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Film

Looking back at Ridley Scott's advertising career

@josephtaysom

Ridley Scott took an unconventional path to become one of Britain’s most cherished filmmakers. Having initially made his name in the wild world of advertising before graduating to Hollywood, the form of commercialised artistic expression still remains close to his heart today.

Cinema was always in Scott’s blood, the dream destination that the director always envisaged for himself. His great-uncle, Dixie Scott, was a local cinema mogul in Tyneside, and Scott went on to study at the Royal College of Art in London, where he helped create their film department.

After graduating, Scott worked on various series for the BBC before founding ‘Ridley Scott Associates’ with his late brother, Tony, in 1968. Now, the director estimates that he has created over 2,000 commercials over several decades working for RSE. “I was out of the era of ‘Mad Men'”, Scott later told Variety.

Adding: “We were really inventing modern advertising and modern communications. The big question always to me when making a movie now is, ‘Am I communicating?’ And if you’re not communicating you won’t have a film do business and our business is about commerce, not art.

“People at that time said TV commercial breaks were better than the programs,” Scott continued. “In doing that, I learned to address the most basic question: Am I communicating, or am I going over your head? And that’s what all filmmakers face”.

Below, we look at some of the adverts that made Scott’s career in cinema a possibility, providing him with a platform to direct his debut feature film, The Duellists, in 1977.

Ridley Scott’s best advertisements:

‘Hovis’ (1973)

It’s hard to make an advert a cultural talking point no matter what the product is that you’re trying to sell. When you’re promoting a brand of reasonably good bread, it’s an almost impossible task. However, it was one Scott made look easy.

Close to 50 years from when this advert aired, the Ridley Scott and Hovis collaboration remains an institution, more memorable than any other advert in British history. In 2019, Hovis remastered the simple story of a young boy pushing his bike up a hill to bring a loaf of bread back to his family home continues to engage a nation. 

‘Benson & Hedges’ (1973)

Cigarette advertising on television is a bizarre notion for anybody below a certain age. Ridley Scott’s striking advert for Benson & Hedges undoubtedly played a role in keeping Britain smoking throughout the 1970s, but that’s a tricky conversation for another day.

Scott manages to sex up a pack of B&H in this clip, which feels more akin to a short film than an advert. From videos like this one, it’s clear that his talents were soon heading for bigger things, and the way that he could forge a compelling narrative around a pack of cigarettes shows that the director could turn his hand to anything.

Chanel No. 5 (1979)

Following his move into mainstream cinema, Ridley Scott still kept one foot in the world advertising. However, now the value attached to his name meant that he had international interest, with major companies offering him work. When Chanel No.5 turner up, it was too good to turn down.

While the clip follows the pastiched tropes of the sub-genre of advertising, that’s only because the short film built the blueprint for every perfume advert that has ever aired since. It was also released the same year as Alien, which shows the versatility of his filmmaking, and what makes Scott such a unique talent.

Apple (1984)

In 1984, Scott had asserted himself as one of the top names in Hollywood following the success of Alien and Blade Runner. When he decided to direct an advert, it was a monumental deal, especially when it premiered during the Super Bowl for then-unknown technology brand Apple.

The famous advert was based on George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, and instantly, Apple became a national brand. Today, it’s the most recognisable brand on the planet, and it’s difficult to imagine a world without its presence.

Even now, advertising remains at the heart of their growth, and Ridley Scott played an immeasurable role in Apple establishing itself as the master of self-promotion.

Pepsi (1985)

For Pepsi’s 1985 commercial, Ridley Scott was entrusted to integrate the brand with the hit TV series Miami Vice. Don Johnson flys down to Miami in a Ferrari alongside The Eagles’ Glenn Frey, who also appeared in the programme. Before the car breaks down outside of a nightclub, they meet a flock of people who couldn’t look more typical of the era.

Admittedly, the advert isn’t Scott’s most exciting campaign, and it is somewhat crippling to watch without wincing. However, it cemented his status as the world’s premiere ad-man. While he still made fleeting returns to the industry after this point, even when he didn’t need the money or cache, instead, Scott did so for the love of advertising, which he helped evolve into an art form.