Spirit of 1930s Murals Lives On in Morgan Stanley Ads

The art of capitalism

IDEA: Morgan Stanley is charting the future of wealth management by looking back at public art made almost a century ago celebrating capitalism and the American Dream in their darkest hour—the Great Depression. The recent crisis in the markets was less drastic, but a new 60-second anthem from The Martin Agency echoes New Deal-era murals by artists like Thomas Hart Benton and Diego Rivera to illustrate, with a contemporary edge, Morgan Stanley's approach to money.

"The creative brief was to own responsible capitalism and connect that to Morgan Stanley and no one else," said Martin creative director Alon Shoval.

The ad features one long camera move, left to right, across a giant collection of images—a 3-D portrait of American life and work. "Those old murals were meant to motivate people and show them that progress is attainable if you work hard and do things the right way," said Martin senior copywriter Neel Williams. "That's a touch point for our message. It's 80 years later, but we're at a similar, pivotal point in history."

COPYWRITING: It began with a manifesto, which led to the voiceover copy. "There's a pursuit we all share. The pursuit of something better," a male voice says, as a family is seen at a backyard picnic, a painted cityscape rising in the background. "A better life for your family. A better opportunity for your business. A better legacy to leave the world." Morgan Stanley helps clients "succeed the right way," the voice says, allowing the promise of capitalism to "always prosper."

Having panned across six more scenes—restaurant, lab, farm, factory, office, construction site—the camera reveals the speaker, who concludes: "We are Morgan Stanley. And we're ready to work for you." The entire set is then seen from a distance, followed by the company name in gold and the URL morganstanley.com/wealth.

ART DIRECTION/FILMING: The ad was shot in Prague: three weeks of set building, a day of rehearsal and a day of shooting. Director Tarsem Singh had the technical chops to handle it, and also the human touch. "The way he poses people and captures tiny moments is always very universal," said Shoval.

There are three layers to the image—actors posing on a stage in the foreground; a mix of painted images and set design in the middle ground; a digital matte painting in the background. "The Mill did a fantastic job of separating that back piece out into layers and tracking it with the right amount of parallax to create that 3-D feel," said Martin associate creative director D'Arcy O'Neill.

The spot has both a historical and contemporary vibe, achieved by using vintage composition and color techniques on modern objects and environments. "That gave it a foot in the past, while the objects and words have a foot in the future," said O'Neill. Filming as much in camera as possible mirrored the brand message of doing things right. "We tried to live the brief," O'Neill said.

TALENT: The main actor was "approachable but had a commanding presence," said Williams. The extras "look like your neighbors, but look like they should be in a TV spot, too," he added.

SOUND: An original piano score swells at the end in an orchestral flourish. "It had to jump through a lot of hoops," said Williams. "It had to fit with the artful aesthetic. It had to leave room for the voiceover. And it had to amplify the emotion that we were cooking up through the words and pictures."

MEDIA: The spot, which will also air as a :30, broke during the U.S. Open golf tournament. A print spread, done in a similar style and photographed by Nadav Kander, broke the following Monday in The Wall Street Journal.