As 2016 draws to a close, there’s much to reflect on, including our vocabulary--which is cause for pause.
Oxford dictionary editors chose “post-truth” as its word of the year, usually referenced in terms of politics and as belonging to a new manipulative era in which the truth has become irrelevant.
Meanwhile Dictionary.com’s word of the year is “xenophobia,” a fear or hatred of foreigners, people from different cultures or strangers.” Dictionary.com is reportedly planning to expand that definition to include fear or dislike of “customs, dress and cultures of people with backgrounds different from our own.”
These trending words serve as food for thought, underscoring the importance--and some would say the responsibility---of the advertising/entertainment creative community to help shape a more positive, inclusive lexicon. Yes, there’s plenty to fear in today’s topsy turvy world but messaging that doesn’t let that fear get the better of us is not only good for society but enables brands and content to stand for something, connecting with our humanity and the marketplace at large.
Evidence of that was among the highlights of 2016, exhibit A being the growing prominence of virtual reality. With all the talk of VR technology, sometimes lost in the shuffle is the potential impact that perspective-changing storytelling can have on our society. During a session at last month’s American Film Institute Tech Showcase, part of the overall AFI Fest in Hollywood, panelist Tuna Bora, production designer on the Patrick Osborne-directed short film Pearl, a Google Spotlight Story that is one of 10 animated short films to recently advance in the voting process for the Best Animated Short Oscar, said that perhaps her biggest takeaway from working in VR is the love she has for its psychological aspect as people make the choice to empathize with others. Viewers are placed in the shoes of people whom they might not ever get to meet, she explained, citing The Displaced, an acclaimed virtual reality experience produced for The New York Times by Vrse.works (now Here Be Dragons) which places viewers directly inside the global refugee crisis. In today’s divisive times, Bora observed, it’s healthy for people to break out of their insular worlds and delve into other people’s experiences, thoughts and opinions. It’s healthy, she affirmed, for people to develop an empathy that they wouldn’t experience otherwise.”
The Displaced won assorted honors in 2016, including Cannes first-ever Entertainment Lions Grand Prix, as well as Mobile Lions Grand Prix distinction, and the coveted Most Next Award signifying best in show at the AICP Next Awards.
VR is indeed demonstrating that the old adage of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes can prove to be a valuable dynamic mitigating against the divisiveness and negativity that seemingly permeates social dialogue. The subject matter doesn’t have to be weighty as in The Displaced. For example, Pearl reminds us of our shared humanity, taking us on a worthwhile ride literally and figuratively, tracing the relationship between a father and daughter over the years as captured by their time together in a hatchback automobile. They crisscross the country chasing their dreams, lending a road movie kind of feel to their story as we see the girl, Sarah, come of age and become a talented musician/performer herself. The short is anchored by the original song, “No Wrong Way Home,” written by Alexis Harte and JJ Wiesler and performed by Kelley Stoltz and Nicki Bluhm. Pearl broke new ground for Spotlight Stories in both storytelling and technology, with the most shots sets, and characters, along with custom lighting, effects and interactive surround sound in every shot.
A marquee example of VR’s viability in 2016 was Lockheed Martin’s “Field Trip to Mars,” which helped McCann NY earn SHOOT’s Agency of the Year honor. “Field Trip” was the single-most awarded campaign at Cannes 2016, earning 19 Lions across 11 categories (including Cyber, Entertainment, PR, Innovation), reflecting the range of different disciplines the work spanned. The centerpiece of an ambitious STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education program, the Field Trip is an immersive groundbreaking group VR experience in which the windows of a seemingly ordinary school bus transform to take riders on a tour of Mar’s surface. McCann NY worked with Framestore, which invented cutting-edge technology specifically for this campaign, to enable a 1:1 relationship between Earth and Mars. When the bus turns, the landscape turns just as it would in any bus tour, allowing riders--in this case school children--to truly feel that they are traversing the Red Planet (and not the city streets that the bus was actually driving down). This was all done sans the need to don headsets or glasses. The bus itself became the headset, with a wondrous, awe-inspiring journey seen through its windows.
Lockheed’s Generation Beyond STEM education program is designed to bring the science of space into thousands of homes and classrooms across America, inspiring the next generation of innovators, explorers, inventors and pioneers to pursue STEM careers. Youngsters after all will be part of the generation who likely will walk on Mars, explore deep space and make the next series of life-changing discoveries. The online curriculum for middle school teachers and students includes lesson plans, a virtual field trip of activities as well as the Mars Experience Bus itself that will travel the country, replicating for students a journey covering some 200 square miles of the Martin surface.
Of course, VR in and of itself amounts to little or nothing without thoughtful creativity. And conversely, creatively strong fare doesn’t need VR to connect with an audience. Getting back to those dictionary entries of “xenophobia” and “post-truth,” consider UNICEF’s animated short Malak and the Boat, which SHOOT selected as the best of its “The Best Work You May Never See” gallery in 2016. The short also took the #1 slot in our Top Five VFX/Animation Chart recognizing the best visual effects and/or animation fare of 2016.
Malak and the Boat shows the plight of Syrian refugees, transitioning to live action to show that the tale of a seven-year-old girl named Malak is rooted in real life. In the piece, we see an animated characterization of Malak’s harrowing journey across the Mediterranean. She is aboard a small boat to freedom, accompanied by her mother and several friends. She battles the cold and turbulent waves, which at one point take the shape of an octopus, throwing the boat violently to and fro. Once the sea calms, we see that Malak is the lone person left on the boat. A super reads, “There are some stories never meant for children.”
We then see the real-life Malak as one of the “lucky” survivors. Malak is but one of millions of kids adversely impacted by the Syrian conflict. Currently two million children are living as refugees in neighboring countries or are on the run in search of safety, with eight million Syrian children, inside and outside of the country, in need of humanitarian aid. Malak and the Boat was the first of a new animated series of shorts in UNICEF’s “Unfairy Tales” campaign created by ad agency 180LA.
SHOOT surveyed a cross-section of high-level ad agency professionals to gain their assessments of the trends, developments and work that highlighted 2016.
Feedback came from, for example, Sally-Ann Dale, chief creation officer of Droga5, who observed, “This year, the industry continued its trend toward more nontraditional storytelling approaches. Clients are looking for new and inventive ways to engage their audiences, and the lines between science, technology, art and commerce have significantly blurred. Native advertising took a big step forward, as did users’ ability to recognize it and call it out. All of this places more responsibility than ever on our shoulders, as advertisers, to examine the integrity of our work.”
And Kate Hildebrant, VP/director of content production at CP+B, cited the Free the Bid initiative launched by director Alma Har’el whose spotmaking/branded content roosts are Epoch Films in the U.S. and B-Reel Films in the U.K. The Free the Bid program calls for agencies to bid a woman director on every assignment. Hildebrant said of Free the Bid, “It is such a smart and simple way to create opportunity for female directors. The entire agency got behind the initiative as soon as we heard about it, from the senior management to our team of producers around the U.S. In fact, we’ve been big proponents of female directors for some time, but since we’ve signed the Free the Bid pledge, we’ve already awarded three jobs to female directors, which will release in early 2017. I believe the initiative will not only create opportunity for female directors, but also create an awareness to be open-minded to diversity across all roles within our industry.”
Droga5’s Dale and CP+B’s Hildebrant are just two of the SHOOT Year in Perspective survey respondents from the ad agency community. Also in the mix are responses from Bonnie Goldfarb, co-founder/executive producer of harvest films.
For our Year in Perspective survey on the agency side, the four questions below were posed. The same questions were presented to Goldfarb, except a slightly altered question #2 which asked how her production company adapted or adjusted to the marketplace in 2016.
1) What industry trends or developments were most significant in 2016?
2) How did your agency or agency department adapt or adjust to the marketplace in 2016? (diversification, new resources and talent in different areas, new strategies, etc.)
3) What work in 2016 are you most proud of? (Please cite any unique challenges encountered)
4) What do you think the “next big thing” in production or post and/or social media will be in 2017?
CLICK HERE to page through the survey responses, or click on the NAME below.