By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist April 23, 2013 at 12:00PM
This installment was the very first Got Milk? ad shot for the wildly popular advertising campaign for ... milk. Who knew the Dairy Farmers of America had such a huge advertising budget? This cleverly conceived spot features actor Sean Whalen as a young history nerd, making himself a peanut butter sandwich snack while listening to the radio in his shrine to Revolutionary American history. The $10,000 question is “Who shot Alexander Hamilton?” and the phone rings on his desk when he is mid-peanut buttery bite. Unfortunately, the DJ just can’t understand him, and he’s fresh out of milk. It’s a clever concept, and shot with distinct Baysian style-- every insert and close up of the Hamilton paraphernalia a smooth tracking shot or rack focus, and of course, the opening shot is a loving Steadicam sbot over a bright blue vintage car. It’s an extremely visceral ad, with the sound of our nerd’s pounding heart ratcheting up the tension (classic Bay ad trope). As he struggles through a giant bite of Wonderbread and Jiff, you thirst for milk yourself. Much like the Priest Vending Machine Got Milk? ad, Bay makes the question “got milk?” as dire and dramatic for the audience as possible. This clip also won a Grand Prix Clio Award (like the Oscars of advertising, remember that “Mad Men” episode?) for Commercial of the Year.
Nike Jordan Vs. Barkley Ad
Michael Bay has a really interesting relationship with what could be described as "urban culture" – his directorial feature "Bad Boys" featured two marginally well-known black comics recast as strapping action heroes, becoming a surprise smash along the way. It showed that the director had no problem adapting his stye for a comedic sensibility you might not expect from Bay. This is exemplified by a Nike ad that Bay directed that Charles Barkley against Michael Jordan for sneaker supremacy. (For some reason it also features cameos from sex therapist Dr. Joyce Brothers and Greg "Shock G" Jacobs from jokey hip hop band Digital Underground.) Bay's penchant for gentle surrealism is pushed to the limits-- Barkley enters the main body of the commercial by having his talk shoe desk fall into a luxurious swimming pool. From there it escalates to a series of volleys between the superstars that sounds more like schoolyard boasting than anything actually competitive. Which is actually a good metaphor for Bay's entire filmography – anytime anyone gives him shit for being mean-spirited or misogynistic, he's just goofing around.
Only in Bay-land could an ad that ostensibly celebrates anti-intellectualism be this fucking smart. It's not just the conceit, which oscillates between being brilliantly stupid and stupidly brilliant (two bickering beer-drinkers can't decide on what to watch – a rodeo or a lawyer show – so they combine the two), it's the entire production. The way that the fall idly twirls in the background of the dusty bar, suggesting movement even as the camera wooshes forward, lattices of light streaming in from the hyper-sunny outside world. The guys watching the TV don't seem like real world tough guys, they are Bay's accentuated version of what he thinks real world tough guys look like (mostly: denim and plaid). The actual "lawyer roundup" isn't quite as exciting but there are some Bay hallmarks chugging along – a camera movement that doesn't suggest visuals as much as the trajectory of sound (we come out of a speaker), plus a couple of micro-second cuts that only Bay could identify let alone implement. This add is, like the beer, light, bubbly and makes us dizzy.
Bugle Boy Color Denims Ad
This is one of the ads in which Bay demonstrates a certain sense of self-awareness (even if possibly conceived by the ad company) but it’s still a pretty funny take on the stereotype of Michael Bay, while also featuring Bugle Boy colored denim shorts overalls! For men! It’s also an ad that relies not on visual storytelling but the cognitive dissonance between the images of lithe models and the scrolling text underneath addressed to “all guys” asking them to let Bugle Boy know that just showing beautiful women is a great way to subliminally sell them colored denim shorts overalls. It’s a fun bit of meta-awareness about the ad industry itself, while Bay out-Bays himself on the ridiculous close ups and shots of beautiful ladies cavorting against his favorite backdrops-- a beach, a gas station, a deserted highway (what a terrible place for a couch!), a kitchen, a bed, doing something with a cello? It makes no sense and they know it, but that’s the fun of it. Michael Bay self-awareness (intentional or not) is always a welcome sight.
Victoria’s Secret Gisele
It’s so hard to choose a single Michael Bay Victoria’s Secret ad. Because there are so damn many of them, and for sheer visual spectacle, they are all devastatingly simple, yet effective. He shoots these remarkable, impossible specimens of the female form in the same way that he shoots a luxury vehicle, lovingly showcasing every line and curve. This one happens to be one of the more bonkers installments in the series, a 30-second blast of pure male id, firing on every stereotypically masculine pleasure center. Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen, the 2000s definition of feminine sexual bombast, stalks around a penthouse in black lingerie against a rap rock soundtrack, the edit almost too fast to comprehend, a fragmentation of female body parts and architectural lines. Then, random fire! Gratuitous helicopter searchlight! That’s it! Sometimes all you need for a concept is Gisele + fire = awesome.
This Levi's commercial, for their "Wide Leg" line (ah, the nineties) starts off in a fairly subtle way– an attractive guy and an attractive girl are in an attractive art deco elevator, the kind that don't exist anymore except for certain buildings in downtown Los Angeles where Ridley Scott filmed "Blade Runner." The man starts to fixate on the woman's expertly toned stomach and begins imagining their life together. Subtlety drops away like a snake sheds its skin; flashes of lightning-like light illuminate their whirlwind courtship, marriage, and the birth of their children (all while she, somewhat improbably, wears her Levi's wide leg jeans). These are images so gilded with style that they would recur in later Bay confections – everything from the Aerosmith video to "Armageddon." Bay is so free of self-awareness that he borrows from himself all the time, not because he's cynical or lazy, but because he thinks these things are so fucking cool that he's got to use them over and over again. And you know what? He's right.
There are even more to choose from, including Tina Turner's airplane hanger-set video for "Love Thing," (Bay never met an airplane hanger her didn't fall in love with); the Audi ad with Dustin Hoffman and a young Lake Bell that is ostensibly a remake of "The Graduate," and the "Invisible" Levi's ad, where two pairs of Levi's get busy on a couch. One could argue that the entire "Transformers" series is one big massive ad for the dozens of brands that get prominent product placement. Like it or not, Bay has certainly made his distinct stamp on both the big and small screen, with a distinct through line lasting from his earliest days. Is there a video or ad by Bay you want to shout out? Anything here that surprised or impressed you? Let us know below. - Katie Walsh and Drew Taylor