• Agency vows to create best auto dealer ad of all time

If you somehow miss Portland's notorious bad girl, Tonya Harding, sparring on Fox TV's 'Celebrity Boxing' match next week, never fear.

You'll be able to catch the former skating queen later this year when she 'guest stars' in one of a series of innovative ads for the Scott Thomason Auto Group. The ads will air over the next eight months, ending with 'the greatest auto dealer commercial of all time.'

'I think no one (in Portland) has ever done anything like this before,' said Michele O'Hara, president of Nerve, the Northwest Portland ad agency that created the campaign.

The auto group, of course, is known for airing quirky TV ads featuring Thomason, a Portland celeb in his own right.

'What we're challenged with every year is coming out with something better than the year before,' said O'Hara, long associated with Thomason's ad campaigns.

This new campaign, which is costing Thomason a half-million dollars, may do the trick.

The hype began last month during the Olympics, when Thomason ran dozens of ads promising to deliver 'the greatest auto dealer commercial' in September.

The campaign consists of more than a dozen, mostly 30-second spots, each filmed as a mini-'mockumentary,' or mock documentary, in the style of such feature-length satires as 1984's 'Spinal Tap,' 1997's 'Waiting for Guffman,' about efforts to stage a pageant celebrating a small town's sesquicentennial, and 2000's 'Best of Show,' about the competitive world of dog shows.

In the auto group's ads, Thomason has hired Santo, a 'commercial-directing genius' so talented, he needs only one name, explained Nerve accounts manager Steve Hawley, who coordinated the project.

Recovering from a 'career-altering nervous breakdown,' Santo comes to Portland to make the 'greatest auto dealer commercial.'

Playing Santo is comedian Kevin McDonald, one of HBO's 'Kids in the Hall' from a few years back and seen in the recent film, 'The Ladies Man.'

The first ad, which began airing Monday, is a 60-second introduction to Santo. The remaining spots are staged 'behind the scenes' as Santo leads rehearsals for the 'greatest' ad.

Thomason appears in most of the ads, subjecting himself to whatever the irrepressible Santo asks, including appearing in tights and Henry VIII-style garb.

In her ad, Harding declines an offer to appear in the greatest commercial because it would be 'bad for my image.'

The Blazer Dancers appear with Thomason in an amusing dance routine choreographed by Santo. (A scene in which Santo directs the troupe to mimic a car's right signal, left signal and windshield wiper is truly hilarious.)

The script and look of the ads are the work of two Portland free-lancers hired by Nerve, scriptwriter Ian Cohen and art director Matt Peterson.

Cohen's script, coupled with Nerve's ad industry connections, attracted Moxie Pictures, a Los Angeles commercial production company, to help with the filming.

Through Moxie, Nerve obtained the services of director Spencer Chinoy, one of the producers of a new Fox series, 'Greg the Bunny.' Roberto Schaefer, photography director for 'Guffman' and 'Best of Show,' served in that capacity for the Thomason ads.

'We definitely expect people to be waiting for the next ad and hoping they are interested that we're making this throughout the year,' Hawley said.

Stay tuned. Funny and inventive as they are, the Santo ads are building up to the 'greatest commercial.' It remains to be seen if Nerve will produce its own 'best of show.'

Contact Mary Bellotti at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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