when fiction became fact

The satirical TV series ‘Mad Men’ features the fictional 60’s New York ad man Don Draper working for a firm Stirling Cooper Draper Pryce. In one episode Don pitches a daring campaign to Heinz executives, for the brand’s ketchup, that proposed not showing the product at all. Instead, the pitch showed close-ups of foods that go great with ketchup—French fries, a cheeseburger, a slice of steak—but without any ketchup in sight. Don’s proposed tagline was: “Pass the Heinz.” At the end of the scene the agency boss says ‘You’ll be thinking of Ketchup all day and you didn’t even see it.’

In the TV series the campaign’s strategy of creating a craving for a product through its absence was apparently too far ahead of its time. Don doesn’t get the account and ‘Pass the Heinz’ doesn’t run. However, the end of 2016 saw a strange coming together of advertising’s real and fictional worlds.

I was on a 10 day shoot in Sao Paulo for a well-known American fast food company. On the very last day Andy, the producer, asked me if I could possibly work on another shoot. The shoot was a substantial pitch to Heinz called ‘Pass the Heinz’. The only challenge was that I had to do it in one day in time to catch my original flight home at midnight….after a quick conference call with the agency I agreed to do it.

With no time to prep and only some stills from the pitch scene of the TV series ‘Mad Men’ to guide me I started overnight with some shopping for ingredients. I had some of the correct type of burger patties and sauces left over from the fast food job and thanks to a fantastic assistant I found everything else I needed. The only thing I had difficulty finding was the exact crinkle-cut chips, but we eventually found a steak restaurant that had them on their menu. They made me pay the normal portion price – and 10% service charge on top!

Usually I’m asked to create something really attractive, but this time it was exactly the opposite – a greasy burger, just out of a box, a piece of steak on a fork and some oily chips.

I worked all day and got the job done at the last minute. I remember my driver picking me up at the studio and rushing me to my hotel for a quick shower. I had packed the night before, and we shot off to the airport, making the flight with minutes to spare. After a glass of champagne and a snack I fell very happily asleep with a feeling of a job well done.

Nine months later I had forgotten about this rush job when the producer emailed me to tell me Heinz had actually run with the pitch without alteration and my work was all over huge billboards in New York City.

It was one of those moments when you become very proud of what you help to create.

Below are the three ads that ran on billboards, newspapers in NYC and on social media.