McCann Detroit speaks to LBB’s Addison Capper about the joys of witnessing the cast of Austin Powers work on the General Motors spot and the potential for advertising to transcend pop culture
With climate change threatening to end the world, spare a thought for evil henchmen. If useless governments, giant oil companies and a whole load of greenwashing end the world before they can, they’ll be out of a job at the very least.
This tongue-in-cheek premise is the foundation of a Super Bowl spot that plays into the very heart of my 30-year-old millennial being. As a kid, my siblings and I would regularly discuss things like fricking sharks with fricking laser beams attached to their heads, with our pinky fingers raised to the corner of our mouths. Austin Powers was regular dinner table conversation so when I saw GM’s 2022 Big Game ad was titled ‘Dr EV-il’, I was immediately all-in. And it didn’t disappoint. The whole evil gang’s back together. Mike Myers as Dr Evil, Rob Lowe as Number Two, Mindy Sterling as Frau Farbissina and Seth Green as Dr Evil’s son Scott. Iconic gags are aplenty thanks to some supremely tight storytelling from the agency behind the campaign, McCann Detroit, with a little help from Myers himself.
LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with the creative team at McCann Detroit to find out more about a “trance-like state” on set, jokes that couldn’t quite fit 60 seconds, and advertising with the potential to become part of pop culture.
LBB> What came first? The EV-il pun or the idea to have Dr Evil as the star or your ad?
McCann> Both came in a single, blazing moment of inspiration. The fact that ‘evil’ starts with EV made the title a no-brainer.
LBB> Tell me more about the creative process - how did you land on this idea? And why did you opt for humour to get across what is quite a serious message?
McCann> We thought using humour was the right choice given the fact that we were so successful with last year’s Will Ferrell commercial. Also, because nobody wants to be bummed out while watching the Super Bowl. A little sugar helps the medicine go down as they say. Conceptually, we started looking for another adversary to play against GM, like last year's Norway idea. Nothing seemed as potent and surprising as that, so we thought, what if we focused on climate change? The idea of a ‘global threat’ brought Dr. Evil to mind and we thought how funny it would be if he decided to make his whole evil operation all-electric.
LBB> Dr Evil really provides an absolute treasure trove of gags to work with - what was the writing process like?
McCann> We initially wrote our best version of what we thought Mike Myers would do. Of course, when we presented it to him, he had thoughts, so the process turned into a ping pong game. We sent stuff to him, he sent stuff back to us and we eventually landed right in the sweet spot.
LBB> A lot of the humour of the Austin Powers movies hinges on jokes that get drawn out. But this is a 60-second spot. What was the key to condensing it down but keeping the comedy magic?
McCann> We had the basic story structure fixed in place to provide the spine of the ad. Beyond that, we were free to explore a variety of jokes and gags of varying lengths. The key was having as much material as possible to work with, so we could try a variety of executions.
LBB> Speaking of the cast, how did you get them all involved and how was it working with them all together? Did they slip into character quite naturally?
McCann> That part was easy. Mike Myers was drawn to the environmental message immediately. The key idea being, Dr. Evil ‘has to save the world so he can take over the world’. The rest of the cast signed on soon after. They all seemed legitimately thrilled to be doing it and had a lot of fun in the process. It was like a family reunion and the chemistry all came rushing back effortlessly.
LBB> What level of improvisation went down on set? I find it hard to imagine Mike Myers sticking 100% to a script, especially in a role like Dr Evil, who he's played for over 20 years!
McCann> Mike Myers is a buttoned-up pro, but he leaves some wiggle room for himself to let loose. He surprised us with a lot of improvs that even he didn’t remember doing afterwards. He went into a kind of trance-like state, and it was amazing to witness. We sometimes forgot we were working.
LBB> Who directed the spot and why were they the right person to bring your vision - and the Austin Powers realm - to life?
McCann> A British filmmaker by the name of Tim Kirkby directed. He’s best known for directing the sci-fi parody series, Look Around You as well as the BAFTA winning BBC 2 show, Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle. He’s no stranger to working with comedy greats having directed episodes of Fleabag, Veep and Brockmire. He had the perfect blend of visual style and comedic character chops to shepherd this iconic property into the modern age while retaining its classic charm.
LBB> Overall, what was the production like? There are lots of little bits that really make it part of that world - bits I noticed are the sound design of Dr Evil's chair moving, the chair itself, the red buttons, music! Tell me all about that.
McCann> Our eyes were bigger than our stomach (and the commercial’s :60 second runtime), so we couldn’t include everything. Mr. Bigglesworth was one notable casualty of the process. Originally, we had sight gags involving the Alan Parsons Project and Preparation H that any Austin Powers’ fan would delight in. The sound of the chair was one of Mike Myers first notes to us. As soon as we added the sound effect, the scene became five times funnier. In the end, his physical comedy brought so much more than we could have scripted. He’s a TV/movie savant, an obvious Peter Sellers fanatic and overall fun-loving guy who just wants to make everyone laugh. Our main job was providing a structure for him to do his thing.
LBB> Any parting thoughts?
McCann> We’re obviously big fans of the Dr. Evil character, so one of the biggest thrills is the fact that Baby Me was introduced in our Super Bowl ad. If they make another movie, it makes sense to feature Baby Me. That would mean, our GM commercial becomes a part of the canonical continuity. Transcending advertising to become a part of pop culture is something you just don’t do every day.