A recently released Havas Group study found that 77 percent of consumers prefer to buy from companies with whom they share values and that want to make the world a better place. Brand activism, thus, has become a crucial part of marketing/communications strategy.
This increasingly prominent marketplace dynamic dovetails nicely with director Floyd Russ’ philosophy which is to generate work that emotionally connects with viewers, showcases our shared humanity, raises public awareness of issues, and has a sense of purpose which in some cases inches us closer to social justice.
“We’re in an era of hyper consumerism where just like you are what you eat, you are what you buy,” he observed. “People want brands who are smart, have values and want to make a positive difference in society.”
Whether in connection with or sans an advertiser/sponsor, Russ has been doing his part as a filmmaker through notable endeavors that include: ZION, which a few months ago won an IDA Documentary Award for Best Short Film; a Gillette spot from Grey NY featuring NFL player Shaquem Griffin; and global skincare brand SK-II’s follow-up to his Marriage Market Takeover work which addressed onerous gender expectations in China.
Debuting at the 2018 SundanceFest and shortlisted for this year’s Best Documentary Short Oscar, ZION introduced audiences to Zion Clark, a young wrestler who was born without legs. Growing up in foster care, Clark struggled with fitting in his whole life--until he found the sport of wrestling, a passion which he pursues, pushing himself to great lengths.
“I remember at one point in my career aspiring to do a high-profile Nike spot,” recalled Russ. “But I decided to seek out my own inspirational stories. I read an article about Zion one day and thought this is the kind of special person whom Nike should be seeking out.”
Meanwhile the recent Gillette ad produced by Russ’ commercialmaking home, Tool of North America, centers on Griffin who was born with amniotic band syndrome resulting in his left hand being amputated as a child. Through hard work, with the love and guidance of his father, Shaquem became a college football star and then rose to the NFL ranks.
As for the SK-II online documentary from agency Forsman & Bodenfors Singapore, Russ follows the real-life stories of three young single Chinese women as they bravely take on the first steps of reaching out to their parents after years of not returning home during holidays due to marriage pressure. Many single women in China find themselves having to choose between their dreams or instead living up to their parents and society’s expectations regarding marriage timelines. Avoiding Chinese New Year has become prevalent among young single Chinese women so they won’t be subjected to incessant questions from parents and relatives about boyfriends, marriage and kids, creating a suffocating environment.
Gaining widespread exposure in China, this short film shows daughters meeting their parents halfway literally (geographically) and figuratively to discuss marriage pressures on neutral ground, creating a mutual understanding.
All this fare is in the spirit of work that’s carried Russ’ signature in recent years, including his “Love Cam” PSA for the Ad Council, which was nominated for the primetime commercial Emmy Award in 2017, and the aforementioned Marriage Market Takeover which won a Cannes Gold Glass Lion in 2016.
Russ laughs that his career has taken a circuitous path, starting with his film studies at UCLA when he aspired to direct features with a message, delving into the human condition and helping to better society. Commercialmaking for him was out of sight, out of mind.
However, after graduation, reality set in and Russ had to find a foothold--initially that was as a runner, then an assistant to editor Robert Ryang at PS260 in NY. There Russ met a few folks at Saatchi NY, where he wound up doing some in-house projects for new business pitches, landing in the production department. He eventually became a producer there followed by freelancing and then a tenure at Grey NY where Russ got to hone his directorial skills, helming select projects.
Among his directorial exploits was “Crazy Heart,” a music video for Scottg McFarnon that earned Russ a slot in SHOOT’s 2016 New Directors Showcase.
Also while at Grey, he directed a spot on a shoestring budget for The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence which advocated standing up to “Stand Your Ground” laws in 26 states in the aftermath of the shooting that killed Trayvon Martin.
The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence piece showed Russ the power of following your heart and mind. With Kickstarter funds of $4,000, he directed a quick shoot, teaming with friends, families and agency colleagues. In a matter of days, the spot was generating discussion on CNN and feedback from the White House.
The impact of this grass-roots effort affirmed for Russ the kind of work he wanted to do--”something with a worthwhile message, an emotional story; when I see work like that with a character who rings true, that makes sense for the brand, that’s when I respond. That is what’s guided my career.”