Wednesday, July 18, 2018
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Spring 2017 Director's Profile: Jim Jenkins
Jim Jenkins
Going live on the Super Bowl

A live commercial gone awry on the Super Bowl is the latest Big Game chapter for Snickers’ advertising out of BBDO New York. Starring Adam Driver, the cowboy western-themed spot is fraught with miscues and mistakes—but intentionally so to show that like most of us, Driver, his colleagues and the production crew aren’t themselves when they’re hungry. This was followed up by a faux apology by Driver on Twitter.

Both the spot and the apology were directed by Jim Jenkins of O Positive, known for his considerable comedic chops.

In SHOOT’s survey of agency creatives who were asked to critique this year’s crop of Super Bowl commercials, Carolyn Hadlock, executive creative director of Young & Laramore, Indianapolis, related that the live Snickers spot has gone "kind of under-appreciated. It could be a game changer in that so many spots are seen online before the Super Bowl telecast. To do a live spot with a little bit of nuance to it, that didn’t hit you over the head, was commendable. I applaud the boldness of the brand."

Indeed it was brave to rock the boat in that Snickers has much Super Bowl success to live up to. Each of the last two Emmy Award seasons has seen a Snickers Super Bowl spot directed by Jenkins for BBDO earn a nomination from the TV Academy. Last year "Marilyn"—the Marilyn Monroe/Seven Year Itch/Wilem Dafoe odyssey—garnered an Emmy nod. and in 2015 the Brady Bunch spoof (with Steve Buscemi and Danny Trejo) did the same. 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.)  Gianfranco and Kain were also key contributors to the live performance by Driver and his colleagues.

Jenkins credits the success he and O Positive have enjoyed—the company recently earned 2016’s most awarded production house mantle from The Gunn Report—in large part to long-standing collaborative relationships with select agencies. (Jenkins’ partner at O Positive, David Shane, incidentally was last year’s most awarded director per The Gunn Report). 

BBDO has been a frequent collaborator with Jenkins. "It’s a gutsy agency and maybe it’s the success of their work that helps make its clients even more gutsy," said Jenkins. "They sold Footlocker on Mike Tyson giving Evander Holyfield his ear back. They sold AT&T on Martin Scorsese getting a four-year-old to say he wants to kill his father. In terms of [ECDs] Arena and Kain, I’ve also worked with them on Snickers and many FedEx commercials."

Jenkins directed the alluded to Footlocker and AT&T pieces. The latter had Scorsese interrupt a mundane phone call between a husband and wife, infusing it with more visceral, pressing motivation as if he were directing a movie. Talking to her hubby via phone, the woman is with her young son in his bedroom. Scorsese barges in and devises a new scenario for their conversation, including getting the lad to feel resentment for his nefarious dad, secretly conspiring for his demise. The bottom-line message—just as you don’t want a filmmaker interrupting your phone calls, please don’t let your ringing phone interrupt the movie-watching experience in a theater.

Footlocker meanwhile takes us to an idyllic world—highlighted by such occurrences as Dennis Rodman buying a one-way plane ticket to North Korea, and Tyson making peace with Holyfield years after biting off part of his ear in the boxing ring.

And among Jenkins’ extensive FedEx portfolio is the recent "Passive Aggressive" in which workers in an office meeting room talk about how FedEx has simplified their e-commerce endeavors—so much so that they can turn their attention to addressing what has become a "passive aggressive" workplace environment. Yet as they address the problem, they make toxic-tinged passive aggressive comments to one another, eventually concluding that they don’t have a negative working environment. It’s offbeat comedy that’s quite a departure from the norm—a departure only possible with the involvement of a progressive agency and client.

Jenkins has a deep-rooted appreciation for agency creatives given that he once was one. He made his first industry mark on the ad shop side, which include a long tenure at Ogilvy & Mather, NY. "It doesn’t hurt as a director to know the pressures that an agency is under, to appreciate what they’ve done to develop a concept and gain approval for it," observed Jenkins.

As for the lessons learned from a live commercial on television’s biggest stage, the Super Bowl, Jenkins shared, "It sounds obvious but with a live commercial you have to get it all right in one take. It’s so different. You’re otherwise accustomed to getting multiple performance options, to massage it all in the edit, to work hard to get the timing just right. It was a brave choice by the agency—like replacing Marcia Brady with Danny Trejo. That’s what makes working with BBDO so exciting."

He added what great ingenuity it takes to always try to keep fresh and bring new life to a great concept. "When you have such a solid campaign idea as you’re not yourself when you’re hungry, the comedy comes right out of the selling premise. The beauty is that BBDO isn’t afraid to break new ground with that concept." 

Jenkins couldn’t resist a quip about Snickers Live on the Super Bowl. "I wouldn’t say everything happened exactly as I wanted it to, but it is live television, after all. At least no one announced La La Land as winner of Best Picture."

Beyond his work with BBDO, Jenkins sports other notable recent agency collaborations, including the Bud Light "Friendship" commercial for Wieden+Kennedy, New York, and Under Armour’s "Break the Game" social campaign featuring NBA superstar Stephen Curry for Droga5, New York.

"I’ve been very fortunate to work with good creative directors who sell good work consistently, which makes it all the more important to deliver for them," said Jenkins. "David [Shane] and I, though, care not only about working with great creatives but also about pleasant experiences. We’re a boutique company that values working with good people and having enjoyable collaborations. Neither of us likes a tense set. We’re trying to build those kinds of relationships for all of our directors and that has served us well."

How well? On a list containing mostly larger shops, O Positive ranked fifth for the Cannes Palme d’Or in 2016.