A small budget yields big commercial appeal
Melissa Tan wasn’t sure what the response would be to Little John’s Derby Jewelry’s first-ever TV commercial in 2011: an intentionally campy spot featuring a woman stuffing gold jewelry into an envelope. (The message: Don’t mail your gold—bring it in for cash.) She wrote and produced the ad, hiring a local crew to film it for $3,000. It paid off “almost instantly,” says Melissa, who co-owns the Louisville, Ky., store with her jeweler husband, John “Little John” Tan. Melissa and her crew kept making commercials—budgets grew as business improved—always starring a straight-faced John and purposely corny songs and characters, including grown-up Christmas elves, Village People and Michael Jackson impersonators, and the recurring Super Gold Man, a burly local guy in a shiny blue superhero costume who delivers customers to Little John’s (“I’m Super Gold Man, the fairest in the land. I’m taking you to Little John’s!”). Not only have the ads increased revenue, but they’ve also become cult classics in Louisville, where John is now considered a local celebrity. And the spots have earned so many views on YouTube that the Tans are in talks with a Los Angeles production company to feature the shop in a reality series. “I hope it happens,” says Melissa. “That would mean we get to make more fun commercials.”
How did you come up with the idea to create such funny TV commercials?
Melissa: John is the jeweler, but I handle all the advertising. Around two years ago we were seeing lots of national money-for-gold ads and I said, “John, you need to put some ads on TV and do something regional.” I really thought they should be funny and eye-catching. He said okay, so I told him I would write something and contact people who could make it happen. He had a $3,000 budget the first month, and that brought so many people through the door that he went to a $10,000 budget. During the holiday season, our budget was $20,000 because it was working so well.
How do you think up the plot lines and comedic songs?
I clear my mind and pray about it and then I’ll be sleeping or something and wake up and have the whole thing written in my head. John plays music at the house a lot, and I’ll think, Let’s do a commercial with music like that. Then I’ll play around on the keyboard.
Which ad earned the most attention?
The first Super Gold Man got 40,000 hits in two weeks. That one was really corny.
Who does the casting and costumes?
People [in the ads] are friends of my son’s or friends of John’s or people who work at the store. Random people call and ask to be in them. We have them come in and see if they have talent—then we put them in! A lot of the costumes we buy online. The Super Gold costume my sister made.
Is the shop mostly a repository for gold these days?
John is really a wonderful jeweler—he’s GIA-certified and everything. He hopes to get back to dealing in diamonds more as the economy gets better. But I don’t know if we would have made it through this recession without the commercials and the gold.