Keira Knightley in an early frame of 2014 Chanel ad.
“She’s Not There”-The Zombies
Holding out a bottle of her perfume, she beckons the man who has spotted her from below.
Danila catches her perfume bottle, but she has moved...
...She’s joined the party, as Danila walks toward her...
...But then she vanishes as their paths are crossed...
Next day. Danila on a river bridge, sees a boat below...
..”It’s that Coco dame from the party last night”...
Bringing her boat to swirling turn, she glances back up at the man she left enchanted the previous evening...
In March 2014, English actress Keira Knightley and the 1960s’ British rockers, The Zombies, teamed up to do a bit of advertising for Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle perfume. The TV ad, seen during primetime telecasts, has Hollywood-quality production values with its own little 60-second story line. But the interesting attention-getter in this ad – apart from Knightley’s good looks and a smartly designed set – is how well the music works with the ad’s mini plot.
The song is “She’s Not There,” sampled at right. It was a top hit in the U.S., the U.K., and elsewhere 50 years ago. Still, in the Chanel TV spot, the Zombies’ sound is crisp and clear, the vocals airy and enticing, and the lyrics aptly suited to Ms. Knightley as she glides through the frames. It is also one of those songs that will catch the ear of those from an earlier time who unexpectedly hear it and are pleasantly astonished at its quality, reminded once again how good the music was from those years.
The new Coco Mademoiselle perfume ad, explains Chanel’s promo, “reveals Keira Knightley, full of mystery and fascination,” a woman “with a unique and carefree style.” In fact, she is cast as something of a high-class tease, being elusive and alluring as she enters a party setting, playing with her quarry, Russian actor Danila Kozlovsky. And the Zombies’ music helps set the stage:
Well no one told me about her;
The way she lied…
Well no one told me about her;
How many people cried.
The ad races by in 30 or 60 seconds, depending on the cut – as all things commercial these days go by faster and faster it seems, no thanks to quick-cut advertising. Nevertheless, the imagery in this ad works reasonably well, as a sampling of screenshots at right offer a look at some of the ad’s visuals and storyline.
Knightley, in a sexy white gown, is seen lounging early on in the ad, silhouetted behind a glass screen applying a drop of the magic potion. She then makes an appearance on a central staircase, catching the eye of her leading man, Danila, who is mesmerized by her beauty, gazing up at the staircase.
Knightley, whose recent film credits include Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, and Anna Karenina, has been the face of Chanel since 2007, starring as founder Coco Chanel in earlier spots. In this newest role, she is cast as the elusive and mysterious Coco, who typically lures the best-looking man in the house and then vanishes – or as the Zombies put it, “she’s not there.”
Descending the staircase into the cocktail party, she teases her new mark, holding out a bottle of Coco Mademoiselle Chanel perfume, which she drops as Danila lunges to retrieve it. When he looks up for her, she is gone, now on the other side of the room. As he strides across the room to meet her, another party guest crosses his path, and in a burst of cosmic sparkle, Keira vanishes. Again, the Zombie refrain:
Please don’t bother trying to find her;
She’s not there.
Cut to the next day, as Danila is walking across a bridge talking on his mobile phone when he spies the casually-attired Keira piloting a speedboat on the river below. As she passes beneath the bridge, he runs to other side to catch another look at her. Making a turn with her boat on the other side of the bridge, she glances back up at him – the man she left bedazzled and wanting at the party the previous evening.
The camera then cuts to a final close-up of Kiera’s beautiful face and inquiring brown eyes, as the Zombies add their final lyrics — no doubt with a sequel to come.
Let me tell you ’bout
the way she looked,
The way she acted, the color of hair;
Her voice was soft and cool;
Her eyes were clear and bright;
But she’s not there.
In the U.S., the ad ran in primetime, during shows such as Once Upon A Time, Blacklist, Parenthood, and others, and sometimes there was an “available at Macy’s” or other retail tag at the ad’s end, along with a concluding shot of the Coco Mademoiselle perfume bottle.
At the Chanel.com website, the perfume is described as “daring and bold, yet sensual and elegant….Inspired by the irrepressible spirit of the young Coco Chanel, the modern Oriental fragrance entices with an utterly feminine composition, expressing refined sensuality and incredible freshness.” The website also includes the video of the TV ad.
The entire mini production, as a piece of commercial persuasion designed mostly for female viewers, is nicely done, and the Zombies’ tune helps to make it work. What follows below is more about the Zombies, their music, and their history.
Cover for the 1965 vinyl U.S. album featuring The Zombies’ hit songs, “She’s Not There” & “Tell Her No.”
The Zombies formed in 1962 from a group of young musicians in St. Albans, England. Paul Atkinson, Rod Argent, and Hugh Grundy met at St. Albans School, and they soon linked up with Colin Blunstone and bassist Paul Arnold, although Arnold would be replaced by Chris White six months later.
After winning a music competition sponsored by the London Evening News, they signed with Decca records in 1964 and soon scored their first hit song, “She’s Not There.” The song was written by Rod Argent, only his second at that point, written for the group’s Decca recording session on June 12th, 1964 at Decca’s West Hampstead Studio. It was one of four songs recorded by the Zombies at that session. The Zombies’ lineup then included Argent on keyboard and vocals, Paul Atkinson on guitar and vocals, Chris White on bass and vocals, Hugh Grundy on drums, and Colin Blunstone singing lead vocals.
1960s: The young Zombies (l to r): Rod Argent, Chris White, Paul Atkinson, Colin Blunstone, Hugh Grundy.
“She’s Not There,” an electric-piano based tune, with Blunstone’s lead vocals, was released in July 1964. “This minor-key, jazz-tinged number, distinguished by its musicianship and Blunstone’s breathy vocal,” Rolling Stone would later write, “was unlike anything heard in British rock at the time.” The song peaked at No. 12 on the U.K. charts. It would become the group’s only Top 40 hit in the U.K.. In the U.S., however, it did better. It was first heard there in early August 1964 on New York City’s WINS radio station with Stan Burns, who debuted the song on his noontime “Hot Spot”segment. The song caught on that fall throughout the country and in early December 1964, climbed to No. 1 on the Cashbox chart and No.2 on Billboard Hot 100, remaining in the Top 40 for 12 weeks. Wrote one book reviewer of the group and their first hit song some years later:
…In 1964 a practically unknown British beat group calling themselves The Zombies released a single on Decca Records bearing the title “She’s Not There.” Incredibly dynamic and built on driving, jazzy bass line over which drums, electric piano and voice were forming individual rhythms and pattern almost like in a piece of Baroque chamber music, this unusual record gave a glimpse of a future where musical styles could be merged freely and without prejudice. It was very much of its time, a charming little slice of pop vynil, easy to take, hard to let go…
Decca-issued 45 rpm for Zombies’ 1965 hit, “Tell Her No,” which rose to No. 6 in the U.S.
A second Zombies single missed the mark, but another, “Tell Her No,” released in December 1964 in the U.S., entered the Top 40 there in January 1965, rising to No. 6 in March and remaining in the the Top 40 for eight weeks. “Tell Her No” was only a minor hit for The Zombies in Britain, where it peaked at No.42 on the UK Singles Chart in February 1965.
“Tell Her No”-Zombies
Throughout 1965 and into 1966, the Zombies toured America and Europe. In 1965, they also became involved with the British film Bunny Lake Is Missing, a psychological thriller starring Laurence Olivier, directed and produced by Otto Preminger. The Zombies were featured on the film’s poster for three songs they did for the soundtrack: “Remember You”, “Just Out of Reach” and “Nothing’s Changed.” They also appeared in the film, prominently featured performing on television in a pub scene. They also recorded a two-minute radio ad set to the tune of “Just Out of Reach” to promote the film’s release. However, in 1966, no big, fresh hits came their way. By early 1967, at a time when their record career had almost ground to a halt in the UK, the Zombies played to crowds of over 30,000 in the Philippines. Yet, at that point, the group appeared to be at a crossroads of sorts.
1968: The Zombies’ “Odessey & Oracle” album cover.
With their Decca recording contract about to expire, the group decided that they would make a final album before calling it quits. In the spring of 1967, they signed with CBS Records to produce a studio album, only the second of their career. From these sessions would come the album Odessey and Oracle. They produced the music themselves on a shoestring budget.
They began working on the album in June 1967, and nine of the twelve songs were recorded at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios. In August, when the Abbey Road studio became unavailable, they moved to Olympic Studios where three more songs were recorded. The following month they returned to Abbey Road, finishing in November with the album’s final track.
Along the way, and during some of the sessions, there had been a few testy exchanges among band members. By the end of the sessions, morale was at a low point. Two Zombies’ singles at the time had also been unsuccessful, and demand for their live appearances had declined. After a final stage performance in mid-December 1967, the band split up.
Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent from photo on CD cover, “As Far As I Can See,” 2004.
The album they produced for CBS, meanwhile, languished. Only after U.S. CBS staff producer Al Kooper fought to have it issued, was it released. “Without Al,” explained Rod Argent some years later in a DigBoston.com interview, Odessey and Oracle “wouldn’t have been known by anybody. He took it to Clive Davis and said, ‘Whoever’s got this album, you’ve got to buy it and release it.’ Clive Davis said, ‘Well we’ve got it, but we passed on it already.’ Al said, ‘Well you can’t. You have to put it out.’ So he had everything to do with that album coming out.” Kooper, having picked up an early copy of the album during a trip to London, loved it and believed it contained a few hit singles. CBS/Columbia released it in April 1968 on a subsidiary label, Date Records.
The Zombies – “Time of The Season”
Odessey and Oracle did not have soaring sales initially, but Kooper’s belief about some of the songs as singles was right on the money. CBS chose the song “Butcher’s Tale” as the first single to release in the States, feeling the song’s anti-war theme (based on World War I) would resonate with record-buyers due to the Vietnam War. However, it was another song that really hit paydirt – “Time of the Season.” This song was written by Rod Argent and recorded by the Zombies at Abbey Road in August of 1967. It was also released as a single with the album in April 1968, but did not receive much attention at the time. But after a few U.S. radio DJs discovered it 1969 and began playing it more frequently, it became a huge nationwide hit. By February 1969 it entered the U.S. Top 40, an din March rose to No. 3 on the Billboard pop chart. It also became a million seller, remaining in the Top 40 for eleven weeks. “Time of The Season” was also a No. 1 hit in Canada in March 1969.
Big Beat’s 2010 EP special featuring Zombies’ “Time of Season” & others. Click for Big Beat page & details.
With the success of “Time of the Season,” the band was urged to reform – and they were offered sizeable sums of money to do so, but they refused. Some of them were fed up with the music business and began other pursuits. Rod Argent was then moving ahead with plans for a another band he and others would form, called Argent. He would be joined there by Chris White, who came on as a non-performing songwriter. One of Argent’s hit songs, “Hold Your Head Up,” was written by Argent and White. Blunstone at first went back to work in insurance, but then returned to singing, putting out several LPs in the 1970s on his own, forming a group called Keats, and also singing with the Alan Parsons Project. Atkinson went into computer programming initially, but later did A&R work (Artists & Repertoire), first for Columbia in New York and later as a v. p. for A&R at RCA’s West Coast office. [“A&R” is the division of a record label or music publishing company that is responsible for talent scouting and overseeing the artistic development of recording artists and/or songwriters. A&R people also serve as liaison between artists and record labels or publishing companies ]. Grundy also worked in Columbia’s A&R department, and in the 1980s also ran a horse transport business near London.
1997: Big Beat’s “Zombie Heaven” box set.
“I still have it indelibly framed in my mind that when we split, there was no interest in the band anywhere,” said Colin Blunstone, in a 1998 interview with New York Times pop music reporter, Neil Strauss. “That’s one of the reasons we all went our separate ways. And that stays with you. You have this feeling of not being particularly appreciated as you go off and do other things.” But time would change that.
Better With Time
The Zombies would prove to be one of those groups whose music would be belatedly discovered by some, and whose songs would grow in appreciation with time. Helping that process along has been the Big Beat record label of Ace Records in London. In late 1997, Big Beat issued Zombie Heaven, a four-CD box set that gathered up every vintage Zombies recording it could find and remastered them in one set. That set became one of the best-selling titles in the Ace Records catalogue. It even surprised some of the Zombies.
“Overall, the box set made a much better impression than I expected,” said Rod Argent to Neil Strauss of the New York Times in a 1998 review. “It’s strange, actually, because looking back on those early Zombies singles I don’t quite feel the same frustration now. Some of them sound excellent to me.” Argent also had words of praise for guitarist Chris White after listening to the box set. “In fact, I phoned him up after I listened to it and said, ‘I don’t want this to sound patronizing, Chris, but I’ve just got to tell you, your bass playing is great.’ It’s probably something I’ve never said to him before. So I said it 30 years too late.”
Cover of Claes Johansen’s 2001 biography of the Zombies, “Hung Up On A Dream.”
Neil Strauss of the Times also noted some of the Zombies’ work in his review: “Over the course of the ensuing decades, [The Zombies’] final album… Odessey and Oracle – a beautifully arranged, harmony drenched pristine pop paean to memory, the changing seasons, the passage of time and lost love – slowly began to be recognized as one of the greatest albums of the 1960s.” Others have also cited the album. In 2003, Odessey and Oracle was ranked at No. 100 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”
Several other music magazines have also ranked the album on various “greatest” and/ or “best ever” albums lists – including Stylus, Mojo, NME, and Q, as well as The Guardian. Some have also compared Odessey and Oracle to the Beatles’ Revolver album and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album. Music critic Richie Unterberger has offered similar kudos: “Aside from the Beatles and perhaps the Beach Boys, no mid-’60s rock group wrote melodies as gorgeous as those of the Zombies.” In addition, a variety of performing artists have also cited Odessey and Oracle as a favorite or an influence on their own work, including: Tom Petty, Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, Paul Weller of the punk band The Jam, and teenage UK indie band, The Vaccines. Rod Argent also belatedly discovered that Elvis Presley had Zombies singles on his personal play list, and that John Lennon wanted to produce the band. In 2001, a Zombies biography was published by Claes Johansen, Hung Up on A Dream, a title of a Zombies’ song. The book was penned with the co-operation of the five original members of the band who are interviewed extensively throughout the book.
Poster for 1999 film, “A Walk in the Moon” with Diane Lane & Viggo Mortensen – “It was the summer of Woodstock when she became the woman she always wanted to be.”
The original Zombies have reformed only twice in recent years: once for the launch party of the “Zombie Heaven” box set at London’s Jazz Café, and once for a benefit for Paul Atkinson in Los Angeles, shortly before he died from liver disease in 2004. In 2008, the remaining members came together for several special performances marking the 40th anniversary of Odessey & Oracle. Argent and Blunstone, however, have toured together in the U.S. and Europe, and continue to perform and record as of early 2014.
The Zombies’ music has also received airing in films and TV shows. “Time of The Season” has been used in films to represent the late 1960s or 1969, the year the song became popular, as in the films: 1969 (1988), Awakening (1990), A Walk on the Moon (1999) and Riding the Bullet (2004), all of which depict the year 1969. On TV, the NBC series American Dreams, which depicts the mid- and late-1960s in American society with some focus on the American Bandstand show (with the series produced by a Dick Clark company), “Time of The Season” was featured in the third season (2004). “Tell Her No” and “She’s Not There” were also used in the American Dreams series. Other TV shows that have used “Time of the Season” in various episodes include: Tour of Duty (1987-1990), the HBO series Big Love, Friends(in 1996), the NBC miniseries The ’60s (1999), and Will and Grace (in 2002). The song is also used in a few video games.
A 2005 Fidelity Investments TV ad used “Time of the Season” with its pitch. Click to view ad on YouTube.
In October 2005, a Fidelity Investments TV ad produced by Arnold Worldwide of Boston began appearing using the Zombies’ song, “Time Of The Season”. The ad – designed to reach aging baby boomers needing to beef up their retirements accounts – used a lava lamp motif, an iconic piece of psychedellic-era furniture from the 1960s. “Fidelity 401-K” and other financial terms are printed on the lava lamp’s slowing-moving forming and reforming green lava, with a voice over intoning the details.
In 2006, “Time of the Season” was also used in a U.K. ad for Bulmers Irish Cider. That ad was part of themed series following the changing seasons. “Spring II” depicted an apple orchard coming back to life in the spring with a segue to the rising social life in pubs and bars. The ad appeared on ITV, Channel Four and Five throughout the U.K. In America, during the 2006 Major League baseball playoffs, the song was played in Shea Stadium as the home-team New York Mets took the field.
The 2014 Keira Knightley TV spot for Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle perfume presented at the top of this article will likely bring new listeners to the music of the Zombies – music that is now 50 years young and counting! For additional stories at this website on music and/or advertising, please see the Annals of Music category page or the Madison Avenue page. Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle
Note: This video shows a March 1989 TV ad for Pepsi entitled “Make a Wish,”
featuring pop music star Madonna singing & dancing. This ad was subsequently
pulled after it generated controversy. See more on this story at link below.
Ad story: This Pepsi ad uses a flash-back storyline opening with Madonna
seated in a parlor watching an old black-and-white home movie of herself as
a young girl at a birthday party. The spot cuts back and forth between the
young Madonna and adult versions in sync with the music set to various dance
scenes — to the young girl in school, to more dancing in a street scene, back to
the girl a little older, another with Madonna dancing among joyful gospel singers,
and then finally to Madonna in the opening parlor scene watching the home
movie seated with a can of Pepsi. There she watches the 8 year-old Madonna
in the black-and-white film at her party, holding a 1950s Pepsi bottle and straw,
about to blow out the candles on her cake. Across the ages, the two Madonnas
toast each other with their respective Pepsis. Then Madonna says to the birth-
day girl, “Go ahead, make a wish.” With that, the little girl blows out the candles
and the film ends. Cut to Pepsi logo and slogan, “A Generation Ahead.”
Note: This 30-second Dennis Hopper TV ad, and the one below,
are two of several he made in 2006-2008 for the Ameriprise
Financial Corp., in which the film star pitches financial planning
to Baby Boomers. Both of these ads use the hard-driving rock ‘n
roll tune, “Gimme Some Lovin” from the 1960s’ Spencer Davis
Group, as background music.
Actor Dennis Hopper shown in one of his Ameriprise Financial television advertisements.
It may be surprising for baby boomers to see Dennis Hopper pitching retirement planning for Ameriprise Financial Corp. He appeared in a series of TV ads for the company during 2006-2008. Hopper, it may be remembered, played the drug-addled cowboy biker, Billy, in the 1969 film classic Easy Rider. That’s the film he directed and starred in with Peter Fond and Jack Nicholson. In fact, the storyline in that film promised its two care-free bikers a “luxury retirement” via the big Mexican drug deal the two had just made — that is, until some redneck vigilantes brought Dennis and friends to an unpleasant ending.
Others might remember Dennis as the slightly maniacal photojournalist in the Vietnam-era Apocalypse Now of 1979, or the obscenity-spewing wildman Frank Booth in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet of 1986. And then there’s the mad bomber he played in 1994’s Speed with Kenau Reeves and Sandra Bullock, or the villain “Deacon” in Kevin Kostner’s Waterworld of 1995. Or how about the war criminal Victor Drazen in TV’s 24 series of recent years. Not exactly bright and cheery characters.
Biker Billy of 'Easy Rider,' a film about financial planning of a different kind.
True, these are all fictional roles and Hopper was acting. Nevertheless, this might not be the kind of imagery and character association that a financial services company wants floating around in the heads of its would-be customers.
“Of course, when you go with a celebrity,” explained Kim Sharan, Ameriprise’s chief marketing officer, “you have to be concerned. … [B]ut we did a significant amount of testing prior to going with Dennis. He tested really well.”
Although Hopper was pitching baby boomers when he made the Ameriprise ads, he himself was not a boomer. He was born in the 1930s, and was then over 70. But according to Doug Pippin, a creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi, the ad agency then doing the Ameriprise ads, baby boomers saw Hopper as “an older brother who’s been out there.” At the time, Pippin called Hopper a “great anti-hero hero,” who stood for “unconventional thinking.”
Acting Since ’50s
Hopper, in fact, had a long and interesting career. He began acting as a teeanager in the 1950s and later signed with Warner Brothers. During the filming of Rebel Without a Cause — a 1955 film in which he had a small role — he became a friend to James Dean. He also appeared with Dean in Giant (1956), Dean’s last film before his death. By the late 1960s, Hopper teamed up with Peter Fonda and Terry Southern to co-write the 1969 film Easy Rider, which he also directed while playing the role of Billy. That film received two Academy Award nominations — one for a then-unknown Jack Nicholson for Best Supporting Actor and one for Hopper, Fonda, and Southern for Best Original Screenplay. The 1970s were a tough time for Hopper, dealing with alcohol and drug abuse.
In the 1980s, Hopper emerged in successful roles in Blue Velvet (1986) and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor as an alcoholic father trying to help his son’s basketball team in Hoosiers (1986). In 1988 he directed the police vs. street gangs drama Colors with Sean Penn and Robert Duvall. Since then he has directed a few more films, including The Hot Spot (1990) and Chasers (1994). In the 1990s, he became known for playing bad guy roles in films such as Speed (1994). In recent years, he has acted in several TV films and also appeared in TV series such as 24 and E-Ring. Beyond his acting and directing, Hopper is also an accomplished photographer with his work shown publicly and published in several books (see selection below “sources”). He is also a modern art collector.
Hopper has appeared in advertising throughout his career, for Nike and other sponsors. But the work he is now doing for Ameriprise may become one of those classic pieces of advertising history, despite all the criticism of a bad fit. At the very least, the style of the ads is a welcomed change from the more staid approaches of the past. Here’s some history on how it came about.
New Kind of Ad
“Our new campaign is a radical departure from standard financial services advertising,” said Ameriprise’s Kim Sharan at the launch of their ads in September 2006. “We are firmly focused on the positive aspects of retirement and our understanding that boomers aren’t going to spend this phase of life playing shuffleboard. There is no better figure to personify our message than legendary actor Dennis Hopper who embodies the spirit of the generation. With his help we are speaking with boomers not at them.”
Ameriprise — formerly a major division of American Express — became an independent company in August 2005 when it was spun off from American Express as a separate company. At the time, it was the sixth largest such roll out in corporate history. Today it is a stand-alone Fortune 500 company in its own right, ranked at #296 in May 2008, the fourth largest financial advisory firm in the U.S.
When Ameriprise became its own company, it needed to tell the world who it was and what it did, and so it began a “brand awareness” campaign. It also wanted to increase its business, add to the amount of assets under its management, and hold on to its advisor network. A marketing plan and advertising campaign were included. And that’s where Dennis Hopper comes in.
As Ameriprise began its new life as an independent, the financial services industry was in a major battle for the hearts, minds, and retirement money of the 78 million baby boomers now entering their 60s. At stake is more than $2 trillion in IRA and other assets that boomers now hold. Needless to say, companies like Fidelity, Merrill Lynch, and Ameriprise are, as one report put it, “salivating in anticipation” over this wealth. At stake is more than $2 trillion in IRA and other assets that boomers now hold. In the last few years, these and other firms have been spending some $700 million a year trying to capture boomer’s business. For Ameriprise, the question became how best to do that.
Ameriprise and its marketers began studying boomers. Using focus groups and other techniques, they met with boomers all across the country, taking their measure. They found a “work hard/play hard” cohort who were still rebels in a sense, and were not into passive retirement. Boomers are looking forward to the “next act” of their lives, but don’t want to be lectured about money and financial planning. From this, Ameriprise gleaned that “dreams” might be a good peg. Or as they put it: “We knew that we had to quell [boomers’] dread of financial planning and replace it with hope. We challenged our creative teams to take the focus off money and help boomers realize their dreams.”
Finding Their Man
In designing creative strategies, an “unexpected idea” of featuring Dennis Hopper in TV advertising arose. This came as part of the ad agency’s recommendation to use someone who was a leader or otherwise prominent in the 1960s counterculture. But the Hopper recommendation came as “a surprise” to the company. The only other celebrity used in financial services advertising at the time was Sam Waterston, who then played a righteous lawyer and prosecutor on the TV show, Law & Order. Ameriprise officials were not real comfortable with the prospect of using Hopper for their ads. Surely there must be other actors to consider, they suggested. “The Agency tried to think of some alternatives,” says one Ameriprise account of the process, “and that’s how we began to realize just how perfect and incomparable Dennis Hopper is.”Survey: “Baby Boomers saw Hopper as extremely talented, willing to chal- lenge himself, uncompro- mising, and just really cool.”
Still, Hopper was tested with audiences along with another unspecified alternative campaign. Here’s the report on what Ameriprise and their ad agency found:
“The two campaigns were taken to four markets for evaluation via one-on-one interviews. A consistent pattern of consumer response emerged. The concept featuring Dennis Hopper was clearly more appealing, in a big West Coast market as well as a smaller “Middle America” market. “Baby Boomers saw Hopper as extremely talented, willing to challenge himself, uncompromising, and just really cool. He is someone they look up to and aspire to emulate his values.”
“Meanwhile, we purchased syndicated celebrity research from E-Score (a more robust competitor to the well-known Q Score). The data reinforced what the qualitative research had demonstrated. Hopper had the combination of winning attributes that were consistent with Ameriprise’s desired brand personality: versatile, talented, experienced, intriguing, especially among our target audience.”
When they tested Dennis Hopper TV concepts, they also found a positive response. “When the Hopper spots tested above norm in quantitative testing, Ameriprise knew that Hopper was their guy.” All of the research, focus groups, and testing helped convince Ameriprise management that provocative ads featuring Dennis Hopper “could have significant positive impact on their business.” So the ads went forward, the first released in September 2006.
Hopper & ’60s Music
Hopper pitching Ameriprise.
In the ads, Dennis Hopper is aiming squarely at baby boomers and their retirement “dreams.” But he’s not exactly giving the soft sell. Rather, he is more cajoling, offering his message in a style befitting the 1960s’ way of doing things a little bit against the grain. In fact, he’s more like the “anti-retirement” messenger — at least in terms of what retirement used to be like. “No more rocking chairs or shuffleboard” — and Dennis says as much in one or more of these ads. Hopper is shown in an assortment of outdoor settings — on a sand dune, at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere, in a suburban housing tract, on a beach with blue ocean background, and others.
The ads are emotionally powered by a 1960s’ song from Steve Winwood & the Spencer Davis Group, using a signature organ riff that is a guaranteed “boomer getter”.
Each of the Ameriprise ads features Hopper dressed in black with his symbolic red chair (the “anti-rocking chair”). But most important is the music, as each of the 30-second spots is emotionally powered by the same classic piece of 1960s’ music. The song used is by Steve Winwood and the Spencer Davis Group, called “Gimme Some Lovin’ “(#7, 1967). It’s a landmark piece with a distinctive beat and signature organ riff that are immediately recognized by anyone who was even remotely paying attention in the 1960s. It also has guaranteed “kitchen-to-TV-room” drawing power for those who might have drifted away from their TV sets. The music almost has a “Pied Piper” effect on folks of that era. The tune plays prominently and at key moments in each of the ads as Dennis tells his viewers they “need a plan.” In fact, without the Spencer Davis song, these ads would be considerably less effective, as one You Tube clip without the music shows.
Curiously, at one point after the ads had run for a time, Ameriprise stopped using the Spencer Davis music with the ads and began using other music. A narrative sampling of four of the Ameriprise ads using the orginal Spencer Davis music, follows below. The videos with the newer music can be found at the Ameriprise web site.
Hopper in Ameriprise ad.
This ad opens with a close up of Dennis in the middle of big field of sunflowers, dressed in his black shirt, twirling a single flower in his hand as he talks directly to the viewer: “Some people say that dreams are like delicate little flowers. WRONG!” Cue Spencer Davis tune and pan out to wide view of whole field and Dennis tossing the flower into the air. “Dreams are powerful,” says Dennis, now in close-up mode talking with the viewer while using emphatic hand gestures. “Dreams are what make you say, ‘When I’m 64, I’m going to start a new business; I want to make my own movie’.” “Flower power was then, your dreams are now.” Then, with some finger pointing, he adds, “But powerful dreams need more than just a little weekend gardening.” Cut to beautiful Southwest desert scene with assorted tall cacti and attractive gray-haired lady taking in the beauty, then to scenes with husband and a financial planner sitting down going over some paperwork. Then cut to attractive adobe-like building in the desert — i.e., dream realized, home in the desert — as voiceover explains: “Start with your dreams, and your Ameriprise Financial advisor, through a unique approach called Dream, Plan, Track ( these words flash on screen, along with “Go To What’s Next” and “ameriprise.com”). We’ll work with you to help make your dreams realities.” Cut back to Dennis in the field of sunflowers, close up: “Flower power was then, your dreams are now.” Close: Ameriprise logo and lettering flash on screen with 1-800-Ameriprise phone number.
. . . in American Dreams ad.
In this ad, Dennis Hopper is shown with his red chair standing at an intersection in the middle of a suburban housing tract. “The American Dream,” he says, describing the conventional American community as the camera pans down the street, dog barking in the background. “White picket fence, 2.4 kids, and a nice puppy dog — NO!,” he then says emphatically, slightly laughing as he puts his hands to his head, waving off that idea. Cue the Spencer Davis tune, as Dennis sets us straight: “The American Dream is that each one of us gets our dreams — big dreams, small dreams, cra-a-a-zy dreams,” adding appropriate hand gestures to signify each kind of dream. “It’s not just where your dreams take you, it’s where you take your dreams.” “But here’s the thing,” he says, pausing for effect, then looking straight into the camera. “It’s not just where your dreams take you, it’s where you take your dreams.” Pan out to Hopper laughing as he walks away down the street. He disappears as the voiceover adds: “Find out why more people come to Ameriprise for financial planning than any other company.” Corporate lettering then appears on screen in the sky above the street scene — “The personal advisors of Ameriprise Financial,” along with a web page-like display of topical choices — “Financial Planning > Retirement > Investments > Insurance.” The add closes with the red chair remaining in the intersection and the voiceover continuing, “Visit us at ameriprise.com/plan.” On the final screen shot “ameriprise.com /plan” remains on screen.
Dennis Hopper in ad.
This 30-second spot, titled “Salt Flats,” opens with Dennis, dressed in black, on a large expanse of bright sandy white salt flats with mountains in the distance. The camera work alternates from close-up and far away. “‘Your dreams are crazy!,” he bellows in the first frame, close up, pointing his finger accusingly at the viewer. Cut to Dennis at a distance, standing, making large sweeping gestures with his arms, bellowing again, “They’re impossible”[i.e., your dreams]. Back to Dennis, more close up, standing, now in a more civil tone, cue Spencer Davis music: “That’s what they said back in the day when your dreams changed everything!,” he says, now removing his sunglasses and pointing with them in hand. “See, the thing about dreams is, they don’t retire.” “That’s not gonna stop now,” he says insistently of his viewer’s expected behavior. “You’re not gonna turn your dreams over to the authorities at age 60,” he continues, incredulously. “You find someone who believes in your dreams.” Cut to sequence of shots of Japanese American client who is presumably a hobbyist photographer consulting with his wife and an Ameriprise agent, with client shown thereafter continuing his photographic quests in various settings on a road trip. “Get To What’s Next” flashes on screen during this sequence as the voiceover makes the pitch: “Start with your dreams and your Ameriprise financial advisor working with you one on one, face to face. We’ll work with you to help make your dreams realities.” Back to Dennis at close: “See, the thing about dreams is,” he says putting his sunglasses back on, “they don’t retire.” Closing shot includes Ameriprise Financial information and 1-800-Ameriprise on screen.
Hopper in 'Stars' ad.
This ad opens to a nighttime setting in the desert, with a big starry sky. The first scene shows Dennis at some distance, standing, back to the camera, near a red chair, looking up at the sky. An owl is heard calling in the background. Camera pans the nighttime sky. Cut to Dennis close-up on his chair looking into the camera: “When you a were a kid, wishing upon a star was a cute idea. “Unless I’m completely in the dark here, you’re not a kid anymore.” But unless I’m completely in the dark here, you’re not a kid anymore.” Cue: Spencer Davis tune. “Though you still got dreams, don’t you? You gotta plan to get them up and runnin‘?,” he asks. “Or are you just keeping your fingers crossed?” A shooting star streaks across the sky, with laughter from Dennis. “Maybe it’s time for a wake up call, ” he says, with an encouraging facial nod. Voiceover: “Find out why more people come to Ameriprise than any other financial planning company. Visit us as Ameriprise.com/plan.”
Hopper with dictionary.
In addition to the four preceeding samples, there are also other ads in the Ameriprise series, including one that opens with Hopper in black shirt and sunglasses, standing on a white, sandy beach, holding a big black dictionary (see also opening photo above). That ad begins with Hopper reading from the book: “To withdraw, to go away, to disappear,” he says, quoting from the dictionary. “Your generation is definitely not headed for Bingo night.”“That’s how the dictionary defines retire- ment.” Then he says in louder voice, “Time to redefine,” tossing the book aside as the Spencer Davis tune comes on. “Your generation is definitely not headed for Bingo night. In fact, you could write a book about how you’re going to turn retirement upside down. . . .” Cut to the generic financial planning scenes and voiceover. Then back to Hopper: “. . .’Cause I just don’t see you playing shuffleboard, you know what I mean?”
Other Ameriprise ad.
Over the lifetime of the Dennis Hopper/Ameriprise ad series — which is still ongoing as of June 2008 — the ads have appeared on a variety of network and cable TV shows, including: NBC Sunday Night Football, LOST, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Desperate Housewives, CSI: Miami, Without a Trace, and others. There have also been print, radio, and online components to the campaign.
Ameriprise landed a share of criticism for these ads, both in the blogosphere and from mainstream media critics, some taking shots at the use of Hopper in particular. Bob Garfield of Advertising Age — after offering a qualifying aside that “those ’60s dreams weren’t about bond yields and beach houses” — didn’t think Hopper was the right messenger. The casting of Hopper, he said “presumes that all leading-edge boomers identify with, or at least fondly recall Hopper’s transgressive roles and his generally schizoid persona. “This was a big mistake, said Garfield. “Not everyone from 1969 wanted to stick it to The Man.” Most boomers, he said, were not revolutionaries beyond bell bottoms and Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In. Bob Garfield of Advertis- ing Age noted that “those ’60s dreams weren’t about bond yields and beach houses.” The Establishment survived, he explained, and so “a fringe character like Hopper isn’t necessarily symbolic of his generation. Joni Mitchell would be a better choice.” Garfield noted that Hopper’s off-screen life “hadn’t been especially orderly, either.”
The ad also failed its sponsor, charged Garfield, for not explaining the brand, Ameriprise, which few people then knew. “This spot is a classic example of Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, falling so in love with star power that it neglects the brand itself.” Still, Garfield conceded the spot was better than most financial planning advertising fare — “not like some brain-dead, condescending pitch… to an audience of presumably doddering old fools.” Could it be, Garfield wondered, that baby-boomers might be the first retirement age group “to be treated by Madison Avenue with dignity?” Explaining how Mad Ave normally did this kind of pitch, Garfield wrote: “One day you’re a vibrant worker with responsibility, income and possibly even a sex life and — wham — the next you’re a fearful dullard, being insultingly spoken down to by the very people who want your business.” So for Garfield, although Hopper may not have been the right icon, “we’re just thrilled it wasn’t Aunt Bea.”
'Easy Riders' - from left: Hopper, Fonda & Nicholson.
Diane Rohde, writing for The Onion.comin late May 2007, had some satirical fun with Hopper’s screen personas: “Retirement planning means a lot of decision making, and thank God I have the soothing presence of that amyl nitrite-huffing, obscenity-screaming, psychosexual lunatic from Blue Velvet to guide me through it.” She also added, “I’m sure that Dennis Hopper wouldn’t represent a company that was anything other than a rock of respectability. When I hear him in those commercials, it’s the familiar voice of a coke-dealing, LSD-fueled hippie cowboy biker putting me at ease….” In addition to the print send-ups, there were also a number of Dennis Hopper /Ameriprise video parodies that ran on You Tube and other sites — some quite hilarious. But others, such as blogger Lewis Green, liked the ad and thought it an effective way to reach boomers.
Hitting Their Mark
By late February 2007, the ads seemed to be hitting their mark — or at least some of them. USA Today found that the Ameriprise ads scored low overall with adults generally who were surveyed by its Ad Track weekly poll at that time. However, the target audience of boomer-age consumers generally had higher scores. About 50 percent of the boomers liked the ads “a lot” or “somewhat,” and 79 percent rated the ads “very effective” or “somewhat effective.”
“We know that these ads are striking a chord,” said Ameriprise’s Kim Sharan in February 2007. “Financial services is a pretty staid field, so we wanted to bring a tone and personality that is more emotionally driven.” Even the criticism is a good sign, according to Sharan.“We know that these ads are striking a chord,” said Ameriprise’s Kim Sharan, who added later, “… and in some ways is becoming part of our culture.” The Ameriprise website received an uptick in hits after the Onion.com piece appeared n May 2007, according to Sharan. That “shows our message is out there,” she said. “It’s resonating, and in some ways is becoming part of our culture.”
In August 2007, Ameriprise and its ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi launched a second wave of Dennis Hopper ads. This round of TV advertising was accompanied by spots on the Web, and Ameriprise also paired with National Geographic to do some videos of people fulfilling their dreams who are aided by Ameriprise advisers. The company is hoping these efforts will go beyond boomers, and appeal as well to Generation-X. Ameriprise spent $110 million on advertising in 2006, according to the Nielsen Co., and about that much again in 2007. The second round of Hopper ads began their run in late 2007 early 2008 and as of June 2008 were still appearing.
'Palm Springs Magazine,' March '07.
In one early self-assessment of their advertising and branding efforts — which is generally referred to as the “Dreams Don’t Retire” campaign — Ameriprise found as of the 3rd quarter 2007, that mostly good things had resulted for the company. Total brand awareness for Ameriprise had increased 29 percent; traffic to its website, Ameriprise.com, was up 15 percent; assets under management increased 12 percent; clients in the target audience of “mass affluent and affluent Baby Boomers” increased 11 percent; and cost per lead generated by advertising decreased by 21 percent. Ameriprise’s stock price also increased 53 percent since the September 2006 launch of the campaign.
In partial summary, the company also offered this perspective:
“The new campaign was an opportunity to position Ameriprise in a way that no brand in the category had done before. The antithesis of the stodgy and outdated financial services company, Ameriprise brought to life the independent, irreverent, and optimistic character of the Boomer generation.
We used our television executions to inspire Boomers to start dreaming. The spots featured anti-hero Dennis Hopper riffing about dreams and their indelible power. Introducing a new vocabulary to the financial services world, the spots shifted the focus of retirement away from numbers. Hopper became a trustworthy advocate for Boomer dreams in a way that only he could. . .”
In April 2008, at an awards ceremony in New York, the Advertising Research Foundation awarded both its top-place Grand Ogilvy advertising award and the Gold Award for Financial Services to Ameriprise Financial for its multimedia national ‘Dreams Don’t Retire’ campaign.
As for Dennis Hopper, one can’t help but think that he had some fun making these commercials, and that he also had a few laughs in the process — including those on the way to the bank.
Jack Doyle, “Dennis Does Ameriprise, 2006-2008,” PopHistoryDig.com, June 17, 2008.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
Dennis Hopper on the cover of Life magazine, June 19, 1970, as he began making a new movie in Peru following "Easy Rider." That movie was titled "The Last Movie," released in 1971.
Famous Andy Warhol portrait of Dennis Hopper, 1970-71.
Kemper Museum version: synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen ink on canvas, 36 x 36 inches, Bebe and Crosby Kemper Collection.
Ameriprise Financial, Inc., Minneapolis, MN, Press Release, “New Evolution of Ameriprise Financial Advertising Emphasizes that “Dreams Don’t Retire”; Broadcast Ads Feature Actor Dennis Hopper and A 1960s-Style Red Chair,” September 7, 2006.
Bob Garfield, “Ameriprise’s Dennis Hopper Spot: Wrong Icon, Right Tone – Saatchi & Saatchi Work Hypes Star, Neglects Brand,” Advertising Age.com, November 19, 2006.
Laura Petrecca, “More Marketers Target Boomers’ Eyes, Wallets, USA Today, February 25, 2007.
“Dennis Hopper – Biography,” Biography.com, A&E Television Networks, 2007.
“Dennis Hopper,” Great Movie Actors at Movie Actors.com.
Diane Rohde, “There’s No More Reassuring Voice In Retirement Planning Than Dennis Hopper,” The Onion.com, May 30, 2007 | Issue 43•22.
Ameriprise Financial, Inc., “Online Strategy Plays a Primary Role in New Evolution of Ameriprise Financial Advertising – New television spots air tonight on ESPN Monday Night Football,” Business Wire, September 10, 2007.