The posthumous stunt

Adwatch: bringing Steve McQueen back to life was a coup for Ford's coupe, writes Meg Carter
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The Independent Online
Even if Ford's Puma is not destined for cult success, its launch commercial must surely be. You've seen the ad: a pastiche of the Sixties film Bullitt complete with posthumous appearance by Steve McQueen who, thanks to latest special-effects wizardry, is seen steering the new Ford model (rather than the Ford Mustang he drove in the original film) through the streets of San Francisco.

It's the neatest of fits. "A driver's drive" is the end-line, and who better than McQueen to symbolise the driver's driver? The ad even skirts neatly round current concerns about advertising that glamorises speedy or reckless driving: in McQueen's hands, the Puma drifts along with smoothness and precision.

The commercial is part of a pan-European launch campaign created by the London advertising agency Young & Rubicam, which shares the Ford advertising business in the UK with its rival Ogilvy & Mather.

Although a major advertiser, Ford has not been known for sexy ads - in the words of one agency insider: "It's better known for buying advertising by the yard." Things are changing, however. Following O&M's highly stylised ad for the Probe (in which a man appears to drive across a lunar landscape shrouded by dust storms, to the accompaniment of "Fly Me To the Moon"), Ford ads have virtually become racy. For the launch of the Ka - the first Ford car not designed by a focus group - the advertising campaign didn't even feature the car.

The Puma is aimed at two groups of consumers whom the agency authoritatively defines as "pre-responsibility" and "post-responsibility". As Ford's Y&R account managing director Kevin King explains, in plain English that means 25-to-35-year-olds eager to own a sports coupe before settling down, and people aged 45 and over who've done the family car thing and now yearn to live a bit.

Like the Ford Mustang in the US, the Puma brings sports-car performance to the mass market, he says. "It is a car with far broader appeal through all social classes." So the agency was eager to find a creative approach that, while mass-market in its appeal, would say something distinctive about the product.

Steve McQueen was therefore an ideal vehicle, King insists: "Really, we didn't think of anyone else. As soon as you put him in the ad it says everything you could ever hope to say about the car."

A self-confessed car nut, McQueen did his own stunts and had been involved in some of the best car sequences in movie history. Better still, he is remembered by the older target consumers, as well as revered by the younger ones. For proof, look no further than the timely reappraisal of McQueen in current editions of the style magazines Uncut and Esquire.

Why? Because unlike many of today's brat-pack movie heroes, McQueen endures as the "king of cool". Ford's Andrew Brown enthuses: "McQueen is exactly the right image - a highly respected man's man, with female appeal too." And a rebel. For if McQueen's lasting appeal is about anything, it's about not toeing the line. The idea of an untameable spirit, however, exactly fitted the creative brief.

Undoubtedly, McQueen's cult status is also enhanced by the fact that, like all the great cult heroes, he's now dead. Luckily for Ford, his demise was neither associated with nefarious substances, nor the result of a road accident (which would, of course, have ruled out James Dean).

So, the next step was to secure clearance from the McQueen estate and Warner Brothers, who own the rights to the film. Not a problem. The finished product even elicited praise from McQueen's son who, Brown proudly boasts, said he was sure his dad would have been proud to be in it.

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