PERSPECTIVE: Walkers ads set a standard for what BT should achieve

I once met Hugh Laurie at James Garrett and Partners where he was signing to be a director. I’m not sure if he did anything, but he was charming, funny and affable. He is acclaimed for his partnership with Stephen Fry and if the mass audience knows him it is most likely to be for his roles in Jeeves and Wooster and Blackadder. But he isn’t so well known that he’s typecast, unless it is as, perhaps, a toff buffoon. BT did well to choose him to succeed Bob Hoskins. I thought I’d say that now because we’ll all hate Laurie soon, no doubt, unless the BT campaign undergoes a transformation.

I once met Hugh Laurie at James Garrett and Partners where he was

signing to be a director. I’m not sure if he did anything, but he was

charming, funny and affable. He is acclaimed for his partnership with

Stephen Fry and if the mass audience knows him it is most likely to be

for his roles in Jeeves and Wooster and Blackadder. But he isn’t so well

known that he’s typecast, unless it is as, perhaps, a toff buffoon. BT

did well to choose him to succeed Bob Hoskins. I thought I’d say that

now because we’ll all hate Laurie soon, no doubt, unless the BT campaign

undergoes a transformation.



In an ideal world, BT’s work would move closer to that of Walkers which

is, along with Tango, the finest advertising on telly today. The public

adores the campaign and it has made Walkers Britain’s largest food

brand.



However, for some bizarre reason that probably has something to do with

the lack of technical wizardry involved, the work has not been given the

recognition it deserves within the industry. This may also be something

to do with the prevailing notion that using a celebrity is failsafe (Mel

Smith in Visa Delta?) or that doing crisps ads is easy (Mellors Reay and

Pringles?).



Certainly, when Lineker began, the Walkers task was made easier because

of the coup factor involved in landing him (look at the Pizza Hut series

with Pamela Anderson or Donald and Ivana Trump). However, Lineker was in

the early stages of a painful transition from top footballer to novice

broadcaster. His performances on Match of the Day and Grandstand were

leaden. But he was rescued by the BMP DDB scripts - John Webster back to

his very best after that strange Foster’s interlude - and the gentle

coaxing of the director, Paul Weiland.



With A-team backing, Lineker has grown into the role. His Christmas

Scrooge was great, and now he’s turned in his finest performance to date

in the brilliant new ad co-starring Ulrika Jonsson. It’s a pastiche of

Ingmar Bergman, shot in black and white with English sub-titles. Once

you get over the shock of how gorgeous Ulrika looks, Lineker takes

over.



In a funny beard and period costume, he banters in Swedish with Jonsson

like the old pro he isn’t. There’s a twinkle in his eye which isn’t

about trousering the fee. He’s clearly having a ball. OK, there are

worse ways of earning a crust than rolling around with Ulrika, but there

are also harder jobs than presenting Football Focus or Match of the Day

and, in those contexts, he’s still labouring with the autocue.



Walkers has now upped its spend to almost pounds 8 million and there is

no sign of any consumer fatigue. If there are really to be as many BT

films as its projected spend suggests, then BT has a civic duty to try

to take a leaf out of Walkers’ book.



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