(Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Boat’s Notes & Quotes, the monthly employee newsletter of Boatmen’s First National Bank of Kansas City. The article won the 1995 Award of Merit in Feature Writing from the local chapter of IABC.
(Note: The bank newsletter was discontinued when Boatmen’s was acquired by NationsBank.
Also: Sharp’s audience chortled at his reference to US Air, which, days before, had a major crash in a Midwestern airport.)
You can run but you can’t hide from Thom Sharp
The star of Boatmen’s television and radio commercials was in Kansas City in September for a retail sales meeting
By Rod Perlmutter, editor, Boat’s Notes & Quotes
Boatmen’s First National Bank of Kansas City
Bill Nelson and Mike Brosnahan were lavishing praise on our associates during a sales meeting at the Benjamin Ranch when suddenly there was a commotion.
Some guy was trying to get on the stage! No — it wasn’t just some guy, it was “The Boatmen’s Guy!”
If you missed the September 21 sales meeting, you missed the Kansas City appearance of Thom Sharp, the actor who is the star of Boatmen’s television and radio ads.
Thom’s the guy who wades into swimming pools to hawk Homequity products to grumpy bathers. He’s the guy who pops out of washing machine to tout free checking products. He’s the guy who chases his neighbors around on a power mower, yelling, “You can run but you can’t hide from The Boatmen’s Guy.”
And there he was at the Benjamin Ranch, trading zingers with Bill, the Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Boatmen’s First National Bank of Kansas City, and Mike, Executive Vice President of the Retail Banking Division.
“I hear you turned off your pager’s beeper and turned it to ‘vibrate,”‘ Thom told Mike. “You know, if you ask your wife to call your pager and it vibrates, that’s no longer considered a pager, that’s considered a marital aid.”
And he scolded when he spotted that he had put his Kansas City Country Club membership on his resume. “Has he invited any of you over there?” he asked the laughing crowd. “Hmm, Bill, whatever happened to caring and sharing?”
Thom, 45, is a Los Angeles area-based actor and stand-up comedian who has achieved cult status because of his humorous commercial work.
Thom has done commercials for Goodyear Tire of Canada, Comp USA computer stores, Glad Wrap bags and other companies, but he’s best known in the Midwest for the 52 television commercials he’s done for our bank since 1990. Those TV ads, and the 176 related radio spots, were written by Chris Wigert and other writers at TBWA Switzer Wolfe, the St. Louis-based agency that produces our ads.
Thom’s ads are more than just funny. They are memorable — and we have the statistics to prove it. A series of telephone surveys over the last four years has shown that awareness of Boatmen’s television and radio advertising has almost doubled since we began broadcasting these ads.
In March 1989, about a year before Thom’s ads began, awareness of Boatmen’s ads was about 42 percent — trailing Capital Federal, UMB and Commerce. Since we began to air these Thom Sharp ads, awareness has grown to 80 percent in the Kansas City market in May 1994 — making us the market leader.
Over the last three years, the ads also won honors from national marketing organizations, such as the bank Marketing Association, and local groups as well. For example, the Homequity campaign won the 1993 “Best of Show” award, the highest award given by the St. Louis chapter of the American Advertising Association.
Thom received a variety of awards in advertising long before he became an “on-camera talent.” The Dearborn, MI. native received a business and marketing degree from Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti and a master’s degree in mass communications from Wayne State University in Detroit.
He worked nine years in advertising, mostly as a copywriter and creative group supervisor, first in Detroit and later in California. In Los Angeles, he worked for ad agencies during the day, and spent his nights performing at comedy clubs. In 1980, he started to act full-time, and has since established himself as a comic actor. Thom now lives in the Los Angeles area, where all of our commercials are filmed and recorded.
He frequently returns to the Midwest for public appearances, although he doesn’t have the problem he had before his performance at the Benjamin Ranch. His flight was delayed for several hours.
“Well, I should have known,” he told the crowd at Benjamin Ranch. “It was US Air. The pilot said, ‘Um, we’ll be getting underway soon, because I don’t think the problem we’re having with the flaps is anything to worry about,’ and we were all saying, ‘No, no! We’ll wait! We’ll wait! Take your time!”
Thom Sharp allowed Boatmen’s employees to take more than 300 Polaroid snapshots of him at the ranch, and later, demonstrating the same patience, he agreed to answer some questions about what he thinks of the bank’s commercials.
Q: What has been your strangest experience while filming a Boatmen’s commercial?
A: We did a commercial that was supposed to look like something out of an old Western movie about a cattle drive, with cowboys and campfires and sagebrush and the biggest Texas Longhorns you had ever seen. And in the middle of this rustic 19th Century frontier-type scene, I show up, wearing my “Boatmen’s Guy” suit, riding a burro.
Now, I’ve been on a horse once in my life, and I don’t think they like me. They’re big and fast and a little scary. But the wranglers told me, “Don’t worry. This is different. This is a burro. It just kind of mopes along.”
“Not only that,” they said, “It’s a burro from a petting zoo.”
Well, I thought, a burro from a petting zoo, that can’t be too bad, can it?
So, I get on the burro, and we shoot a couple of shots, and the burro’s taking its time to get from scene to scene, and everything going fine, and then we did the final sequence, in which I ride off into the distance. We’re slowly trotting along, away from the cowboys and toward the steer, and suddenly, the burro went on a rampage. He’s galloping at full speed, and I’m holding on for dear life. I can’t figure out how to stop him, and the burro’s got this crazed look in his eyes. So, I jump off the burro…and fall on my face.
You know, it’s really sad when you can’t trust a burro from a petting zoo.
The wranglers grab the burro, calm him down, and set up the scene again, and this time, they put a stunt man on him, and start him off in the same direction.
This time, the burro went completely nuts, rearing back on his hind legs like he was Hi Ho Silver.
It wasn’t until they tried to shoot the shot from another angle that they realized this burro didn’t care to be anywhere near cattle. Particularly Texas Longhorns.
As a result, I have a totally new respect for people who ride horses. Of course, I don’t tell people why I have this new respect.
Telling people I bailed out from a rampaging petting zoo burro…that’s humiliating.
Q: Do you have a personal favorite Boatmen’s commercial?
A:My favorites are the commercials involving Lorrain. She’s the elderly lady who has appeared in two commercials. In the first commercial, I ask her what she’d like to see in her bank, and she says, “more eligible tellers.” I ask her about other bank services and products the bank offers, and she stays silent, and sticks with “more eligible tellers.”
My second favorite commercial is the one in which she is floating in a swimming pool and I try to offer her some flippers. Lorrain’s great.
Q: How is filming a Boatmen’s commercial different from your other acting experiences? For example, is being “The Boatmen’s Guy” more emotionally satisfying than, say, portraying a funeral director or a giant lizard?
A: It’s all a lot of fun. Remember, I could have a real job.
Q: Is there anything in your personal experience that you, as an artist, build upon to portray the brooding subtext and unbridled passion inherent in the script of a Boatmen’s Bank commercial?
A: I think about what Stanislavski said. He said: “This is decaf? Yet it has a full-bodied taste.” That’s what I think about.
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