- Friday, Dec. 14, 2012
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- PORTLAND, Ore.
While the title of this feature article is an oxymoron, it encapsulates an atypical brand of creative brilliance that was one of the dynamics leading SHOOT to select Wieden+Kennedy's Portland and New York offices as collectively our Agency of the Year.
Clearly, among the most difficult tasks in advertising and entertainment is to come up with a sequel that lives up to the original. Well, Wieden has created both the originals and their successful sequels/follow-ups, with high-profile examples of the latter coming to the fore in 2012, including Procter & Gamble's "Best Job" and Chrysler's "It's Halftime in America" from W+K, Portland, and ESPN's "John Clayton" out of W+K NY. These "sequels" add an extra dimension to--while also being as endearing and/or engaging and relevant as--their original counterparts.
"Best Job," a centerpiece of P&G's 2012 Summer Olympics campaign, is literally a sequel to the "Thank You, Mom" campaign for the 2010 Winter Olympics. That original work two years ago was inspired and inspiring, said Jerry Rice, P&G's sr. integrated production manager, underscoring the fact that the original idea needs to be strong in order to make even the prospects for sequels possible. Rather than heralding a company's sponsorship of the Winter Games in Vancouver, B.C., the decision was made to sponsor the moms of Team USA athletes in the 2010 Winter Games. A Pampers spot, for example, noted that "before they [American athletes] were wearing Gold, Silver or Bronze, they were wearing diapers...Thank you, Mom." This and other spots drove traffic to ThankYouMom.com where folks could express appreciation for their mothers. The overall campaign generated during the 17 days of the Winter Olympics some 50,000 tweets about the work, 400,000 new Facebook friends, and an estimated $130 million in incremental sales of P&G products.
Rice told SHOOT right before this year's Summer Games, " I remember a meeting the P&G team had in November  in New York City with Dick Ebersol who was running NBC Sports. We showed him our campaign concepts and he called it the best Olympic advertising he had ever seen, which is high praise coming from someone who's been through so many Olympics...We knew we had something special, something that would have staying power."
That staying power is rooted in an insight and a truth gleaned by W+K, observed Rice. The insight is reflected simply in what happens when a young athlete wins an Olympic medal, particularly a Gold Medal. "The first thing they do is look up into the stands for Mom--even more so than for their coach," said Rice.
As for the campaign's honesty, Rice related, "Not one product that P&G sells is going to improve anyone's athletic performance. But the products we make help make life a little bit easier for Mom, that special person who is most responsible for getting those young athletes to this point--giving birth to them, taking them to practices, nourishing them, supporting them whether they did well or poorly."
Still, what do you do for an encore come the 2012 Summer Games in London? Well W+K, Portland, built upon that insight and truth, first with "Best Job," a two-minute film directed by Oscar-nominated Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu of Anonymous Content, which premiered exclusively online to P&G Facebook fans in April, with shorter, localized spot versions of the piece debuting on TV worldwide the next month. "Best Job" showed us different moms around the world getting their youngsters up in the early a.m. for training in their respective sports and follows each through the years until their moments of competitive Olympics glory. A supered message reads, "The hardest job in the world is the best job in the world. Thank you, Mom."
P&G also concurrently rolled out the "Thank You Mom" app that allowed people to thank their own moms by uploading personalized content in the form of a video, still image with caption or text-based message. Users were then able to encourage friends and family to do the same, spreading the word to thank and celebrate moms.
The follow-up spot, "Kids"--directed by Daniel Kleinman via Epoch Films (he's now with Rattling Stick worldwide)--went online in early July and then made its TV debut during the opening ceremony of the Summer Games in London. "Kids" shows us Olympic athletes at various venues and in various activities--at a press conference, in the locker room, in competition--except the twist is that all are children. We see a kid runner at the starting blocks, another youngster on a high diving board, two others in the boxing ring, a girl gymnast on the balance beam, a lad about to lift a hefty barbell that dwarfs him in size. At the end, we see a mom in the stands, nervous, anxious yet proud. A supered message reads, "To their Moms, they'll always be kids." An end tag carries the slogan, "P&G, Proud Sponsor of Moms."
More "Mom"-oriented corporate work was unveiled during the course of the Summer Games in London, providing a unifying theme under which many of P&G's brands came together.
A prime online component in P&G's 2012 Summer Olympics "Moms" campaign--from W+K Entertainment under the aegis of Bill Davenport--emerged in the form of "mom-u-mentaries," which were shorts of varying lengths profiling mothers of Olympic athletes. Rice said there were 20 nonscripted shorts helmed by different documentary filmmakers, with a number of the films out of W+K and others from digital agency ZiZo. Among the most moving "Raising an Olympian" stories is Natalie Hawkins talking about learning "to let go" as she looks back on her daughter Gabby Douglas' journey to becoming a Gold Medal-winning gymnast.
Rice noted that W+K and P&G came up with the mom-u-mentary concept back during the 2010 Winter Olympics but time and money constraints weren't conducive to a launch back then. He recollected that P&G didn't get to work in earnest on the 2010 Winter Olympics until Oct. '09, meaning there were higher priorities than the mom-u-mentaries. "Still, though, we saw what a success the Winter Games campaign was, how much it affected people in the U.S. and worldwide," related Rice. "We knew it would be worth the effort and investment to expand the content well beyond commercials, to get up close and personal with relevant stories about the moms and the sacrifices they make--which everybody can relate to. You don't need to be a parent to a world-class athlete to understand and have warm, positive feelings about those everyday sacrifices."
The 2012 Summer Olympics sequel to the 2010 Winter Olympics initiative received plaudits and has been cited in many industry circles as having attained integrated campaign nirvana. Further marking its success was "Best Job" winning this year's primetime commercial Emmy, making this the fourth straight year that a commercial from W+K has earned the award--the prior three winners being Coca-Cola's "Heist" in 2009, Old Spice Body Wash's "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like" in 2010, and Chrysler's "Born of Fire" in 2011.
Super Bowl replay "Born of Fire" brings us to our next tough act to follow since it was easily the most talked about ad on last year's Super Bowl. What could W+K, Portland, do to make a similar impact in 2012? Well the agency again connected with the viewing public, this time with "It's Halftime in America" directed by David Gordon Green of Chelsea. For the second consecutive year on Super Sunday, Chrysler managed with a two-minute spot to weave itself into the American fabric, paralleling the comeback of the automotive industry to that of Detroit and the entire country. It started during last year's Big Game with "Born of Fire." Fast forward to the 2012 Super Bowl and Clint Eastwood is our country's voice with a spot which appeared during halftime, a time when both teams are trying to figure out what it will take to win in the second half.
Eastwood notes that the U.S. is at halftime, except this is not a game--it's real life, with people worried about being able to get work to support their families. At times it seems we've lost our way, that divisiveness has become the calling card of the day. But it's been this way before and ultimately Americans have overcome problems by coming together. Eastwood is akin to a coach with a halftime pep talk. He affirms that the second half is about to begin for America, during which the world will once again hear "the roar of our engines."
Nominated for this year's primetime commercial Emmy Award, "It's Halftime in America" met the daunting challenge of again reaching the high creative bar set by "Born of Fire" on the Super Bowl stage. Joe Staples and Aaron Allen, W+K Portland's Dodge Chrysler creative directors, and integrated creative director Michael Tabtabai offered varied insights regarding what contributed to their 2012 Super Bowl success. "Being in Portland was a factor," observed Staples. "It's tough enough to meet high expectations but even more so when you're in a massive media industry. We're not sharing pubs, bars, restaurants and weekend space with other agencies and people. In Portland you don't have those external distractions and that extra built-in pressure where you're thinking about too many things that really don't matter. You can focus on the client and the message."
Plus, the heaviest lifting was done with 2011's "Born of Fire," which paved the way for "It's Halftime in America," observed Staples. "The first year was a gamble because the Super Bowl had largely been a joke fest at that time. But our thinking was that with the privilege of talking to 110 million people at one go, you can move in another direction if you have something serious to say. You can connect with audiences on a different level. 'Born of Fire' showed that we could."
Allen added, "A guiding light each time when we come up to bat on something big is we seek out something to tie into in the zeitgeist of America. The idea of Detroit being down and out yet moving toward recovery led to 'Born of Fire.' It took awhile this year to find what the cultural insight would be and how to insert Chrysler into that situation but once we did, 'It's Halftime in America' came to pass, putting us in an optimistic place with the insight that America is at its best when its back is against the wall."
Tabtabai observed, "The context of the Super Bowl has changed quite a bit. In the last two years, seemingly every spot is available online before the football game. Chances are good that you've already seen several, if not all of them prior to the telecast. We were careful to make sure neither ['Born of Fire' and 'It's Halftime in America'] was seen before the Super Bowl. That helped to make them special, maintaining the element of surprise as you're watching in your living room."
Staples concurred, noting, "YouTube views to a certain extent can be fool's gold. If that's all you're chasing, you're negating emotional impact. To watch something with others, to absorb and discuss it is a much different experience. We had that with Chrysler on the Super Bowl--and then those spots generated discussion in person, online and across all media."
Test of time Further reflecting the "sequel" theme for 2012, consider ESPN's "This is SportsCenter," the long-running campaign that has become tried, true yet somehow not tired over the past nearly couple of decades. The 381st spot in the campaign broke this year, featuring the professorial, buttoned-down pro football analyst/insider John Clayton offering insights on camera about sophisticated NFL defenses. Once the live remote concludes, we see the middle-aged Clayton discard a breakaway t-shirt that gave the appearance of being a suit and tie on television. It turns out Clayton is in his bedroom at home, wearing jeans and a tank-top as he unfurls a never before seen ponytail into locks flowing from his otherwise receding hairline. He cranks up the heavy metal music, jumps onto his bed, screams to his "mom" that he's done with his segment and begins chowing down on some Chinese food right from a disposable take-out container.
"For the 381st spot in the campaign to get the kind of reaction it did says a whole lot about how you can make a long-running campaign fresh and feel brand new," said Ian Reichenthal, executive creative director at W+K New York.
At the same time, W+K NY took ESPN in different directions this year, a prime example being the juxtaposition of Last Wishes, an eight-minute film directed by documentarian Errol Morris of Moxie Pictures, and the spot "Shake on It" helmed by Aaron Stoller of Biscuit Filmworks. Last Wishes offers a more serious, darkly comic take on team spirit as we see devout fans and their chosen means of burial--with logos adorning caskets, as well as other signposts of living and dying with your team. Meanwhile "Shake on It" features a succession of handshakes separated by crazy comedic vignettes of what fans agree to do if they lose a bet. "I love being able to hit distinctly different notes like these within the same campaign," said Reichenthal.
Also breaking new ground at ESPN was W+K's campaign designed to appeal to fantasy football commissioners, a key component being the digital rollout of the commissioners' toolkit affording users a competitive advantage, letting them get under the hood of a breakthrough app. Then on the broadcast, off-the-deep-end comedic score, there's "Last Spot" in which we see the lengths one man would go to in order to get the last slot in a coveted fantasy football league--leading the league commissioners to turn him down because he's insane.
Speaking of affable insanity, there are such W+K NY creations as Southern Comfort's "Whatever's Comfortable" guy walking about in Speedos, tempered by the practicality of a Fly Delta app which tracks your luggage--as depicted in a web film which chronicles the journey of a bag on Delta (on which a camera is mounted)--and a series of clever videos promoting a theoretical, environmentally friendly housing community in Oregon for architectural and urban planning form WORKac and New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The videos--one of which, "Housing," made SHOOT's The Best Work You May Never See gallery--were screened at MoMA as part of its Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream exhibit/installation.
Ironically among the highest profile pieces to come out of W+K NY was "Color Changes Everything" for Target, an account that left the agency this year. Yet even with the loss, there was a creative victory to be had as "Color Changes Everything" earned a primetime Emmy nomination, giving Wieden three of the TV Academy's five spot nominees--along with the aforementioned "It's Halftime in America" and the eventual Emmy Award winner, "Best Job."
Directed by Filip Engstrom of Smuggler, "Color Changes Everything"--which also garnered three AICP Show honors--introduces us to a colorful, energetic and sprightly group of characters whom we first see in a bright, boldly colored hot air balloon. They then spill out of that balloon and bring their magic touch to a town and its outlying neighborhoods.
In assessing the 2012 crop of primetime spot Emmy nominees, John Leverence, sr. VP, awards, at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, said of "Color Changes Everything," "It all unfolds to 'Alouette,' a French Canadian's children's ditty--a song about a pretty little bird, a lark. The song is appropriate for this commercial which itself is a lark and a romp. It's a fantasy where these acrobatic people infuse color and life into a drab town, bringing it all kinds of products sold at Target--a lamp, makeup, dishes, fashion. These merry pranksters are lovely and charming while selling products. It's a great display of products while equating a feeling of ease and fluidity to the experience of shopping at Target."
The departure of the Target account "rattled some people here," said Scott Vitrone, executive creative director at W+K New York. "The work was as good as it had ever been yet the relationship ended. You can never rest easy because you never know what's around the corner. You constantly have to be thinking about how to present your clients in the most compelling way to keep them fresh and hopefully to keep them at the agency."
At the same time, Vitrone noted that W+K NY recently launched the first brand campaign for new client One Kings Lane, an online marketplace for the home. "For an agency like us, known for its sports work, to win an account like this is refreshing. It reminds you that in an environment like Wieden, a creatively dynamic place with many different voices, you can accomplish a great many things."
Tom Blessington, managing director of W+K, noted, "We're digging out from that [losing the Target account] with wins like Sony, Facebook and working with American Express."
Nike There's also much to be said for ongoing business in that SHOOT was drawn to the range and heart of W+K Portland's Nike work in 2012--from low-profile to high-visibility content. On the latter front would be the "Find Your Greatness" campaign which eloquently captures the greatness in everyday people looking to improve themselves, an inspired creative departure from marquee star athletes during the Olympics. For example, the simplicity of a heavyset youngster jogging in silence down a road speaks volumes.
"We were hungering to get back to the heart and soul of Nike again," said W+K executive creative director Susan Hoffman. "We were so happy with the 'Greatness' campaign and how it played so uniquely during the Olympics. We hit a chord at the right time. It's great for even a long-standing client like Nike to again see that when they speak to the brand's heart and soul, there's a major impact. It's imperative for the brand."
That heart and soul were stirred further with an alluded to lower profile yet significant Nike piece, a short film titled Extra Time which played at the Clinton Global Initiative event. The short asked kids around the world what they would do if five extra years were added to their lives. The responses were far ranging from making medicine for the sick, to inventing a time machine, looking for aliens, making a wooden helicopter, going to the moon, even teaching a sibling "not to hate tuna." Finally, though, a child says, "Why are you asking me that?" A series of super answers that question: "For the first time in history"/"this generation is expected to die"/"5 years younger than their parents."/"Let's give them their five years back." And end tag then drives traffic to designedtomove.org.
Among the many other highlights of 2012 for W+K, Portland, are the integrated campaign introducing the Dodge Dart, the promotional fare for the LAIKA studio feature film ParaNorman, Levi's "Thread," Facebook's rollout of its first traditional ad campaign, Old Spice's off-the-wall, tongue--in-cheek "Muscle Music" performance, and the chance to watch this year's Super Bowl with the Coke Polar Bears, a major interactive event which saw viewers on average spend 28 minutes with the furry fans as the game between the Patriots and the Giants unfolded.
As for the creative environment that helps to nurture this work, Hoffman assessed, "What amazes us most is when we have new hires and freelancers, they look at us and say, 'you have no idea how different this place is.' Having your core being about doing great work really makes a difference. Just find great ideas and we'll figure out how to get them done. Plus there's a camaraderie and family feeling, partnerships feel different from other agencies. There's more freedom for you to have your own voice."
And that voice isn't confined but rather encouraged outside the realm of advertising. "They're artists and musicians here," continued Hoffman. "We have an art gallery and an opening every month. Different employees are showing their art and photography. We're even financing one person's private little film here."
Ben Grylewicz, head of broadcast production, has been with W+K for 21 years. He noted that maintaining the strong creative and production lineage is a sacred trust at the agency. "When I became head of production in 1999, part of what Bill Davenport, my predecessor [now at W+K Entertainment] said to me was that a big part of the job is to continue the legacy of great work. That's why having three of the primetime commercial Emmy nominations this year--and winning the Emmy each of the last four years--means so much. We're helping the legacy to continue and move forward."
W+K executive creative director Mark Fitzloff noted that the power of geography shouldn't be underestimated. "Geographic isolation is an important element," he observed. "When you make the commitment to move your family to Portland, you realize you have to make it work here. Potentially in some of the bigger markets, there's always another leading shop around the corner that you can flee to at the first sign of frustration or difficulty. People who come here feel a shared responsibility for creating and making the most of opportunities."
Blessington added, "Independence is the underpinning to this. We are an independent agency that's obsessive about creativity. Our business decisions are based more on 'is there a creative opportunity here' than 'is there a financial opportunity here?' Obviously you need to run a good business. But good creative is good business. My favorite story involves a creative director who left here for an agency which will go unnamed. He returned and I asked him what that other agency was like. He responded, 'Dude, it was like a business.' "
Reichenthal expounded on the independence theme. "Because Wieden is independent, we can decide together what clients we want to work with. That means we hopefully end up in positive collaborative relationships with clients more often--and the work gets better under those conditions."
Vitrone credited Hoffman, Fitzloff and Blessington with staying true to the environment created by Dan Wieden and David Kennedy. "Dan has a lot of memorable quotes, but the one that comes to mind for me is simply, "The work comes first."
Initiatives That work extends well beyond the multiple platforms W+K covers in its integrated ad and marketing campaigns. For one, there is the Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE), a collaboration between the agency and tech entrepreneurs. The initiative carries a three-pronged mission: innovate business models and create tech-fueled cultural disruptions; build platforms rather than one-offs; and act as a tech entrepreneur accelerator and social hub.
PIE graduated six startups on Demo Day back in October, with Little Bird as the year's major success. This online company enables its clients to identify the most influential experts in any industry. So far it's raised $1 million in seed funding from Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks.
Additionally there's W+K Tomorrow, which explores creative opportunities in emerging technology with a focus on social and environmental impact. W+KT is currently working on the launch of Bettery, a company looking to transform the battery market by introducing vending machines for rechargeable batteries. W+KT also created SharpStuff, a publishing initiative that explores how stories can grow and evolve as they move across different platforms. The first title, American Dreamers, features dreams from mavericks like Biz Stone, Arianna Huffington, Stan Lee and Cindy Gallop.