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Meet the octogenarian bagel mistress of New York Bakery Co’s biggest campaign since launch

New York Bakery Co has unveiled ‘The Woman Who Runs New York’, a £4m campaign fronted not by a hotshot influencer, but by an 82-year-old swearing, smoking bagel shop owner named Edna. The Drum spoke to the brand and its agency Now to uncover the story behind the bakery’s biggest marketing drive since its launch in the 1990s.

Tim Barkey, New York Bakery Co's marketing director, is hell-bent on reclaiming the New York authenticity of his brand. He passionately raves about the heritage, recipe, baking process and taste of its bagels; for him this advert needed to depict New York as a city of both grit and charm.

“We wanted the film to be a homage of New York,” he said. “Make it authentic, give me a real person – that was the brief.”

Now originally storyboarded the campaign’s star as a male bagel shop owner – The Man Who Runs New York. The matriarchal element was added, executive creative director Remco Graham explained, because “it’s more surprising, even in this day and age, for it to be a woman who runs New York.”

Edna (whose real name is Fran) was discovered by the agency who after seeing her on YouTube knew immediately she was right for the part. Her audition involved her giving swearing, looking dour and generally giving the casting director “a really hard time”.

“It was brilliant,” said Graham. “The client loved it and got it straight away. We were looking for someone with that attitude.”

Edna made no change to her personality when it came to shooting. More character than actress, her unpredictable performance meant the script was quickly done away with. Much of the dialogue in the final cuts was ad-libbed.

The ad was shot on film rather than digital. Now’s decision was twofold: it allowed the team to seamlessly edit between shots of New York and the bagel shop’s location in east London, while enhancing the grittiness of both Edna and the Big Apple.

The 60-second ad airs from today (18 September), accompanied by activations on digital, social and PR.

“We wanted to create an ad that would last two, to two-and-a-half-years,” said Barkey. “The aim is to use Edna as the personality for the brand going forward.”

"Hats off to the client to agree to a constantly swearing, gum-chewing five-foot-tall, 82-year-old non-actress,” added Graham. “I've never been so scared for my life on a shoot and loved every minute.”