If you happened to laugh at those new Dodge Durango commercials on TV over the weekend or saw the spots circulating online, then you know that Ron Burgundy has been shilling cars in his own classy, inexplicably angry way. The supercilious anchorman and the Americana automobile brand don’t seem like a natural fit at first — but when Paramount Pictures, the Chrysler Group, ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s Funny or Die writing team banded together, the result is a hilariously big deal. “The iconic brand of Ron Burgundy, we just thought it would be a tremendous collaboration,” said Josh Greenstein, CMO of Paramount Pictures. “No one [else] does irreverent humor that’s kind of lasted this long,” he added, noting that the last time we saw Burgundy onscreen was nearly a decade ago. EW spoke with the creators of the ads about how they reinvented the Anchorman character as a car salesman, why they made an astounding 70 spots, and what Will Ferrell was like on set.
Shot over two days in Los Angeles this past August, the vibe of the shoot was more like a Saturday Night Live taping than a typical corporate commercial production, said Chris Bruss, president of Gifted Youth (the commercial product division of Funny or Die). There was lots of improvising from Will Ferrell and the Funny or Die writers, fueled by silly brainstorm sessions playing off the Ron Burgundy character: “[We asked,] what’s something that could piss off Ron Burgundy?” said Bruss. “If you give him an opportunity to get upset about something and yell a lot, that it’s a fun thing to see.” In the ads that are available online, you can watch Burgundy get riled up over compartments, horses, and ballroom dancers.
“Let’s explain advanced technology through the eyes of a guy who comes from the ‘70s,” Olivier Francois, CMO of the Chrysler Group, said in an email. “Imagine. What does ‘MPG’ mean to someone who is used to spending 43 cents per gallon? Or, what would someone who uses an Atlas think of Uconnect? There are so many ideas to explore and Will and his team arrived prepared and really exceeded our expectations.” The ad where Burgundy continuously mispronounces “MPG” as “M-Puh-Guh,” was definitely a novel way to relay the 2014 Dodge Durango’s amenities. “It’s super funny and you’ve never ever seen a car commercial play around with that in that way, and yet it also very, very clearly to a smart audience states that this car, that this truck gets 25 miles to a gallon, highway,” said Bruss.
“I can’t believe this is gonna be a commercial,” said Jake Szymanski, director of the ads, about several of their wacky ideas, such as one we’ve yet to see that shows Ron Burgundy throwing eggs at the Durango. “Will is so good and so funny, so he nails it in one or two takes,” he said. (Though unfortunately, we hear he did not stay in character between takes.) “It was fun for everyone involved.”
Szymanksi said that Ferrell encouraged openness and improvisation on set, so scripted ideas could be chucked two days before shooting in favor of spur-of-the-moment jokes. “That whole process is not very traditional for how TV commercials are normally made, so it was amazing for Dodge and Wieden + Kennedy, the ad agency, to go along with that process and be super supportive,” said Bruss. “Will and his team had complete creative freedom,” said Francois.
“How do you mention the thing that car commercials usually mention, but then do something unexpected with that?” said director Jake Szymanski. “We all kind of listed the top 5 things we thought would be funny to see Ron Burgundy doing with a car,” he said. All the ads feature the silly surly anchorman, and we can expect to see him actually driving a Dodge Durango in a future ad, he said. “I was just excited to shoot with Will as Burgundy,” highlighting what he called the character’s “confident buffoonery.”
What about those rumored 70 ads they shot? “We knew we wanted to make as much content as possible – W+K was writing scripts, Will’s team was writing scripts, and we wrote scripts together,” the creative team at Wieden + Kennedy said in an email. “The collaborative team, together decided what were the strongest scenarios, and also built upon them in real-time, including making edits to the scripts as they were on the teleprompter, all with goal of making the content as entertaining as possible.” Shooting for two days from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., the director, Szymanski, said that because they were constantly rolling and had so much improvised material, they scripted 30 extra ideas, shot about 25 spots, and “probably 70 different versions of commercials.” But Szymanski doesn’t know if all will be released. “We have more than enough based to run spots across television (broadcast and cable), and within the online/digital space,” said Francois. The campaign contains a “3-minute web film to a 6-second Vine spot, as well as traditional :15s, :30s and :60s for broadcast,” according to Wieden + Kennedy.
Here are some tidbits on how specific lines came about:
The idea to make a whole ad (above) focusing solely on the glovebox compartment came from Will Ferrell, said Szymanski, “He said, ‘What if I did a whole spot just talking about a glovebox?'” And “we were like, ‘that’s great.'” So Szymanski (who has directed SNL and FoD spots before) then re-wrote the scripts and shot multiple versions.
The loose, SNL-like camaraderie on set enabled Szymanski to throw out zany ideas, like the above horse-staring contest. Szymanksi would think, “Oh I wonder if we could get a horse in here, it would be great to have Ron standing next to a horse and yelling at a horse,” which would then be scripted and swiftly turned into a commercial. “Some of the funniest spots were improvised,” said Francois of the Chrysler Group, “Will saw the horse looking his way, and completely took the moment by the reins!”
This above ad featuring elegant dancers was shown during Dancing With The Stars this week. “That idea we probably came up with two or three days before the shoot,” said Szymanski, of Ron Burgundy getting mad at the ballroom dancers. While going through a dull process of finding the ballroom dancers for a separate idea, Szymanksi said that during the four-hour casting session, he started thinking “it would be really funny if someone yelled at them and chased them out of the room.” The idea to joke that the dancers were like cockroaches hiding in the “rafters” came from a FoD writer.
Here are the rest of the currently available ads:
Though Paramount Pictures stayed mum on when we can expect the rest of the ads to debut — “we would like to keep it a surprise,” Greenstein, CMO of Paramount Pictures said — you can check out the ads on BurgundyDodge.com before Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues hits theaters Dec. 20.
PopWatchers, what did you think of the ads? Classy or in need of some of that Sex Panther perfumed magic?