Hollywood’s Gordon Gekko and his dodgy sidekick speak up for the FBI and Fiat

Can bad guys play a redemptive, positive role-model in advertising? I touched on this in my (seemingly popular) post on SS colonel Otto Skorzeny, who has been hailed by British adman Dave Trott as a creative thinker.

Now, bizarrely, the two anti-heroes of 1987 film Wall Street have, quite separately, been recruited into public service as spokesmen for, respectively, Chrysler/Fiat and the FBI. Does this work?

First, some background. Of the two, the FBI’s decision to use Gordon Gekko (catchphrase: ‘Greed is Good’) as its frontman for a 60-second public service broadcast on combatting securities fraud is the more controversial.

Clearly Gekko actor Michael Douglas (pictured) brings an interest and Hollywood glamour to what would otherwise be a very dull and arcane subject for a PSB. Gekko is merely a successful associative device in the public mind: the archetypal shyster who would know every last wrinkle about concert parties, junk bond fraud and Ponzi schemes.

Ultimately, the power of the ad depends on a willing suspension of disbelief. That is, the dissociation of Gekko’s character from that of the man who plays him. Douglas himself, who did a reprise of the Gekko role in the 2010 film Wall Street: Money never sleeps, has in private life been a well-known anti-gun lobbyist since the assassination of John Lennon, and has also espoused various anti-war causes. So the jump to a crusader for financial probity does not, perhaps, have to bridge too big a gap.

The danger is the ad will gain recognition rather than respect. It will be Douglas we remember, not the FBI’s determination to stamp out securities fraud. Celebrity will trump gravitas. Anyway, here it is (a touch short on production values).

Meanwhile, Gekko’s susceptible side-kick, Bud Fox, is making an appearance in an ad for the Fiat 500 Abarth. I should say it is not Fox himself, but his real life persona Charlie Sheen who is actually doing the stunt-driving. Fox was Sheen’s most high-profile role: ever since it’s been one long, drunken, roll downhill, arrested by increasingly frequent stops at the rehab clinic. It is on this well-publicised off-stage ‘bad boy’ image that Fiat is, rather degradingly, attempting to capitalise, in order to promote its mini ‘hot-rod’. Makes you wince just to watch. But then, I’m not the target market.

I guess the man has to earn a living somehow, and you could claim he has creatively adapted his career. There’s more on the ad here.

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About Stuart Smith

Stuart Smith is one of the most incisive and knowledgeable commentators on global marketing. He was a long-time editor of Marketing Week during the period when it was the UK's leading marketing, media and advertising specialist publication. Visit Stuart Smith Blog.