The Lady In This Citi Ad Really Did Climb That Dizzying Rock Tower

katie brown citi

A lot of people think the Citibank ad featuring a woman who rebuffs a marriage proposal and climbs a perilous rock tower in Utah instead (because it’s “the rock I really had in mind”) is faked with special effects.

It’s not.

Citi really did persuade professional rock climber Katie Brown (pictured) to summit the “Ancient Art” rock formation in Utah’s Moab desert, with a camera on her head, as she stands atop the tower and looks down, hundreds of feet, into the dizzying canyon beneath her feet.

The ad is almost ubiquitous on TV right now. You’ve probably heard its musical refrain, “Somebody left the gate open.”

Citi’s ad agency, Publicis in New York, agreed to tell Business Insider exactly how they created the ad, from casting the rock climber to getting a helicopter to circle around the rock for two days, waiting for that perfect moment.

First, watch the ad:

Brainstorming and scriptwriting

Publicis began work on the ad in August 2011. The ad is for Citi's 'Thank You' card, and it needed to show someone buying a lot of stuff.

As Tom Drymalski, Publicis' executive creative director, put it, 'What is a sport or a hobby or an interest that people get involved with that really requires buying lots of different pieces?'

The agency had a couple of different teams on the project, brainstorming a lot of ideas to see which would rise to the top, one of which was, 'she'll be a rock climber and she'll be up on a mountain!'

This period took 'a few weeks,' Drymalski said, with several rounds of scripts.

Casting the climber and finding a director

The agency next needed to find a female climber, who could also act and get to the top of a rock face, and a commercial director to shoot her doing it. This was the original casting call, on

Publicis chose Christian Loubek of Anonymous Content to direct.

As far as the climbers went, 'it's a pretty small universe,' Drymalski said. 'We narrowed it down to three or four climbers, of which all were amazing.'

They settled on Katie Brown

Location, location, location!

On Oct. 13, Publicis and the production company began scouting locations. 'The vision for this spot was we wanted it to look real,' Drymalski said. 'You can cheat it, fairly obviously. But we said if we're going to do this let's make it epic. The best way to do that is to make it real.'

It turned out that Ancient Art was actually do-able as a place to film.'They may have filmed parts of 'Mission: Impossible' in that area, too, so it's a fairly production-friendly area,' Drymalski said.

Ancient Art itself is not technically difficult for an experienced climber, either. 'She brought her dad up to the top of it,' Drymalski said. 'For a climber at her level, on a scale of one to 10 it's about a one. I got up to the base camp and said, 'this is high enough for me!''

This photo, from Publicis, shows Brown on the rock during the shoot.

The shoot

The shoot was conducted from Oct. 26 to Oct. 29. There was a crew of 20 - 30 people, at two rock locations (the third location is the jewelry store at the start if the ad).

The set included a lightweight camera on Brown's head, one near the top of the spire, and one shooting from a 'base camp' below.

They also brought this helicopter to get those swirling side shots

This is the view they had -- that's Brown and her climbing partner, Alex Honnold

Astonishingly, Brown and Honnold normally climb without ropes. In this case, Citi and Publicis required ropes and helmets for safety.

Here's Brown on the summit

Here's how that looks from the helicopter, as seen in the ad

And now from Brown's helmet cam, looking down at her feet as she stands on the summit

Brown stood on top for about an hour and a half before they were happy with the shot, Dymalski said.

The credits

Elyssa grey, Head of Creative and Media, Citi
Jennifer Lindauer, Marketing Director, Citi
Ursula Castrillon, Marketing VP, Citi

Creative Team:
Agency: Publicis New York
Rob Feakins, CCO
Tom Drymalski, Executive Creative Director, Publicis
Perry Essig, Executive Creative Director, Publicis
Scott Davis, Art Director, Publicis
George Logothetis, Writer, Publicis
Anthony Garetti, Executive Producer, Publicis

Production Team:
Christian Loubek, Director, Anonymous Content
Chuck Willis, Editor, The Cutting Room

Song, Into The Wild, LP

Katie Brown
Alex Honnold

If you have an unusual ad, and some behind-the-scenes imagery that explains how it was made, we'd love to write about it. Contact: [email protected]

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