How Ron Burgundy Learned to Love Dodge, and Vice Versa

Inside the Will Ferrell campaign with W+K, Gifted Youth

Headshot of Tim Nudd

IDEA: Fictional '70s anchorman Ron Burgundy doing parody ads, which double as real ads, for a 2014 sport utility vehicle? Olivier François, who has broken the mold before as CMO of Chrysler and Fiat, was ecstatic to try it—even though he'd never heard of Anchorman and knew only vaguely of Will Ferrell.

The idea was actually born in a Fiat meeting, where then North American brand chief Tim Kuniskis proposed Burgundy as pitchman for the Fiat 500L—since the car, like the man, is "kind of a big deal." The idea died, but François finally saw the movie. And when he learned Anchorman 2 was in the works, he suggested Burgundy do ads for Dodge (where Kuniskis is now CEO) that would also promote the sequel.

"My pitch to Paramount was: Let's remind everyone how funny and great Ron Burgundy is," said François. Ferrell was game, and it was perfect timing for the 2014 Dodge Durango launch. So, Dodge agency Wieden + Kennedy got down to work with Gifted Youth, the production arm of Ferrell's Funny or Die, producing a campaign that, in humor and scope, would exceed almost everyone's expectations.

COPYWRITING/TALENT: W+K wrote the first scripts, focusing on how a local celebrity in the '70s would pitch a car made 40 years in the future.

"Once Will was on board, he really engaged and sent us back notes and new spots," said W+K creative director Aaron Allen. "We would send changes back to him. It was very collaborative, and oddly unstressful."

The first four spots broke last week, in eight versions with different jokes and punch lines. (A batch of 25 scripts produced 70 videos that will roll out over several months.) In the first ads, Burgundy raves about the Durango's glove box, can't pronounce "MPG," ridicules a horse for its single horsepower, and chases ballroom dancers away from the car.

Gifted Youth/Caviar director Jake Szymanski found W+K's scripts very funny and just kept adding to them. "We'll start with a script, but we might add five or 10 versions of a punch line," he said. "And then we'll improvise on set, yelling out other lines for Will to try."

The spots close with on-screen pitches, in black lettering backed by gold lights and trumpet music (the opening bars of the Friends of Distinction's version of "Grazing in The Grass"), for the vehicle and the movie, which hits theaters at Christmas.

FILMING/ART DIRECTION: Szymanski shot for three days—two with Ferrell, one just with the car—on two large stages at MBS Stages in Los Angeles. The first was a large circular stage with a curtain in the back and the car on display.

"We talked about doing it on a big white cyc [cyclorama]," Szymanski said. "But for this, I wanted it elegant and sleek, to juxtapose the buffoonery of Ron Burgundy."

Allen said the set had both a "modernity and a retro feel, which allowed the Durango and the character to both feel at home in the same space." (Other ads, yet to break, were shot on a second stage. "I'll just say you'll probably see him behind the wheel at some point," Szymanski hinted.)

The ads could be criticized for selling Burgundy more than the Durango, but in fact, the vehicle gets tons of screen time. "In most of my Chrysler ads—Eminem 'Born or Fire' or RAM 'Farmer'—I've had a lot of story and not a lot of car," said François. "In this work, we have a lot of car."

In any case, Francois said the campaign is about getting exposure for the Durango, not necessarily direct sales. "I don't think an ad can ever sell anything," he said. "It will never tell you everything about a car. The purpose is to grab you and drive you to another medium, which will fill you in."

MEDIA: Some ads will air on TV; all will be on YouTube.

Szymanski, who also shot Ferrell's quirky Old Milwaukee ads, said he loves the meta nature of the work. "You're deconstructing a car ad or a beer ad while still being a car ad or a beer ad," he said. "It's not anti-product, ever. It's about deconstructing the form—and a lot of the forms have been overdone in typical commercials."



Client: Dodge Durango

Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.

Creative Directors: Aaron Allen, Kevin Jones, Michael Tabtabai

Copywriter: Mike Egan

Art Director: John Dwight

Interactive Art Director: Chuck Carlson

Producer: Monica Ranes

Account Team: Kyleen Caley, Lani Reichenbach

Business Affairs Manager: Dusty Slowik

Executive Producer: Corey Bartha

Executive Creative Directors: Joe Staples, Susan Hoffman

Head of Production: Ben Grylewicz

Co-Writing Company: Funny or Die

Production Companies: Gifted Youth, Caviar

Director: Jake Szymanski

Executive Producers (Gifted Youth): Chris Bruss, Dal Wolf, Josh Martin, Ryan McNeely

Executive Producers (Caviar): Jasper Thomlinson, Michael Sagol

Line Producer: Stephan Mohammed

Director of Photography: Tim Hudson

Editing Company: Arcade

Editor: Geoff Hounsell

Post Producer: Leslie Carthy

Post Executive Producer: Nicole Visram

Visual Effects Company: Method

Visual Effects Supervisor: Ben Walsh

Lead Flame Artist: Claus Hansen

Visual Effects Producer: Colin Clarry

Executive Producer: Robert Owens

Titles, Graphics: Trailer Park, W+K Motion

Color Correction: Company 3

Colorist: Dave Hussey

DI Producer: Denise Brown

Song: "Grazing in The Grass," The Friends of Distinction

Mix Company: Barking Owl

Mixer: Brock Babcock

Producer: Kelly Bayett

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.
Publish date: October 13, 2013 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT