Advertising Career Profile: Sir Ridley Scott

A Great Movie Director Who Started in TV Advertising

Sir Ridley Scott
Sir Ridley Scott. Getty Images

Sir Ridley Scott is best known as a movie director, creating some of the powerful and important movies of the last 40 years. They include Blade Runner, Alien, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, American Gangster, Exodus:Gods and Kings, and The Martian.  

However, before he directed films (his first was The Duellists, made in 1977 with Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine), Ridley Scott was an equally important name in the world of design and TV commercials.

A Brief Look at Ridley Scott's Background

Ridley Scott was born in 1937 in the North East of England, in a place called South Shields. It's a stone's throw from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool, all working class towns, and is also the birthplace of Monty Python star Eric Idle. It's said that the dreary industrial landscapes of Teesside and the North East inspired the architecture and production design of Blade Runner.

From an early age, he enjoyed movies (particularly Citizen Kane, Seven Samurai and the sweeping majesty of Lawrence of Arabia) and also design. Ridley attended West Hartlepool College of Art, and then studied at the Royal College of Art.

After graduating in 1963, Scott became a trainee set designer for the BBC, working on notable series like Z-Cars and Out of the Unknown. Five years later, in 1968, he formed Ridley Scott Associates with brother Tony Scott (director of Top Gun and True Romance).

They were joined later by Alan Parker (who went on to become another acclaimed director). It was at RSA that Ridley Scott produced some incredible commercials, including the most famous ad ever produced.

The Commercial Highlights of Ridley Scott's Career

Without a doubt the ad Ridley Scott is most well known for is Apple's 1984 spot, which he worked on with TBWA.

 It aired during the Super Bowl, and now almost 30 years later, it is still considered a masterpiece. The bravery of it was astonishing - to show an ad about computers without showing, or even naming, the computer was groundbreaking. It still is.

But there were other earlier commercial successes that helped Ridley Scott break into the movie business. The 1974 commercial for Hovis bread, "Bike Round," was an evocative and historic celebration of the simple life. It was voted the UK's favorite ad of all time.

In a similar mold to the 1984 spot (and clearly inspired by his own Blade Runner movie), the Barclay's Bank ad stands out as another classic. It turned a regular bank into a people's bank, and the effect was stunning. The cyber-punk look that he had created in the movie went on to be copied ad nauseam during the early and mid-1980s. Some say it never went away, but merely evolved into the look you see in movies like The Matrix.

With Chanel No. 5, also from 1984, Ridley Scott pushed the boundaries of design yet again, creating a rich aesthetic for Chanel that is timeless. This one could play on any network today and be just as effective and breathtaking. The song featured in the ad is by The Ink Spots, entitled I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire.

Again, Blade Runner is rearing its head, as a similarly haunting tune (One More Kiss, Dear) was used.

And in 1985, Scott went from the sublime to the ridiculous with a 2-minute spot for Pepsi and Miami Vice that clearly doesn't age as well as his other spots. This one is dripping with 80s cheese, but was effective at the time.

Scott was back to his true form with the 1990 commercial for the Nissan 300ZX, another Super Bowl spot that made everyone sit up and take notice.

And in 1998, Scott made a commercial for Orange that encompassed his talents as a designer and artist, with a graphic ad that painted a powerful picture for the telecoms giant.

Ridley Scott makes great films. His recent movie The Martian received critical and audience acclaim, and he is soon to start work on Prometheus 2 and 3.

 He also makes great commercials. Both the advertising and movie industries owe him a debt of gratitude.