It took ten rehearsals and sixteen takes over about eight hours to complete, but when it was over, Carmel Car Service had made an ad which may go down in history as one of the most uncomfortably cheesy commercials ever, replete with impromptu singing and dancing, amateur acting, and a jingle that you may never manage to get out of your head. You can’t watch it without wondering about the self-awareness of its creators. Did Carmel set out to make an unbearable local ad?
“It’s not a $100,000 commercial,” acknowledges advertising veteran Stan Silverman, who helped craft the 30-second spot that has been omnipresent on Time Warner Cable. “It’s a commercial that everybody really could get into and do, everybody involved felt strongly about.”
“We never intended to be something that was going to influence artists. It’s a piece of advertising. But when advertising people hear it, they have the reaction, ‘I can’t get that out of my head,’ and in advertising that’s the most important thing.”
“It’s over-the-top, out of the ordinary,” said director John Mulder of 3Seed Marketing. “It’s intended to be comedic slice of life that would never, ever happen in the world — a group of people singing that song. Maybe some hate you for it because they can’t stop singing the song. We consider that a badge of honor.”
The ad may seem like it takes place in a parallel universe where people spontaneously sing and dance about livery cabs, but it was actually filmed at 126th* Street & Lenox Avenue. Aside from the 20,000 plays on Time Warner Cable purchased by Carmel, it received some free airtime on Saturday Night Live in May when Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader sang parts of the tune on a “Broadway Sizzle” sketch.
Actress BJ Gianni got the script ahead of time but didn’t know until the day of the shoot that she would be playing the woman who leads the musical number. “It’s cheesy, but that was apparently their goal — to make it as memorable as possible, by any means necessary,” she told us. That people know her now as the Carmel girl now is not something she’s embarrassed about, at least not anymore. “Initially I probably was a little bit,” she said. “I thought, how many more times are people going to see it? There’s so many other things I’m talented at as an actor. But no, I’m grateful for the opportunity and exposure.”
Gianni isn’t the only one who gets recognized. Carmel CEO Avik Kabessa, who appears in the ad, gets attention from strangers as well. “They say, ‘Oh you’re the one from the commercial, I love it,’” Kabessa said. “And some people tell me, ‘Don’t ever dance again.’”
* The address has been updated to reflect the correct location of the filming.