Ad of the Day: People’s United Bank

Philip Seymour Hoffman brings a subtle humanity to his first work as a commercial director

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It's not every day that an Oscar-winning actor, at age 44, decides he wants to direct his first TV commercials—and for an unglamorous brand, at that. But that's the case with Philip Seymour Hoffman, who directed the two spots below, through The Via Agency in Portland, Maine, for People's United Bank.

The ads, running across New England and in certain metro New York markets, show the bank's employees helping people out in small ways on their way to work—because that's just the kind of people they are—and then continuing to go above and beyond in dealing with customers at the office. The conceit isn't new—it recalls, among other things, the Liberty Mutual "Responsibility" campaign. And some will call it hokey. But hokey often gets the job done with regional bank work. And Hoffman, who has directed lots of theater and one film, brings a deft touch to the work. The camera movements, in particular, are subtly engaging, imbuing the slice-of-life street scenarios with a breezy humanity that echoes, most of all, the wonderful Life Vest Inside commercial we wrote about back in December.

The cookie-cutter scenes and voiceover inside the bank that close out the spots don't quite live up to the outdoor stuff. But given the client's modest goals—to "illustrate the spirit of know-how"—this work more than succeeds on its own merits. So, why did Hoffman want the gig? Sources tell Adweek he wants to get his feet wet with smaller directing projects in the hope of taking on larger projects in the future. (You would think he could possibly bypass the smaller projects, given his stature in the business, but perhaps this is part of the methodical way in which he works.) "Working with Philip was a true pleasure," says Greg Smith, chief creative officer at The Via Agency. "His presence as a director is equal to that of his acting. He's very cerebral and yet instinctive. As a director I think he brings a real lyrical quality to the work. It all feels real and grounded but also a little wonderful."

Smith adds: "More than anything People's United Bank and Via have teamed up to own the concept of know-how and what that means in consumers' lives. It's a unique brand of know-how, though, that we want to communicate. It's real, practical and caring. But it's also clever. It has that little twist, that says we get things done."

It will be interesting to see where Hoffman goes from here.


Client: People's United Bank

Agency: The Via Agency, Portland, Maine

Chief Creative Officer: Greg Smith

Creative Director: Ian Dunn

Associate Creative Director: Chad Vander Lugt

Producer: Jennifer Klumas

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.