- Friday, Jul. 22, 2016
The first primetime commercial Emmy Award was bestowed in 1997 upon HBO’s “Chimps” directed by Joe Pytka of PYTKA for BBDO NY. Since then, the spotmaking Emmy has grown in prominence and become increasingly coveted, taking on an added importance spurred on by changes in the business over the years as multiple outlets beyond the once dominant “Big 3” networks emerged and consumers gained more control over what commercials, if any, they watched. As a result, entertainment and or/informational relevance became even more integral to getting audiences to pay attention to ad fare. Thus the Emmy, a barometer of entertainment value, has become all the more significant and pertinent to the advertising creative/marketers community at large.
The latest crop of Emmy nominations in the Commercials category consists of: Ad Council’s “Love Has No Labels” from agency R/GA and directed by Danielle Levitt via Persuade and Influence which produced the job along with Mindride; Gatorade’s “Dear Peyton” directed by Henry-Alex Rubin of Smuggler for TBWA\Chiat\Day, Los Angeles; Google’s “Year In Search 2015” from agency 72andSunny and produced by its in-house production studio Hecho en 72; Honda’s “Paper” from agency RPA and directed by PES of production house RESET; and Snickers’ “Marilyn” directed by Jim Jenkins of O Positive for BBDO New York.
SHOOT connected with creatives behind all this work to gain backstories and insights into the TV Academy-recognized fare.
Jason Sperling, sr. VP/executive creative director at RPA in Santa Monica, Calif., describes stop-motion animation maestro PES of RESET as “one of my favorite partners of all time in terms of the way he works with an agency, the way he understands client needs and the way he stays involved from the very beginning to the very end of a project.”
Sperling felt this way long before news came last week that the PES-directed stop-motion tour de force “Paper” for Honda out of RPA had earned a primetime commercial Emmy nomination. “He was so interested in the piece from the outset on every level,” assessed Sperling, noting that this represents quite a departure form the norm in which “a director is at the shoot, spends a few hours in the edit and is then off to ‘the next thing.’”
Actually Sperling and PES have just wrapped their “next thing” after “Paper,” a stop-motion piece promoting the new Honda Ridgeline truck, which will break shortly. Sperling enthused, “I’ve never seen a truck advertised this way before.”
Yet while at press time we can only imagine what PES and RPA have in store for Ridgeline, indelibly etched in many viewers’ minds is what they experienced upon seeing the two-minute “Paper,” which deploys thousands of hand-drawn illustrations to create an intricate paper-flipping journey through Honda history. The piece depicts the many iterations of Honda engines over the years, dovetailing nicely with the company’s continuing “Power of Dreams” campaign.
“Paper” opens with founder Soichiro Honda’s use of a radio generator to power his wife’s bicycle, and the story continues with Honda’s development of motorcycles including a nod to winning Isle of Man TT races (1961-1967), segueing to outboard motors and then to the first CVCC vehicle. Nostalgia leads the viewer through a series of past Honda vehicle models, such as multiple generations of the Civic and Accord as well as the all-new 2016 Pilot, to F1 and Indy racing to the development of robotics and jets and numerous innovations in between. The commercial concludes with the copy, “You never know where a dream will lead you.”
“Technically it was a huge challenge to pull off in a completely practical way without using CGI,” said Sperling. “The complexity of the job is staggering, creating a catalog of artwork that PES is able to map out into an entire journey that had to continually evolve and engage viewers in unexpected ways. One of the coolest parts for me was seeing PES’ vision and his attention to detail. In the sequence with an all-terrain vehicle, the shadow it casts fell naturally as it would in real life. You can’t shoot more than a few seconds a day with stop motion--and to be so realistic within that process takes patience and a loving trust. And it’s a painstaking process that requires patience and a leap of faith from the client that we can do justice in two minutes to the complete brand and its portfolio of historical innovation.”
“Love Has No Labels”
R/GA scored its first primetime commercial Emmy nomination on the strength of Ad Council’s “Love Has No Labels.” The piece features a variety of couples interacting behind a large X-ray installation. As the skeletons kiss and dance, viewers mentally fill in the blanks. When unexpected duos step out from behind the screen, including a loving gay couple, the surprise gives viewers a simple demonstration of their implicit bias--and often leads to their acceptance of something that is actually quite beautiful.
The public service spot has resonated with viewers, promoting unity at a time when divisiveness seems to be the norm. This positive message has helped “Love Has No Labels” become one of the year’s most shared ads. R/GA’s Chris Northam, group executive creative director, related, “We set out to make something that would become part of culture and it had a huge response from the public with over 160 million views. It has also been well recognized with industry awards from Cannes to Clio. But the Emmy nomination shows its reach beyond just advertising. It’s part of American culture. To be nominated for an Emmy was a career goal for us. So we’re smiling.”
Kat Friis, executive production director, R/GA, said, “Being nominated for an Emmy means we entered the vernacular of culture and with all the advertising out there, to be one of five nominees to have pulled that off is pretty special.” As for what the Emmy nods means to her personally, she shared, “It’s an amazing feeling to be recognized for just doing your job. I think my dad would have been really proud.”
R/GA group ECD Eric Jannon observed that among the creative challenges posed by “Love Has No Labels” was bringing the X-ray screen to life. “We didn’t want it to be a postproduction trick because before it was a TV spot it was a live event so it had to work. But also casting real people with real stories was essential. Luckily we were blessing with an incredible cast that outshone the technical achievement.”
Northam said, “From the moment we decided the effect was going to be captured live, it was a challenge. We needed our cast to be able to just be themselves and have the 3D skeletons models react instantly to their movement. Many options were considered and tested. In the end we opted for a motion capture approach similar to movies like Avatar. Our cast wore small motion capture sensors. In fact if you look closely you can see them on the wrists, ankles and necks of our cast throughout the film. Actually the effect was so convincing in the end there were a number of online comments complaining about the amount of radiation such a large X-ray machine must be generating.”
Friis added, “As a producer your job is to make things happen somehow--and getting production partners on board to make the idea a reality for the money we had was an enormous challenge. Thank goodness I spent my career calling everyone back and being respectful and kind and some amazingly talented folks decided to answer the phone when I called.” Another challenge for Friis was “to sort out the logistics of the tech and also wrangle everything needed for a live event on the 3rd Street Promenade [in Santa Monica, Calif.] on Valentine’s Day. We needed everything to happen in camera or it wasn’t going to have the same effect. It can’t be a live event if it didn’t happen right in front of you. The coordination of the tech and also the live-action, live, was the biggest technical challenge.”
For the second consecutive year, Snickers, BBDO New York and director Jim Jenkins of O Positive teamed to earn a primetime commercial Emmy nomination, the latest being for “Marilyn” after scoring in 2015 for the Brady Bunch spoof. Both were Super Bowl spots. “Marilyn” takes us back to 1955 and features a hungry Marilyn Monroe on the set of the film The Seven Year Itch. In the :30 the blonde bombshell is a cranky version of herself, played by actor Willem Dafoe. But once she takes a bite from a Snickers bar, Monroe is herself again. This latest iteration of the “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” campaign also includes Eugene Levy in the role of a stage hand who’s charged with the task of making Monroe’s dress flap in the wind above a New York City subway grate, an iconic Seven Year Itch scene.
BBDO NY’s Gianfranco Arena and Peter Kain served as executive creative directors on both Snickers’ spots--and for that matter were part of the creative ensemble on the candy bar’s Super Bowl commercial “Game,” starring Betty White, which earned an Emmy nomination in 2011. “Game” was directed by MJZ’s Craig Gillespie.
Snickers has thus had three Super Bowl spots over the years garner primetime commercial Emmy nominations, a remarkable accomplishment. Each time, BBDO NY had to inject an element of freshness into the work--particularly in the context of the high-profile Super Bowl ad landscape--to preserve the appeal and viability of the “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” theme.
“We always have to take one step further than what we’ve done in the past,” said Cain. “We never had the hungry alter ego [in this case, Dafoe] wear the clothes of the famous person [Monroe] but with that iconic white dress from The Seven Year Itch, we knew that had the potential to stand out.” The sight of Dafoe, with his persona, in that dress is inherently funny.”
Also naturally funny is O Positive’s Jenkins but Arena noted that he and his BBDO colleagues gravitate to the director for more than his expertise in comedy. “Jim is so smart,” assessed Arena. “Jim approaches everything in a smart, thoughtful way. He used to do a bunch of dialogue spots for us three or four years ago. But then we had him doing more visual stuff. We totally trust him with visuals, dialogue or both.”
David Lubars, chief creative officer, BBDO Worldwide, said of the latest TV Academy recognition, “I always love it when we win an Emmy or are nominated for one. Hollywood and us--we’re similar in many ways, and the lines are blurring more and more, but we’re also so different. I like seeing our work viewed through their lens, gives me a view on our work that advertising shows don’t.”
Allison Miazga-Bedrick, brand director--Filled Bars Portfolio, MARS CHOCOLATE North America (Snickers’ parent), noted, “The ‘You’re Not You When Your Hungry’ campaign is so strong because it’s built on a universal truth that’s understood by everyone, and we’ve been able to bring it to life in some hilarious ways. It’s always exciting when great work is recognized and we look forward to continuing to evolve the campaign.”
BBDO, Snickers and Jenkins aren’t the only triumvirate with a return engagement in the Emmy nominees’ circle. For the second straight year, Gatorade, TBWA\Chiat\Day LA, and director Henry-Alex Rubin of Smuggler teamed on an Emmy nominated commercial--the first in 2015 was “Made In New York” which paid tribute to now retired New York Yankees great Derek Jeter. This year, it’s NFL great Peyton Manning in “Dear Peyton,” another revered athlete who recently retired after winning the Super Bowl.
The biggest creative challenge posed to the TBWA\Chiat\Day creative team was of their own doing, having set the bar so high by “Made In New York.” Brent Anderson, chief creative officer of TBWA\Chiat\Day LA summed it up with the question, “How does the sequel become as good as the original?”
The key, explained Scott Cleveland, sr. copywriter at TBWA\Chiat\Day LA, “was to not make it [‘Dear Peyton’] feel like a sequel. Instead we did something unique to Peyton and his character. This made it completely different from ‘Made in New York.’”
That unique dynamic came in the form of various people who over the years received hand-written letters from Manning and who read excerpts of those heartfelt notes for this commercial. Among those appearing in “Dear Peyton” are Manning’s long-time teammate, center Jeff Saturday, their head coach with the Indianapolis Colts, Tony Dungy, the parents of a boy who died from cancer (a lad befriended by Manning), the Yankees’ Jeter himself, and Peyton’s little brother Eli Manning.
“It all comes down to finding the truth about the athlete and then telling that story,” related Anderson. “It wasn’t even Peyton who came up with the idea. It was his wife who told us about the letters and we saw some potential there and began exploring the possibilities.”
While they are different stories, “Made In New York” and “Dear Peyton,” observed Anderson, share the common bond of being “true and heartfelt narratives in step with the brand. To have both spots in consecutive years get Emmy nominations means a great deal in that the Emmys represent the benchmark of storytelling in America for shows, films and commercials.”
The storyteller TBWA\Chiat\Day selected for Gatorade was Rubin. “Henry has scaled every mountain as a director and would have every right to have an ecosystem under him freeing him to drift in and out of projects,” said Anderson. “But instead, he is totally committed, involved and invested in the process. The level of his research, his personal, emotional commitment to the story is powerful. He is always extremely resourceful and available which is testament to him as a collaborator.”
Alluding to Rubin’s documentary sensibilities, Cleveland noted that the director is proficient at bringing “genuine human moments” to the screen.
“Year In Search”
Matt Murphy, partner/executive creative director at 72andSunny, Los Angeles, finds the Emmy nomination for Google’s “Year In Search 2015” most gratifying. Noting that the piece grew out of a collaboration between 72andSunny and Google’s brand team headed by Michael Tabtabai, Murphy believes the work resonated with TV Academy voters in that the look back reveals the questions people were asking in 2015, providing a “greater statement on how we’re feeling, where we’re going as people...We found a story about acceptance and equality on many fronts--gender, borders coming down, equality across the board. When you get to tell a story like that, reflecting people as a whole, it makes you proud to be a human being. The brand and optimism are connected.”
The spot was produced by 72andSunny’s Hecho en 72. Murphy credited not only that in-house arm but also the yeoman work done by the business affairs people whom he described as “miracle workers.” The year in review is informed through Google search trends, identifying topics trending in society, necessitating the licensing of related footage ranging from what an individual shot with his/her smartphone to mass media news network coverage.
“Without accessing the best clips pulled all over the world, the final spot suffers,” said Murphy. 72andSunny’s business affairs department made contact with numerous sources and got permission to use those clips.
Murphy noted that “back in the day,” each year’s retrospective was known simply as the Google zeitgeist film. But more recently it became known as the “Year in Search” which Murphy regards “as a much more appropriate title, looking at questions we ask and what they say about us.”
This is the 10th installment of a 15-part series that explores the field of Emmy contenders, and then nominees spanning such disciplines as directing, cinematography, producing, editing, music, animation and visual effects. The series will then be followed up by coverage of the Creative Arts Emmys ceremony on September 10 and 11, and the primetime Emmy Awards live telecast on September 18.