With Star Wars: The Force Awakens hitting cinema screens later this week, my mind drifts back to some great Star Wars scripts that nearly got made.
And when I say nearly, George Lucas had personally approved them.
Let me explain. A long time ago in a galaxy very, very near (1996 in London to be more precise) two advertising agency creatives sat in a briefing for a new TV campaign. The client: Persil. The brief: Get a mum to talk to camera about the technological advancements of New Persil Liquid.
As you can imagine, we struggled. Who on earth was ever going to believe this?
Then, inspiration struck. It was a Monday evening at the offices of JWT. We had been working on the brief for a couple of weeks and had, so far, resisted giving in to writing scripts with a mum to talking to camera about the technological advancements of New Persil Liquid.
We found ourselves where we normally found ourselves when creative juices weren’t flowing: on the pool table.
Then those unforgettable words were muttered: What about C3P0? Of course! You can’t get any more mothering than this shiny gold protocol droid designed to serve human beings.
He can talk about technological advancements until the cows come home.
And wait for it… What if we swapped R2D2 for a mischievous washing machine called WA5H? Genius.
We’d cracked it.
If we needed to talk about ‘Grease Releasers’ that removed stains like lipstick, suntan lotion and motor oil, we could set it in a garage, where a mechanic was repairing their crashed spacecraft.
Or, if we needed to talk about low temperature ‘Stain Shifters’ that removed stains like coffee, grass and red wine, we can have a humorous sketch involving WA5H getting a little tipsy after too many red wine tests.
My favourite was the script about the EC Ecolabel the product had been awarded. C3P0 and WA5H were standing on a cliff overlooking the most glorious sunset. WA5H beeped. “Yes,” replied C3P0, “I like this planet too.”
The characters could cover any scenario. We were so confident, we got the Account Director down to our office. He had a reputation for ‘unselling’ an idea, even after the client had bought it (I will spare him the embarrassment of naming him, but anyone working in the agency at the time will know exactly who I am talking about). We gave him a week to find a problem, any problem, with the campaign. Five days later, he came back into our office and said he couldn’t. Great. He was now allowed to sell it.
The campaign was presented to the Brand Manager at Persil. He loved it.
I need to explain something about how marketing mutli-national brands works. There are many levels of client management. Each level’s only real power is to say ‘no’. If they say ‘yes’, then they lose their power and – like us – are hoping the next level says ‘yes’ too.
With this campaign however, there seemed to be nothing to worry about. It sailed through the next two levels of management.
Even research was on our side. The concept was researched with ‘real’ mums and they gave it a big thumbs up.
We were getting excited. We were getting swept away on the wave of enthusiasm for the campaign.
But wait a minute. Screech! We had to get permission from Lucas Films! Bump!
The agency producer managed to get their contact details. The scripts were sent off to Lucas Ranch. We waited. And waited.
While we waited, the concept was getting a resounding ‘yes’ from every level of client management and every round of consumer research.
We eventually heard back from Lucas Films. George loved the scripts! He liked them so much that he agreed at lend us the C3P0 costume to have a word with Anthony Daniels (the voice of C3P0) about doing the voiceover. Result!
So, what went wrong? Why is this article called ‘The Star Wars films that nearly got made’?
Well, remember the original brief? Remember the myriad levels of client management? The man at the very top said “Where is my mum talking to camera about the technological advancements of New Persil Liquid?”
The dark side was strong in him!
Enjoy the film on Friday.