddy Lee in his locker and took to calling himself “Man of Action,” Buddy’s original tagline.
Although Buddy wins every contest, filming those victories sometimes presented a challenge.
Because Buddy is an inanimate object, the shoot required a radio-controlled car for his portion of the go-cart race. When test audiences were unclear how Buddy–who crossed the finish line in a broken-down car after Curry–could declare victory, the agency added a voiceover: “Curry cheats. Buddy wins.”
The integrated campaign also employs radio spots of actual prank phone calls to the company’s headquarters claiming Buddy wasn’t as tough as the ad campaign portrayed. Lee staffers were kept in the dark, and Lee executives weren’t sure what to think until they were shown in the context of the campaign.
Like the original 1998 Buddy Lee effort, which used wild postings and late-night airings of a mockumentary to spread the return of Buddy, the new work attempts to revisit Buddy’s status as a cult hero.
“We’re trying to turn Buddy into a young, edgy thing,” explains Lubars, “so kids can feel he’s too hip for the mass world.” K