TV Academy's John Leverence Reflects On Spots Vying For The Emmy
John Leverence
Nominated commercials are P&G's "The Talk," "It's a Tide Ad," iPhone's "Earth," Amazon's "Alexa Loses Her Voice," and anti-bullying PSA

Our annual tradition continues with SHOOT sounding out John Leverence, sr. VP of awards at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, to get an entertainment industry POV  on the spots nominated this year for the primetime Emmy which are: Procter & Gamble’s “The Talk” directed by Malik Vitthal of The Corner Shop for BBDO NY; P&G/Tide detergent’s “It’s a Tide Ad” helmed by the Traktor collective for Saatchi NY; the Monica Lewinsky anti-bullying PSA “In  Real Life” directed by Win Bates via BBDO Studios for BBDO 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 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.. This year’s Emmy-nominated piece—”Earth: Shot on iPhone”—was a timely love note to the planet and a reminder that our environment is precious.  

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.  While the bullies and the recipients of denigrating talk in the PSA are actors, those who intervene to stop the bullying are real people.

“It’s A Tide Ad” hijacked the 2018 Super Bowl by turning seemingly every commercial into a Tide ad.

And “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.

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.

SHOOT: What stands out for you in this year’s crop of Emmy-nominated spots?

Leverence: Several commercials share a certain amount of “Will anyone intervene with help?” kind of question.

First, we have “Earth: Shot on iPhone” with Carl Sagan narrating from his book (“Pale Blue Dot”). He’s asking very poignant questions here and a passage conveys that there’s no hint that anyone is going to save us from ourselves. In essence, the message is we need to be kinder to one another, more responsible about our planet. We see the sheer beauty of Earth along with the jeopardy our planet is in.

That ecological message ties in with “In Real Life” in which the bullies and the people being bullied were actors. Yet complete strangers—not actors—intervened when they saw someone being bullied, looking to save people from those who are menacing and problematic. The questions are being asked like, will anyone come to save us?  Will anyone intervene? We need to get involved—just as in the iPhone commercial to save our planet, and in real life to save ourselves and those being bullied and victimized.

In two different commercials, Academy voters have honed in on this question, with a hopeful answer in the case of complete strangers getting involved to aid those who are being bullied.

There’s also a deep social consciousness to “The Talk” which was taking place in a solid middle class familial sort of way. We’re in a mainstream middle class world where concerned parents are looking to protect their children. Racism and racist remarks are another form of bullying—and it can be dangerous.

SHOOT: Do you see more empathetic messages now being recognized by Academy voters.

Leverence: I think we’ve seen this in different forms both recently and in years past. Recently we had the (2016 Emmy winner from the Ad Council) “Love Has No Labels” where people would interact behind a large X-ray machine. As the skeletons kiss and dance, viewers mentally fill in the blanks. When unexpected people step out from behind the screen, including a loving gay couple and someone with Down syndrome, the surprise gives viewers a simple demonstration of their implicit bias—and often leads to their acceptance of others. The “people are people” message has been embraced by Academy voters.

Earlier, we had the very empathetic Budweiser ads over the years which tug at the heartstrings—like a lost puppy menaced by a big wolf. We feel a caring and an empathy but now those feelings are part of more socially relevant situations. Instead of a puppy being in peril, we see a black girl hearing racist comments like “you’re pretty for a black girl.”

These ads put a lump in your throat but now they involve bigger issues—bullying, racism.

There’s also the comparison between the mom giving her daughter “The Talk” in the car (“This is not about you getting a ticket. This is about you not coming home.”) and the dad giving his daughter a cautionary talk in the Subaru commercial a few years back, the one where sometimes he’s talking to his grown daughter and sometimes she is his little girl. There’s a Black Lives Matter sea change between those two “talks.”

SHOOT: What’s your take on the nominated ads for Amazon Alexa and Tide?

Leverence: Tide reaches into everyone else’s ads. This is not a beer ad. It’s a Tide ad. This is not a Midas Mufflers ad because the mechanic’s shirt is clean—it’s a Tide ad. It’s sort of an invasion of other people’s space. It’s a conscious breaking of the fourth wall. Academy voters seem to appreciate this kind of playfulness.

There’s also a form of intrusion in the Alexa ad. Alexa can be a little bit creepy. She always seems to be listening. She’s always there. There’s a certain intrusiveness. But the commercial recognizes the underlying kind of creepy factor about devices like that. The commercial is parodying and having fun with all that.

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