Keep living the dream, Ferris

Advertising has an uneasy relationship with the movies, but studios are increasingly seeing their films as brands in their own right

When I go to the cinema I like to arrive early. Don’t ask me to queue for popcorn, and no, I won’t wait for you outside the ladies, because I’m here to see something important. Ten minutes before the film begins and the auditorium is starting to fill. What are these people doing? It’s the new Audi spot, it cost a million quid to make, and this lot are all talking, playing Words With Friends and rattling their Maltesers. It’s like they’ve come deliberately, just to demonstrate their disregard for what I do for a living. The ad industry envies the movie business. It’s pathetic really. Our share of the viewer’s attention, our budgets, our salaries, are just like theirs, only much smaller. Advertising, which is our lives, is something film directors do when they’re not working – a lucrative hobby, slightly shameful. Even our best doesn’t come close: Guinness ‘Surfer’ is to Apocalypse Now as Cannes is to the Oscars. No wonder so many creatives suffer from Ridley Scott Syndrome: haunted by the dream that one day they’ll tell the ECD to piss off and go and make their name in Hollywood. If we idolise directors in the Kubrick mould, the ones who get to do exactly what they want, it’s because we never get to do exactly what we want. Of course, the dream is constructed on a delusion – if you’re inclined to think of advertising clients as a bunch of interfering philistines, you’ll just love studio executives – but it remains potent. The Orange Gold Spot campaign, currently going through something of a mirthless low under Fallon, is the creative’s nightmare. You get to make a film, but the clients are still there. And this is getting closer and closer to reality. Even if they never make it up the red carpet, brands have found a way of getting in through a side door. Films, after all, are products, and, increasingly, brands in their own right. The million dollar punts that determine whether or not a script gets made are very slightly less risky if you’re dealing with a franchise. Pirates of the Caribbean 6, or your hilarious script about the advertising copywriter who ends up winning a BAFTA? I know which my money’s on, baby. And as studios have begun to think of films as brands, exporting their ‘branded properties’ in the other direction has become much easier to contemplate. So Ferris Bueller shills for Honda, Yoda sells Vodafone and the Muppets sell milk. Something has changed: these aren’t celebrities, they’re characters. It doesn’t seem fair. Cinema offers true escapism, the closest we ever get to seeing the world through someone else’s eyes. The interaction of character and brand shatters that illusion, reminding us that these characters exist in the same world as us, where people’s primary concern is the buying and selling of things for money. I know that’s the reality, but I’d rather keep dreaming. Even if that means staying on the noisier side of the BBFC certificate.

Gordon Comstock is a creative based in London. He tweets at @notvoodoo

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