Close-Up: How M&C Saatchi used the force for Dixons campaign

Jeremy Hemmings explains how the cast of Star Wars ended up at a Currys PC World Megastore.

Let's be honest, in the cut-throat world of UK retail marketing, the Currys and PC World brands are not renowned for their natural charm. Hard-sell product advertising is the norm, where the over-riding imperative is to out-price the competition on the latest must-have electrical kit.

But recently, the Dixons Retail marketing team has been looking for additional brand-focused work. Hence the launch of the highly awarded Dixons.co.uk press and poster campaign last year, and the introduction of the first-ever brand ad for PC World, featuring Christian Slater as part of the "whatever your world" campaign.

The new brief was to launch the Currys PC World Megastores, now it had 24 stores open nationally. We were first taken on a tour of the flagship store in Lakeside, Thurrock. "Shouldn't be more than an hour," we said. "It's just a walk round a big store." Four-and-a-half hours later, we returned to the agency, genuinely excited. Megastore wasn't just another big shed on a retail park: it was an exciting experience, full of cool technology and demo zones. So we needed a mega, ground-breaking advertising campaign.

After reviewing a few early ideas, our creative team Orlando Warner and Steve Paskin presented a script based on a Star Wars theme, with C-3PO and R2-D2 landing on Earth and breaking into a store where they discovered and played with all the technology. After a brief pause, Graham Fink (the M&C Saatchi executive creative director) calmly said: "We have to do it." So, simply a case of getting a nod from George Lucas then. Hmmm.

What followed was a series of late-night calls to Lucas Arts in San Francisco, making our case. "Unlikely," was the first response. "We only really do global deals with big brands. Have you seen our Adidas World Cup ad?" This was followed by the equally off-putting "probably not this time, actually", then the "you should really be speaking to our other team".

But a week later, a chink of light. The scale of the stores and the proposition impressed the licensing team at Lucas. Although they rejected 95 per cent of all approaches, this time they could be interested. So the group marketing director, Niall O'Keeffe, and I flew out to San Francisco to try to cement the deal. It was a rapid process, in and out of the US via the Lucas Arts Centre in less than a day, but with the fantastic news that everyone there was very much up for it.

That's when the serious work began. It had to be big in every way. First, we signed Sam Brown to shoot the TV ads through Rogue. And Anthony Daniels, the original C-3PO actor, agreed to play his part in the campaign. We also shipped in the genuine $250k droid suit held in a high-security facility in the San Francisco hills, and two remote-controlled R2-D2 droids were booked. Then we approached Warner for the original John Williams music tracks.

When it came to the large-format outdoor campaign, Graham insisted we push our ambition further, so he called David Bailey. He said yes, immediately. We were on a roll. We pinched ourselves on the shoot at the sight of Bailey meticulously manoeuvring a Dyson vacuum hose around R2-D2's head cone.

Shooting the TV ads wasn't easy. For authenticity, we needed to film it in a genuine store. Which meant closing down the prime Lakeside site for two days and one night. That's a lot of potential TV and laptop sales down the swanny. But everyone saw the bigger picture and threw themselves into it.

There followed a full campaign roll-out to accompany the lead 60-second and 40-second TV ads and the posters. So pre-publicity started with a replica droid pod from Part IV filmed landing in a car park (promoted through Holy Moly). Another PR push featured the 501st Legion of Stormtroopers taking to the streets. A YouTube channel with out-takes, extra footage and user-generated content was also created, as was a mobile campaign and a truckload of promotional and point-of-sale activity in and around the stores. To tie all of this work together, we needed a strong campaign line. So the team created: "Discover the greatest electrical store in our galaxy." And, with the force with us, off we went.

Jeremy Hemmings is the deputy managing director at M&C Saatchi. The campaign breaks during The X Factor on ITV1 on 23 October.

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