Guinness: The tipple that makes a topple ad like no other

When Guinness decided to follow Honda and make a toppling ad it turned to hotshot Sony 'Balls', director Nicolai Fuglsig to take the campaign to another level. Ian Burrell hears about his latest creation
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The Independent Online

Not content with having bounced quarter of a million bouncy balls down the sheer streets of San Francisco, to sell new television sets, Nicolai Fuglsig, the outstanding young director in international advertising, has deployed the forces of gravity again to even more spectacular effect.

Click here to see the making of this ad or see the advert below.


His latest epic shows cars cascading, fridges falling and tyres tumbling, all in an attempt to persuade us to buy more of the world's most famous stout. The making of Tipping Point, the latest in the famous Guinness series of "Good Things Come To Those Who Wait" campaigns, was a logistical exercise that would have tested the organisational skills of the Carthaginian master tactician Hannibal, as Fuglsig marched a crew of 140 to the remote village of Iruya, 10,000ft up in the mountains of northern Argentina, to give an appropriately spectacular, other-worldly backdrop to his film.

The Guinness team, assembled by London advertising agency Abbott Mead Vickers (AMV), pitched camp on the village's gravel football field and scoured the neighbouring region for Fuglsig's wish-list of props: 10,000 books, 400 tyres, 75 mirrors, 50 fridges, 45 wardrobes and six cars.

Over the next five weeks, these objects were placed with precision on village streets and paths so that one would topple on another, setting off a process that, in Fuglsig's film, concludes with the emergence – in two distinct stages that reflect the famous Guinness two-part pour – of a sculpture resembling a pint of the black stuff, made from thousands of books mounted on a wooden frame.

The stunning work was unveiled publicly last Thursday evening during a commercial break in The Bill on ITV1. Yet the maverick 34-year-old Danish director clearly has some regrets. "I feel happy that people like it and there's a lot of interest but I am a little disappointed. It was a very difficult task, much harder than I thought it would be."

Known for his feverish energy, Fuglsig entered into the project with a zealous enthusiasm but the very scale of the exercise took him aback, a degree of difficulty that he fears "doesn't really show" in the finished film.

"The toppling was set up in a way that made it look as if the local people could have done it," he says. "So we did it in a very old-school way, using ropes, wires and small stakes and putting stones underneath things.

"But what was most difficult was the thousands of props lined up on steep cobble-stoned streets. In that kind of mountain region, not a single cobble-stone is the same as the one above or below, so that created a lot of different balance points that all had to be found and reset. If you have ever tried to find a chair's balance point, it is very difficult."

When he recalls some of the filming it is as if he is reliving a bad dream. "There were hundreds of donkeys and stray dogs walking round the town and there were a few times where a stray dog would walk past a suitcase and everything would start toppling and we would be shouting "No, no, no, no". We had people diving in for their lives, saving a fridge or a big cupboard from toppling. It was chaos because something had been triggered and as soon as a fridge topples, the chain reaction is difficult to control."

Five weeks may sound a long time but Fuglsig points out that, after exhaustive preparations, he had to film everything on five consecutive days. "And almost 90 per cent of that time was spent resetting and waiting around. There were many, many, many takes that screwed up or simply did not happen." The director is clearly a perfectionist. The groundwork, which included recruiting 100 extras, none with acting experience, from surrounding villages is what gives the film its multiple layers.

The chain reaction of objects tumbling down the narrow streets of Iruya begins with 6,000 falling dominoes, set up by experts Weijers Domino Productions. The toppling process calls to mind other ads, most notably Wieden & Kennedy's work Cog for Honda, which featured a succession of car parts bumping a Honda Accord into motion.

"This toppling thing has been done before and will be done many times in the future," says Fuglsig who, along with the AMV creative team Angus McAdam and Paul Jordan, was anxious to set this work apart. As Paul Cornell, the Guinness marketing manager, points out, Honda Cog was about "precision, control and engineering", factors more applicable to a motor vehicle than a pint.

The key to Tipping Point has what Fuglsig calls a "folksy" feeling, emphasising the human nature of this topple of all topples, to best capture the communal spirit of the event, the director decided not to use a single professional actor. "When we did costume calls, we let the rumour spread throughout the mountains and people were coming from days away, walking and riding on horseback. It was too heartbreaking to turn any of them away."

Cornell says the ad ticks all the boxes in making the viewers "crave" the product, feel "upbeat" about it and associate it with a different "scale" from its rivals. The toppling black and white dominoes recall the great events of the Guinness Book of Records and showcase a pastime associated with pub entertainment. "We want to get people back into the pubs. We are obviously concerned that due to the smoking ban there are fewer people spending their cash in pubs rather than cinemas or restaurants and so this is a nice link to the pub environment, which dominoes allude to."

Fuglsig admits to still feeling "very, very nervous" about how the ad will play out. He says he is intensely conscious of the legacy of Guinness work left by such directors as Jonathan Glazer ( Swimblack, 1998, Surfer, 1999) and Frank Budgen ( Snail Race, 2000). " Oh my God, I was honoured when they asked me but at the same time really nervous because I felt that I was trying to continue the heritage of these great ads. I really felt a huge challenge to build on that reputation." Fuglsig's ad recalls the strange, distant, communal village activity of Glazer's swimmer Marco and Budgen's snail-racers.

But what really sets Tipping Point apart from the rest of the " Good Things ..." ads, or indeed any other ads, is the degree of interactivity. Inserted into the film, thanks to the work of London post-production house The Mill, are a series of fiendishly complex clues – introduced by moustachioed village elder Juan Ramon - that have allowed viewers to download segments of the film and compete to be the first to launch it online and win a solid gold domino or any of a series of other Guinness-branded prizes.

Paul Brazier, the AMV creative chief, believes this interactive element puts the campaign on an entirely different level of work which it may at first be compared to.

"We thought how do you do the ultimate domino toppling and my guess is that this would be it," he says. "As soon as you point out to people that there are a dozen clues in it, then suddenly the whole idea unravels."

For Brazier, Fuglsig's extraordinary drive meant that he was the one director who could actually pull this campaign off. "In truth, he was the only choice – we just thought, 'Give him a free run and let him land a fantastic piece of film'."

The young director may be hard on himself but Tipping Point will further enhance his reputation, and offers of more work are already rolling in. But he is adamant that when it comes to making films about objects rolling downhill, he has now reached his own tipping point.

"There are a few more toppling things in the making but I have said no to those ones because I think I have done my fair share of dragging things up mountains and having things topple down streets," he says. "I'm moving on."

Click here to see the making of this ad.

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