How Tony Kaye, and His Crazy Tire Ad, Helped Me Think for Myself

There is no 'i' in team, but there is in idea

When I was a young copywriter, my partner and I would sit together mornings and ask ourselves, "Is today the day?" 

As in, the day when someone would pull us aside and say, "You two have no idea what you're doing. Leave immediately." 

Like most creatives then, and probably now, I was obsessed with shiny things. Work that would win awards. Validate me. Confirm that Mommy and Daddy loved me best. (Not realizing that while I was doing this, accountants and venture capitalists were walking away with all the money. But that's another story.) 

I had gotten to the point where I would memorize Every. Single. Execution in the awards books. Try my best to hold that vibe in my head, and will out ideas that felt similar. 

I went two years without a sniff from the judges. (Also not realizing that this is the perfect way to make sure your work will always be a year and a half out of date.) 

Then, two things happened. 

One, as we say around Boston, light dawned on Marblehead. From then on, I was going to know more about the client than anyone except the client. Analyze the situation, figure out what made them different or better, and tie that to the needs of their audience. While cheerful and collaborative, I would secretly bocame my own account person, write my own strategy and briefs, and solve the problem the way I thought made the most sense. 

But far more importantly, I saw this ad. 

This bizarrely wonderful TV spot directed by Tony Kaye for Dunlop Tires. 

Dunlop | Tested for the Unexpected

I watched it over and over, hypnotized. What the F was he doing? What was Tony telling me? 

Oh. That once you understand the rules, there aren't any.

So, yes, do it your own way, stupid. Best practices be damned. In Tony's case with Dunlop, a simple product demonstration. Taken to a place no tire company, or advertiser had ever been. 

The dark drone of Lou Reed's "Venus in Furs."

Black-and-white colorized footage. (Digital possibilities in those days consisted of Mozilla.) 

Roads filled with rolling pianos falling among purple trees. 

Fireballs and ball bearings and swamp things. 

Cat people. Nipple rings. 

Weird sado-masochistic creatures preening and gloating. 

Doing what all to make a car crash as it pinballed around them. 

Then the beautiful tire shot with integrated tagline: "Tested for the unexpected." 

Could I have my mind back now, please?

Tony Kaye, Tony Kaye, Tony Kaye.

There was no glossy sugar-spun coating on anything he did. Nothing that separates the ad from the audience. I was pulled into his world. And everything changed.

The next few years, I got to shoot with Tony several times. They said he was full-on crazy. Impossible to work with. That I would regret it.

But 20 years ago, I stopped listening.

Maybe that's why I'm still doing this today. 

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Bob Minihan
Bob Minihan is chief creative officer at Merge Boston. While he has helped brands including Emirates, Four Seasons, American Express, Titleist and AIG, as well as health, life science and medical device companies across the world, he knows you've never heard of him. He's OK with that.

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