Ads that never ran: 'Probably the best...' Carlsberg campaign knocked out in the final round

Carlsberg don't do product placement, but if they did...

Every creative has one - a bold idea that never quite made the cut; a concept that made the client balk; a pitch gone wrong. The Drum’s new series takes a look at the best ads that never ran and speaks to the creatives behind them.

Next up we have Richard Denney, creative director at St Luke's, who tells us about 'Probably the best..' Carlsberg ad that never ran...

Denney's story hails from his time as creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi when he landed the Carlsberg account.

It was 2006 and the beer brand’s 'Probably the best lager in the world' campaign had been doing the rounds for 33 years. It had already seen six television or cinema pieces which had related the refreshing taste of its lager to an apartment that overlooks a football stadium, a housemate who's also a part-time chef and a night club where women swarm around you like bees to a honey pot, and small talk is forbidden.

Denney, tasked with continuing the series, felt it was all too obvious: “If Carlsberg is going to do it, then surely they’d do it?

"It was a famous line, but it was all a bit generic," Denney remembers. "When me and Dave [Henderson, his creative partner] got hold of it, we wanted to make it mean something."

He felt he could transform the slogan into something "a lot cooler" with a little help from an Italian Stallion.

If Carlsberg did product placement….

Denney was working on a new concept as the world eagerly awaited the release of the Rocky Balboa movie. It sparked an idea – to merge one of Hollywood’s most famous scenes with one of advertising’s most famous taglines.

“We had this line,” he recalls, ‘Carlsberg don’t do product placement, but if they did...’”

And the idea was born: to take the iconic Rocky training montage and make it Carlsberg’s own.

In a similar vein to Wayne World’s ironic ode to product placement, he wanted to use CGI and special effects on original footage from the film. The team worked together to rewrite the scene and cut up original footage of the famous run so they could present the client with a mood film when they pitched the idea.

“We start off just with him as he runs down by the dock area,” details Denney. “But at the point in the movie when he gets thrown an orange, in the ad, he gets thrown a can of Carlsberg.”

As the momentum of the scene builds, and Rocky’s training progresses, “the product placement gets more and more ridiculous,” and in the background the people are walking around drinking Carlsberg lager and using pallet trucks to stack Carlsberg kegs.

“Before he reaches the steps, there is a boat in the harbour which drops its sail,” Denney says, “but in the ad as it drops you see the Carlsberg logo.”

As Rocky ascends the iconic steps, he’s dressed head to foot in Carlsberg branded clothes. And as he reaches the top and punches the air, “he’s become a can of Carlsberg” and the voiceover calls out “Carlsberg don’t do product placement. But if they did, they’d probably be the best in the world…”

But then it went tits up…

After presenting an animatic at the pitch, Denney says "the client loved it so we took it to the studio... where it all went tits up.”

They approached Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios who he says were “into it at first” as it would have been a brilliant promotion for the upcoming movie. However, the scale of the project led to doubt over the cost of licensing, and even though the team went “backwards and forwards desperately trying to get it to work,” the studio eventually decided to pull out.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. The idea went became the basis of the award-winning 'Old Lion's' ad that had the strapline “Carlsberg don’t do pub teams. But if they did, they’d probably be the best pub team in the world.”

The ad shows a game of football between a local pub team and a team of England players, coached by Bobby Robson. “If Carlsberg is really going to do it, and do a pub team... then it’s going to be filled with ex-England footballers, right?” Denney explains.

It formed the cornerstone of the company’s media campaign in England during the run-up to the 2006 FIFA World Cup and starred Alan Ball, Bobby Charlton, and Peter Reid, among nine other England legends who had 796 international caps between them.

Despite the accolades he received for the Old Lions works, Denney hasn’t stopped thinking about what might have been if he had got the green light for 'Probably the best' Carlsberg ad that never ran.

This is part of The Drum's 'Ad's That Didn't Run' series. Previously, we spoke to Above + Beyond's David Billing, on a mischievous 'PC work for Pilgrim's Choice.

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