At first glance, the most recent advertisement for Turin Bicycles Ltd. (viewable by clicking here) is thoroughly non-controverial: images of bikes, highways, traffic and various portions of the store’s 700 Lincoln Street headquarters accompanied by a voiceover that touts pedaling as an environmentally conscious commuting choice. Look closely, though, and you’ll see a quick flash, literally – a shot of a woman astride a two-wheeler wearing nothing but a pair of red pumps.
This special extra was the brainstorm of Scott Redmond, a former KHOW talk-show host who now runs his own advertising agency, Clear Static Media, and it was included with the full knowledge and amused consent of Turin’s owner, Alan Fine. Moreover, Redmond and Fine say that the the commercial ran for two weeks in May on a variety of prominent cable channels – USA, TNT, ESPN, Discovery, Spike, even CNN and the History Channel – before the folks at Comcast pulled the plug, allegedly over viewer complaints. Not that Redmond is apologizing for the stunt. “It’s so hard to break through the clutter,” he says. “Anything I can do to cause somebody to think, ‘Did I just see that?,’ I’m going to do.”
Redmond’s emergence as an image maker comes after decades spent in a non-visual medium. As noted in this January 2003 Message column, the New Orleans native got into radio in 1974, and over the next seventeen years, he deejayed on a series of rock and contemporary-hit stations in his hometown and markets such as San Diego. He also branched out into television, hosting a mid-‘80s dance show called Airwaves and serving as chief yakker for Talk TV, a program that prefigured a new direction on radio for him. He gabbed in settings such as Philadelphia, Miami, Seattle and Portland, Oregon before being hired by Clear Channel in 2002 to helm the KHOW afternoon-drive slot previously overseen by ex-Broncos player Reggie Rivers. But Redmond failed to set the outlet’s ratings ablaze, and as noted in the second item of this September 2004 Message, he was ultimately given the heave-ho in favor of Dan Caplis and Craig Silverman, who continue to man the microphones during this time period. Redmond was blindsided by the move, which still gets his blood boiling nearly four years later.
“I told Clear Channel that I was moving my girlfriend here,” he recalls. “I spent $4,000 to move her after two and a half years of waiting, because she was afraid that what happened in Portland would happen here. But they told me, ‘No, go ahead and have her move here.’ And three and a half weeks later, everything happened.”
A yearlong period of financial pain followed, which Redmond spent in part “trying to figure out what I wanted to do,” he says. Finally, he landed a position as creative director at Lakewood’s CP&I Marketing and fell in love with the world of advertising – so much so that when Clear Channel offered him a show in post-Katrina New Orleans in 2006, he passed. (Of course, his history with the company played a part as well. “I was still really bitter,” he concedes.) Then, later that year, he formed Clear Static, and since then, he’s assembled commercials for a growing list of clients, including Beau Jo’s Pizza, The Broker Restaurant, Kaufman’s Tall & Big Shop, Fatburger and Wingman Wings. Most of the spots have run in the Denver area, but a few have also screened in Portland and New Orleans, where he still has contacts. “I’ll bet in two years I’ve done seventy commercials,” he estimates.
Which brings us to the Turin ad. Fine liked a commercial Clear Static had assembled for the firm last year, so he asked Redmond to come up with something new for 2008 – and man, did he. “He’s a really creative guy,” Fine allows, “and he said, ‘Let’s put in a little subliminal thing. People won’t really see it – but even if you don’t recognize what it is, it’ll draw your attention.’” That was fine by Fine, so Redmond asked Sydney Fox, a photographer with whom he works, if she knew some models who’d be game to participate and was surprised when she personally volunteered for the gig. Redmond jokes that the cameraman on the shoot “asked for a few extra takes.” Still, he emphasizes that “it’s shot from the side, so you can’t see her boobs or anything really private. And you see it so briefly” – although not as briefly as originally envisioned. In his first cut, Redmond included just ten frames of Fox, but at Fine’s suggestion, he bumped it up to sixteen before sending it to Comcast.
The pair half-expected the spot to be rejected in advance, but no. It was approved for broadcast and began running on a slew of Comcast’s cable channels “with pretty good frequency,” Fine maintains. “It could have run a couple of hundred times.” During that span, he heard from at least one regular customer who’d seen Fox and thought her cameo was hilarious, while several others made mention of having caught the commercial but either didn’t register the nudity or weren’t bothered by it. Someone was, however. After about two weeks, a representative at CP&I, which handled the ad buy, received a call from a Comcast staffer, who said the ad would be yanked as a result of subscriber gripes and wouldn't reappear until the Fox segment wound up on the cutting-room floor.
This verdict doesn’t bother Fine. Although he thinks the images are tame compared to a lot of material that Comcast broadcasts on a routine basis, “I don’t consider it to be a violation of my free-speech rights or anything like that.” In regard to the impact of Fox’s appearance, “maybe there was nothing at all,” he concedes. “Maybe it was just a lark and it had no impact. But it was fun.”
That’s the way Redmond feels, too – and he’s ready to try it again. “I’ve got plans to put other nude people in ads,” he says.
A special note to Tivo owners: You might want to take a break from skipping all those commercials. – Michael Roberts