Alcohol commercials can always be very fun and creative. It’s interesting to see the advertising restrictions that exist within each commercial culture, and taking on the challenge to creatively navigate around them.
Cyprus has very limited restrictions. I remember a Carlsberg beer ad in the early 90’s, which showed a blonde model consuming the beverage, with the tagline “The blonde in your life” recited smoothly by a deep Barry White-esque voice, implying that the beer is a hot blonde due to its light-colored hue (‘beer’ is a female word in the Greek language). It probably sounded classier than “Grab a blonde”, so they went with it. Or rather, they got away with it.
In the U.S., several broadcast networks continue to stick to a long-expired portion of the Television Code that prohibited showing alcohol being consumed. Thus you will hardly ever see a U.S. beer commercial where someone is actually drinking the advertised beverage.
Australia also has its own idiosyncrasies when it comes to advertising alcohol and I learned that the hard way. Back in 2011, I had auditioned for a commercial for an Australian rum named Bundaberg. Considered one of Australia’s most popular beverage brands, Bundaberg was a crowd favorite and this ad campaign was geared to be something really special. They went big! They brought in Director of the Year Tom Kuntz to direct the spot, fresh out of his successful run with the ever-popular Old Spice campaign (“Hello ladies. Look at your man. Now back at me!”). They were holding auditions for the lead character in the U.S. as well as Australia, with Paramount Studios in Hollywood set as the shooting location. Well guess what… I booked it. It was the first TV gig I had ever booked in my life. I called up a couple of my closest friends, tearing up in disbelief, not fully realizing what was going on.
Long segment short, it was a blast! Great crew, fun shoot, there were cranes, and green screens, and water fountains, and music… A week later I was on the plane back to New York, missing the streets of Manhattan on one hand, but feeling like I was in a dream that I wasn’t sure I wanted to wake up from yet on the other. In fact (and I kid you not!), a small part of me was thinking “This is too good to be true; there’s no way this is happening. It’s just too good. Something’s gonna happen to me before this commercial comes out and I’m never gonna see it. I’m gonna die before this commercial comes out.” Well, lo and behold, I lived to see the day! Three months after coming back from LA, I see a post on my Facebook timeline saying that the ad is out, with “Alex Malaos” tagged alongside it. And it looked super!
I was getting calls and messages left and right telling me how “effin’ awesome” this video was. Coincidentally, my mother was in New York visiting me from Cyprus, so she was right in the middle of all the hoopla, and it was a great feeling having her around to see me catching a break and to witness first-hand that “things” can actually happen!
The YouTube hits were (again, I kid you not!) literally growing by the hundreds of thousands every day. It was at a hundred thousand when it was first posted, and by the end of the week it was on its way to a million. And the next day, it just… stopped. The view counter just halted at around the 700K mark, and it just wouldn’t move. I thought nothing of it. The next day nothing had really changed. The buzz had sort of “given up.” Before I knew it, the video was removed from Bundaberg’s YouTube channel. Guess what: They pulled it off the air!
There was a controversy surrounding the content of the ad, and it went all the way up to Australia’s Advertising Review Board. According to the archives (http://www.alcoholadreview.com.au/key-concerns/alcohol-advertising-ten-shockers/bundaberg-five/) the ad depicted the environment changing dramatically in the presence of the drink, from a boring bar to a glamorous, luxurious world filled with gold, fountains, and women. This constituted a breach of Australia’s Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code provisions which state that (and I kid you not!): alcohol advertisements must not link alcohol beverages to a significant change in mood or environment. The review board determined that the advertisement contained the message that the presence of the product was a cause of the significant change in mood or environment, and Bundaberg removed the advertisement from its website and television (though it was –and is- still accessible through other online channels).
Somehow I knew; I had a feeling. It was too good to be true. It’s a harsh ending, but you learn from it, and get over it. Thus we have, the learning points:
Much like in all aspects of life, you can’t dwell on the “what ifs”
You have no idea how many people have said to me “Oh man, if that rum commercial was in America, you would have been golden!!!!” or “Was that only for Australia? Can’t they play it anywhere else? What a shame!” Yes, it’s only for Australia, and yes it would have been “pretty sweet” if it aired in America. I don’t know what kind of an impact it would have had on my career if the character’s mood in the commercial had changed just enough for it not to be deemed “significant,” and so everybody could get on with their lives. It’s ok to occasionally wonder, but don’t get hung up on it. Ironically, in a profession where it’s normal to hear a lot of ‘No’s,’ you kinda learn to suck it up and move on, even after you’ve heard a ‘Yes.’ On that note…
Even once the fat lady sings, you just never know…
I’ve been in commercials where my scene was cut out from the final cut. I’ve been in commercials where I showed up on set but they ended up revising the script and deciding not to use me at all. I’ve been in commercials that were shot and just never aired (does that count as “being in a commercial”? If a tree falls in an empty forest..?). And I’ve been in commercials that were shot, aired, I’m in the final cut, aaaaaand pulled! Commercials are unpredictable. You don’t really know when to celebrate because, in a way, you’re not really sure if you should. You celebrate in doses, like a video game where you move step by step, unlocking an achievement every time. In commercials, assurance comes in installments, and once you’ve been in the industry for a while, you become accustomed to keeping it modest with the celebrations until you’ve unlocked the next achievement. And on that note…
Enjoy the moment
My buddy Charles was trying to convince me to start watching the series Lost. When I explained to him that it sounded intriguing but not really my thing, in addition to the fact that I had heard many disappointing things about the seemingly-inconclusive finale, he frustratingly closed his eyes and said “Alex! Don’t let the destination ruin the journey!” Most fitting. If you get the chance to work on a commercial, to work with a professional crew, to prove to a director that he was right to hire you… If you get the chance to “do your thing”… Take it! Enjoy it. Much like life itself, who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow, who knows what kind of plans “the execs upstairs” have in store for you? What you have is now. And oh how sweet it is to be on set; to earn that! Don’t just act with the mentality of “I hope this turns out to be a cool commercial.” This commercial may not even air! Or it may be cool without you! How about “I hope this turns out to be a productive experience”? Be professional with yourself and with people around you, lay the groundwork for the next time you get to audition for the same director or get to be in a scene with those same actors. Make it a fun journey. And then on to the next one.