The Spot: The Girl Who Got Away

Axe gets stylish, with help from Kiefer Sutherland, in BBH's 'Susan Glenn' ad

IDEA: For its new Axe spot, BBH in New York wanted to dramatize the idea of the girl who got away—and warn its young customers not to let it happen to them. The agency thought it would be most compelling if a celebrity told the story of a lost chance from high school. “It doesn’t matter how charismatic or handsome or funny you are. Everybody has had that person who renders them useless,” said BBH executive creative director Ari Weiss. The agency got Kiefer Sutherland on board to tell the tale of Susan Glenn, his (fictional) girl who got away, in a stylish, surreal spot that plays like a memory—with poetic narration and quietly fantastical dream sequences that lend the sometimes meatheady brand an air of sophistication.

COPYWRITING: Peter Rosch wrote the script; hardly a word was changed from his draft. “I remember her. Not a girl but the girl,” Sutherland says in voiceover, as the camera moves down a high-school hallway to find Susan standing with a friend. “The brains behind the all-time top-10 comic-book vixens only wish they could conjure a siren the likes of Susan Glenn.” The ad proceeds with supernatural visions—a lecture hall shaking and crumbling; Susan floating through the air, pyrotechnics erupting behind her. “Beneath my feet my own private earthquake registered an 8 when Susan Glenn was near,” Sutherland says. “In her presence, all that was beautiful before she arrived turned grotesque. And in her shadow, others became goblin-esque. … In my mind, I was a peasant before a queen.”

At the end, we finally see the actor, looking at himself in the mirror. “If I could do it again, I’d do it differently,” he concludes. An Axe bottle appears with the tagline, “Fear no Susan Glenn.” The narration, like the visuals, is meant to leave you a little dazed—and not be “too rhymey or gushy poetry,” said Weiss. The name Susan Glenn, he added, has “a timeless quality—unique enough but generic enough that it becomes ownable and memorable.”

ART DIRECTION/FILMING: Ringan Ledwidge, who directed The Guardian‘s celebrated “Three Little Pigs” spot, shot this one over three days in Los Angeles. Set in the ’80s, when Sutherland would have been in high school, it has that washed-out, vintage look. “The reference we talked about was an old Polaroid—before Instagram,” said Weiss. The transitions are ethereal—borderless and blurry. Most of the visuals were captured in camera. “We didn’t want the effects to take you out of the memory,” Weiss said.

TALENT: Sutherland has “an incredible voice and a presence that matches that,” said Weiss. The actress who plays Susan auditioned for a different part but became the star. “We wanted a beautiful girl, but with a girl-next-door quality,” Weiss said. “It’s what makes Susan Glenns Susan Glenns. They’re not unapproachable. It’s you that gets in the way.”

SOUND: The sound design is dreamlike, too. Sounds come and go unreliably. “The girls’ laughter in the hallway, early on in the film, was a moment we all loved, but it was fairly muted,” said Weiss. The music is a plaintive piano. “Against Kiefer’s voice, which is music in its own right, it needed to make you feel a bit of regret but not break the romance of it, either,” said Weiss.

MEDIA: The spot began running in cinemas on July 13 and will break on television July 30. A social/digital element will launch soon. Weiss acknowledged the spot is more highbrow than usual for Axe. “This particular idea required this look and feel,” he said. “But it’s a wonderful brand in that it can go in many different directions.”

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