Working the Mean Streets of Bolton
We love Robert De Niro.
Once “considered one of the best actors of his generation, De Niro built a durable star career out of his formidable ability to disappear into a character”. Alas, he has become a one-character actor, a caricature of his hardman roles, as illustrated by his appearance in the latest, heart-breaking Warburton’s Bagels advert.
Personally, I’d love him to go all Al Capone with a baseball bat on whoever persuaded him that a trip to Bolton was a good idea.
Perhaps he and Harvey Keitel are reassured that their fine work on this side of the Pond won’t affect their big screen pull back home and using them to suggest that bad things will happen if you don’t take their advice is a useful device when selling insurance. And now, baked goods, maybe.
“Is it as bad as the Muppet advert?” somebody asked. I considered this only for a split second, because the selling-out by any great icon and the knocking over of the pedestal that you placed them on can only be a deeply sad moment. My answer was, “Much worse, because the Muppets cannot make decisions for themselves and were forced to do it. De Niro said yes to this himself.” How are the mighty fallen?
It’s not a badly made ad by any means. Big budget, obviously, with all the gangster film clichés you could ask for and more. It flows along in a jolly way and there are some perfectly lovely throwaway jokes woven in; from the secretary’s opening line “Robert De Niro’s waiting”, (the ad should have ended there, Bananarama chums), to the “Nice Buns” rival brand, the “Don’t forgeddaboudem” sub-copy and the “I ♥️ BLTN” mug. All of these could grace the very finest Aardman movie.
It’s not even the bullying of the workers and the people of Bolton that I object to - I’m sure that the stoic people of Greater Manchester have been subjected to far worse (Yes, I have been there and I’m sure that it is a lovely place). It’s De Niro’s mugging that bugs me, he’s not the sort of actor that I want to see in Panto, just because his genre and his downturned mouth have become a joke. “Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime.”
I’m really not sure of the point of the ad. Will it convince non-bagel eaters that they should support organised crime? Will it remind bagel fans just how great they really are? Will I overhear people in the office discussing just how superior Warburton’s bagels are to any other bagel (even Nice Buns’)? A colleague pointed out that, if nothing else, it will get people talking. But are they talking to me? Supermarket employees will soon be sickened by De Niro impersonators asking for them, or stealing them.
I’m not clear which brand of bagels I would rather buy; the Warburton’s own packaging looks a bit anaemic compared to the gutsy GoodBagels and some gritty authenticity might not have gone amiss to make them genuinely different from the competition (category colours, weak typography, ya mooks).
I watched it the first time as open-mouthed as Jonathan Warburton does. Neither of us can take the Goodfellas’ advice of “Always keep your mouth shut”. Can Robert do comedy/ Jury’s out. Do I like my bad guys giving me a knowing nod from the screen? Nope. Am I a film snob? Maybe. Do I love bagels? Youbetchasweetsalmonandcreamcheeseido.
How does it end? Not well. Well, not for me anyway, as I have just received a warning that I will soon be swimming with the fishes (other bagel fillings are available).
As far as this ad goes, to quote the review of another De Niro appearance on Rotten Tomatoes, “Recommendation - skip this one and revisit the previous movies”.
No stars. No plums. No rotten tomatoes.
Andy Kirk, Design Strategy Director
Andy has built and guided creative strategies for global FMCG brands including Lipton and Hellmann’s for Unilever and Tuborg and Super Bock for Carlsberg. He created Somersby Cider and KP Space raiders and was co-founder of Tynan D’Arcy and Nineyards. He is an active advocate for brand personality identifying what it is, what it means and translating it into real character so that brands come to life with a story worth hearing and seeing. Andy is a writer, author and lecture in brand strategy.