Sometimes the inspiration for a great piece of advertising can come from an unlikely place. In the case of the ‘Hello Boys’ poster for Wonderbra it was the Mel Brooks film ‘The Producers’. But, before we explain how, let’s indulge in a little history.
We’re back in 1993. Nigel Rose, latterly head of art at Collett, Dickenson, Pearce and Partners has just been hired by Holmes, Knight, Ritchie/TBWA as joint creative director. He appears to have arrived at a bad time. One of the main accounts he has been hired to work on, Playtex, is moving to Saatchi & Saatchi. Nigel’s fashion experience is peerless. At CDP he worked on Mary Quant and Clarks shoes, winning awards for both accounts. But how could Nigel, despite his considerable fashion experience, win awards on an account that had already walked out of the door? Step forward Susanna Hailstone, account director on the Playtex business.
Susanna, heartened by Nigel’s arrival at the agency, suggested that at least one of the Playtex brands, Wonderbra, might be salvaged, if she had some work to show the client. Could Nigel help? Nigel could, but was disadvantaged by the fact that the writer he’d been hired to work with, Murray Partridge, had just been taken ill and was on sick leave. So Nigel locked himself into his office for a fortnight, struggling to find ideas. At the end of two weeks Nigel had 15 fully formed poster ideas, the lines, the look, the lot.
As always in agencies, there now followed a whittling down process, where the weaker ideas were discarded, leaving only the strong to survive. The strongest of the strong, the poster that caught everyone’s eye, was ‘Hello Boys’. But how did Nigel think of it? Let Nigel take up the story. ‘Somewhere in the back of my mind was a scene from the Mel Brooks film, ‘The Producers’. In this scene, a voluptuous Swedish secretary is squeezed between the film’s main actors, Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. At one point, as an aside, Zero gazes fondly at the secretary’s breasts and says ‘Hello Boys’’.
In fact, Nigel had remembered the scene incorrectly. The ‘Hello Boys’ line is in an altogether different scene. In this part of the film, Zero Mostel’s character, Max Bialystok, peers into a safe crammed with banknotes acquired through the scam of over-selling shares in ‘Springtime for Hitler’ a show that was so bad that it would close after its first night. Zero utters the line on seeing the money. But never mind. As is often the case with great ads, two apparently conflicting thoughts had collided to produce a satisfying whole. Nigel may have remembered things incorrectly, but he hadn’t put a Magic Marker wrong in creating the poster. The words ‘Hello Boys’ made a great headline.
Susanna was now ready to see the client. She arranged a meeting on neutral ground, in a hotel, and showed the work. The client was amazed by what she saw and pledged to allow TBWA to keep the Wonderbra brand. As she said, ‘All Saatchi and Saatchi have shown us so far are documents, you’ve shown us a viable campaign’.
The campaign may have been viable, but Nigel now had to produce it. He had chosen to use black and white photography, not colour, to give the posters ‘more edge and class’, as he puts it. He had long been an admirer of the German fashion photographer, Ellen Von Unwerth and fancied using her to shoot the photograph. At the time she was working in Paris so Nigel caught the Eurostar and met her for lunch at the Terminus Nord restaurant, opposite the Gare du Nord, to sound her out on the project. Happily for Nigel, Ellen was keen to do the shoot and sometime later Nigel found himself in Paris watching as Ellen photographed Kerry Clausen, an American model, in the bra. As Nigel had hoped the shots were sensational. There was just one small problem. The client’s fitter hadn’t got the bra size quite right so Nigel had to do a reshoot.
By this time Ellen Von Unwerth was in New York and Kerry Clausen wasn’t available. So the model had to be recast. Nigel wasn’t available, either, so Susanna Hailstone attended the casting session that Ellen Von Unwerth conducted in New York. Eva Herzigová, the Czech model, was chosen to take the place of Kerry. Eva had previously appeared in a stylish campaign for Guess? Jeans and had everything that was needed for the shot, a great personality, good looks and a fine pair of breasts.
Nigel now travelled to New York to shoot the all-important pictures. Ellen Von Unwerth had been booked for two days, as had the penthouse suite at the Royalton Hotel, where the shoot was to take place. Nigel remembers clearly Eva taking a break from shooting and going out on the balcony in her underwear to get a breath of air. From the office building opposite dozens of men’s faces appeared. When Eva saw this, she struck a series of poses, putting on a show for the faces at the windows before coming back inside. Otherwise, the shoot was uneventful. As before, Ellen delivered a stunning set of pictures, but this time with a correctly fitting bra.
Back in London, Nigel started to put the ‘Hello Boys’ poster together. He decided on large type to make the most of the two-word headline, specifying one of his favourite fonts, Felix. He also chose to have the poster printed in four-colour black and white, so that the photograph had greater depth than it would were it just to be printed using a single black plate. The only touch of colour he allowed himself was the Wonderbra logo, which he placed within a small yellow clothes tag together with a line he had written to accompany it, ‘The one and only Wonderbra’.
The ‘Hello Boys’ poster became famous as soon as it appeared on billboards. The media spend for the campaign was only £150,000 but thanks to its instant fame it was reproduced in dozens of newspapers, magazines and on TV. It is reckoned that the poster gained £5 million of free newspaper coverage and airtime. It also did well in the awards schemes, winning golds and silvers all over the place. It also won an IPA Effectiveness award. And it even spawned an ‘homage’ in the form of a poster for the non-alcoholic drink, Kaliber, that showed Billy Connolly holding a Kaliber in each hand with the headline, ‘Hello Girls’.
But perhaps its greatest accolade came courtesy of Birmingham City Council, who had the poster banned from sites within the city – not because the council considered it unseemly or rude, but because it was proving distracting to drivers and blamed for a spate of car crashes. You have to wonder, when Nigel sat down to create an impactful poster, whether that was quite the kind of impact he had in mind. Probably not.
Copyright Mike Everett.