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New Generation Goes for a Spin in Olds Ads : Ringo Starr and Peter Graves are among the stars appearing in Oldsmobile's new campaign.

August 23, 1989|BRUCE HOROVITZ | Times Staff Writer

Former Beatle Ringo Starr, with a little help from his daughter, is in the driver's seat of Oldsmobile's new TV commercials.

And so is "Mission Impossible" 's white-haired star, Peter Graves; Noel Blanc, son of the late Mel Blanc; and even Albert Einstein's great grandson, Edward.

On Tuesday, Oldsmobile officials said the car maker will this weekend kick off the second year of its "New Generation of Olds" ad campaign. The spots--which place well-known celebrities in humorous situations with their not-so-famous children or relatives--all feature the familiar jingle, "This is not your father's Oldsmobile."

"We get calls from all kinds of celebrities who want to be in the ads," said Ted Jordan, general manager of the Southfield, Mich., office of Chicago-based Leo Burnett. The commercials are created out of both agency offices. "But the trick is to only use celebrities who we can closely connect with the product."

"The idea," said Don Gwaltney, creator of the campaign, "is we make cars for both generations." The TV show "Mission Impossible," for example, is trying to appeal to a second generation of viewers. And just about everyone knows Graves as the professorial-like figure who always outsmarts the bad guys on "Mission Impossible."

Eludes Border Guard

Last year, such celebrities as "Star Trek" 's William Shatner and astronaut Scott Carpenter had roles in Oldsmobile ads.

Gwaltney, group creative director at Leo Burnett in Chicago, said he got the idea nearly two years ago while sitting in his office on a Sunday afternoon. And as for the jingle, said Gwaltney, "I wrote that one day while driving to the airport."

In the "Mission Impossible" ad, which even includes the familiar music from the TV show, Graves is pursued in an unfriendly foreign country while driving his Cutlass Supreme. And he is able to drive past a heavily guarded border by quietly taking off his mask--only to reveal the face of his daughter, Amanda.

In another spot, Ringo Starr is chased by adoring fans until his 18-year-old daughter, Lee, rescues him in a four-door Cutlass Supreme. "A 'fab four'-door," his daughter calls it, in reference to the former nickname of the Beatles.

The ad, in which Ringo sings the familiar Oldsmobile jingle, was shot earlier this summer in Culver City. The director was Joe Pytka, the much sought after Los Angeles commercial director who may be best known for filming the Madonna spot for Pepsi that was axed earlier this year after airing only once. Viewers confused the ad with Madonna's provocative music video, and Pepsi executives decided to swallow their estimated $5-million investment in her ad.

And while Oldsmobile executives say they have been careful to select celebrities who are not likely to cause the company any headaches, some things can't be predicted.

Earlier this summer, the company filmed a commercial that included an appearance by Mel Blanc--the voice of such cartoon characters as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. But less than a month later, Blanc died. Although Oldsmobile still plans to run the commercial later this year, executives are debating whether to run its last segment, where Blanc appears seated in the back seat of the car with several animated characters and says, "That's all folks."

While the Blanc family has given Oldsmobile permission to run the ad, at least one celebrity broker said airing it might not be such a good idea.

"It's a tough call," said Alann Heldfond, a celebrity broker at Ingels Productions in Hollywood. "Certainly, they would have to test it extensively before they put it on the air."

Advertising researchers say last year's Olds ad campaign was among the most effective in the auto industry. And sales of some Oldsmobile models improved considerably. But one researcher said that by keeping the same campaign theme for a second year, Oldsmobile may also be digging itself into a rut.

"They can only stretch this celebrity thing for so long," said Jim Hillson, senior analyst at Phase One, a Los Angeles advertising research firm. "It sounds to me like they're running in place. The real challenge is to take the attention away from the celebrities and draw it toward the cars."

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