- NEW YORK
BBDO New York has a storied Emmy history, dating back to 1997 when it won the very first primetime commercial Emmy Award for HBO’s “Chimps,” directed by Joe Pytka.
Since then, BBDO NY has been nominated 15 more times, winning again in 2006 for FedEx’s “Stick,” helmed by the directing collective Traktor.
Now the agency has added to its Emmy lineage, recently scoring two more nominations--for Procter & Gamble’s “The Talk,” and the Monica Lewinsky anti-bullying PSA “In Real Life.” The latter was directed by Win Bates via BBDO Studios. And “The Talk” was helmed by Malik Vitthal of The Corner Shop.
However, BBDO’s rich Emmy résumé still has some room for new wrinkles as for the first time its nominated spots tackle social issues--bullying and race relations. Furthermore, in the midst of assorted nominations over the years, the core creative teams behind “The Talk” and “In Real Life” consist of first-time nominees. They are creative director/art director Bianca Guimaraes and associate creative director/copywriter Roberto Danino on “In Real Life,” and associate creative director/art director Bryan Barnes and ACD/copywriter Nedal Ahmed on “The Talk.” (Ahmed has since joined Droga5 NY as sr. copywriter.)
“The Talk” is part of P&G’s continuing My Black Is Beautiful initiative. The piece features different African-American parents having “The Talk” with their kids about racial bias and how it can make life more difficult--and at times even more dangerous. In one of this piece’s most poignant moments, a girl behind the wheel of a car insists she’s a good driver and her mom doesn’t need to tell her what to do if she gets pulled over. The girl has no intention of getting pulled over because she obeys the speed limit and the rules of the road. Mom doesn’t doubt that but she has to explain to her daughter, “This is not about you getting a ticket. This is about you not coming home.”
Meanwhile Lewinsky’s PSA serves as a powerful exploration of bullying by recasting the issue and asking the question: “If this behavior is unacceptable in real life, why is it so normal online?” The film portrays people publicly acting out real online comments to illustrate that at the receiving end of every comment is a real person--a fact all too easy to forget in today’s online culture. While the bullies and the recipients of denigrating talk in the PSA are actors, those who intervene to stop the bullying are real people, which gives a life-affirming positive tone to the work.
SHOOT caught up with Barnes, Guimaraes and Danino who reflected on their Emmy-nominated work. Barnes felt the weight of a daunting challenge when it came to “The Talk,” first noting that P&G has set the bar high trying to serve as a voice for good, referring to such notable past work as Always’ “#LikeAGirl” from Leo Burnett and the Olympics-related “Thank You, Mom” fare out of Wieden+Kennedy. Looking to again present a positive voice while addressing a major societal issue, Barnes acknowledged that he “lost a lot of sleep” as he and Ahmed sought to strike the right balance and tone for “The Talk.”
“One of America’s biggest problems is race and dealing with it. Our problem,” said Barnes, “was dealing with it in the right way and helping to promote a productive dialogue. I remember my copywriter colleague, Nedal who’s a woman of color, say that it felt like ‘walking a tightrope from beginning to end.’ We didn’t know if people would hate or love what we had to say. But we knew we had to make it feel real, authentic and we had to do it right.”
Helping to capture that authenticity was director Vitthal whose dramatic feature Imperial Dreams debuted at Sundance in 2014 and added to its following last year when it bowed on Netflix. The film centers on a 21-year-old reformed gangster’s devotion to his family. His future is put to the test when he is released from prison and returns to his old stomping grounds in the L.A. neighborhood of Watts. Barnes and Ahmed reached out to Vitthal after Imperial Dreams launched on Netflix. “We watched it. It was very well done. The casting and acting felt so real as he told this beautiful story,” related Barnes. “One of the biggest concerns we had (for “The Talk”) was we didn’t want it to feel like a gimmick, an ad. We wanted it to feel like a beautiful story. Malik is good at pulling performances out of talent. He helped attain that realism we needed.”
Barnes observed that his biggest takeaway from the experience of making “The Talk” was simply, “We always need to keep talking about race and bias. It’s an important ongoing discussion. And it’s the only way the world is going to get better.”
Particularly gratifying,” affirmed Barnes, is receiving an Emmy nomination for a spot that dared to address “such a sensitive, delicate and touchy issue. We always wanted this to be more than an ad. The message transcends advertising and hopefully gets people to keep talking.”
Also infused with a sense of purpose was “In Real Life”--which too generated some angst for the creatives. “I was so nervous how this was going to turn out the day of the shoot,” recalled Danino. “With the hidden cameras, how would people react? But we saw strangers stand up for others.”
Guimaraes noted, “Everyone who stepped in was a real person.” She found it life affirming that people would step in and show compassion for each other in response to seeing someone being bullied--for being gay, Muslim, overweight, or just somehow different.
In terms of preparation, Guimaraes and Danino learned from psychologists about human behavior, and how it takes shape when people can hide their true identities online. They would act very differently if face to face with somebody in real life. And then there’s the social experiment of how others would react to seeing a stranger being bullied in person. “It was a little nerve wracking to wait to see how things would turn out as we were filming,” said Guimaraes.
However, the project “took its toll on the actors, especially the ones playing the bullies like the Asian actor who was the homophobic bully,” said Danino. Portraying an abusive bully can be physically and emotionally draining.
By sharp contrast, emotionally uplifting was the news that “In Real Life” had earned an Emmy nomination. “It’s surprising and humbling,” shared Danino. “It’s a special honor because it recognizes an important subject. And we’re there with spots (including Super Bowl ads) with huge budgets--our budget being just a fraction of theirs.”
Guimaraes said it’s gratifying to have “In Real Life” nominated along with such other “amazing pieces of work,” and to gain recognition from outside the advertising community--specifically from the entertainment industry.
“The Talk” and “In Real Life” are part of this year’s crop of primetime Emmy-nominated spots which also consists of: P&G/Tide detergent’s “It’s a Tide Ad” directed by the Traktor collective, then of production house Rattling Stick (now represented worldwide by Stink) for Saatchi & Saatchi NY; Apple’s “Earth: Shot on iPhone” from TBWA\Media Arts Lab; and Amazon’s “Alexa Loses Her Voice” directed by Wayne McClammy of Hungry Man for agency Lucky Generals.
The latter, which debuted on the Super Bowl this past February, shows what happens when news breaks that Amazon’s personal digital assistant has lost her voice. Thankfully Amazon has a backup plan with celebrity stand-in voices at the ready--from Gordon Ramsey to Rebel Wilson, Cardi B and Sir Anthony Hopkins. The plan works--kind of.
The “Shot on iPhone” campaign first debuted in 2015 showcasing the photos and videos of iPhoneographers around the world, all beautifully captured with the powerfully capable camera on the iPhone. Over the years, the platform has evolved to include content celebrating cultural moments like Bastille Day or Chinese New Year, and to communicate the brand’s values. Such is the case with this year’s Emmy-nominated piece--”Earth: Shot on iPhone”--which was a timely love note to the planet and a poignant reminder that our environment is precious.
“It’s A Tide Ad” hijacked the 2018 Super Bowl by turning seemingly every commercial into a Tide ad. It kicked off with actor David Harbour establishing that whenever the viewer sees clean clothes, it’s a #TideAd. He then appeared six more times in stereotypical Super Bowl ads, send-ups of several infamous past Super Bowl spots, and even as part of the broadcast. #TideAd trended on Twitter immediately, with people even generating their own #TideAd content.
The primetime commercial Emmy winner will be announced and honored on Sept. 8, the first of the two-day weekend Creative Arts Emmy Awards proceedings in Los Angeles.
While “The Talk” and “In Real Life” are the first BBDO NY-created, primetime Emmy-nominated spots to take on social issues, the agency’s track record includes receiving TV Academy recognition for a longer form piece which addressed a major societal problem. Back in 2014, BBDO NY was in the running for an Exceptional Merit In Documentary Filmmaking Emmy for AT&T’s From One Second to the Next, a Werner Herzog-directed film exploring the dangers of texting while driving, emotionally recounting how lives have been forever changed by the issue.