Unexpected Virgin Active ad from Karmarama

It’s January, so it’s time to think about detoxing and joining a gym. What a drag. To help you along, Karmarama has created this new spot for Virgin Active, which ignores all the usual gym bunny clichés and instead features a man riding a motorbike furiously across an African desert in his pants…

It’s January, so it’s time to think about detoxing and joining a gym. What a drag. To help you along, Karmarama has created this new spot for Virgin Active, which ignores all the usual gym bunny clichés and instead features a man riding a motorbike furiously across an African desert in his pants…

The footage of the motorcyclist is intercut at various intervals with short blasts of found film showing various kinds of activity – some are sports-based, but others show scenes from nature, including flowers bursting into bloom. It’s all quite unusual for a gym, but that’s exactly the point, says ECD Sam Walker, who also directed the spot.

“The brief from Virgin Active was to make people reappraise VA and elevate them above the usual gym and health club brands,” he says. “We were trying to actually make them stand for something, a more active but also a more positive way of approaching life. We were creating a feeling, an attitude to life, rather than just a health club … it’s relentlessly positive but not in a cheesy way. We wanted people to look at it and see a guy who is living life how he wants, without fear or restraint. It’s about being active in every way, not just about exercise. We were lucky that the client backed us and wanted to do something brave and different for the category.”

The ad was shot in Calvinia, about eight hours drive from Cape Town (photographs from the shoot shown above and below). Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was a slightly hair-raising experience. “We had very little time or money which is always difficult but sometimes it makes you more resourceful and single-minded,” says Walker. “We were struggling to land our hero cast but when we landed in South Africa there happened to be the biggest biker rally of the year on at the same time. So we went straight from the airport down to the bike festival and started street casting. The guy we chose in the end was just a guy running a T-shirt company. He had a really cinematic face and a confident, self assured aura. We just asked him, ‘how would you feel about riding a bike at high speed through the desert in your pants?’. ‘I’d love to,’ he said and with that we knew we had our man.

“In fact we cast a stunt double as well because I couldn’t be sure how good at riding bikes he was,” Walker continues. “In the end it’s the actor in all but one of the shots which is pretty incredible. It was actually a surprisingly dangerous shoot with lots of room for things to go wrong. If he had come off through hitting a rock or a bump he, and then me, would have been in serious trouble because we were a hell of a long way from the nearest hospital. If he had come off at the speed he was travelling at, wearing pretty much nothing, it wouldn’t have been good.

“Ironically the closest we came to disaster is when the stunt man was doing one of his shots. He hit a big bump going at top speed and there was clear daylight between his feet and the seat of the bike, with the back wheel almost over the front wheel. Only his hands were still attached and it was a miracle he landed without coming off. He’d been a stuntman for 28 years and he said it was the closest he’d come to properly wiping out.”

Credits:
Agency: Karmarama
ECDs: Sam Walker, Joe de Souza
Director: Sam Walker
Production company: Kream

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