A Dose of Wisdom
by Lisa Chen-Wing
July 26, 2017
What shooting 29 spots in one day teaches you
In advertising, our work only lasts as long as its media cycle. And, rarely, as long as the awards season. It stays in our portfolios for a while, but then the format becomes obsolete and the YouTube videos degrade resolution.
But whenever I work with my friend Ann Rubenstein, a content producer, we get around to talking about Dose, her favourite production to work on.
And that is really where ads have their longest life: in the flotsam of our memories.
In the mid-noughts, before “millennial” was a target market, CanWest realized that youths weren’t reading newspapers. Solution: more newspapers! Specifically Dose, a free weekly for young Canadians.
In hindsight, this idea sounds bananas. At the time, it also sounded bananas.
“It was a rare moment in time,” says Rob Tarry, currently a partner and creative director at Rethink, “when a big budget, a high risk gamble, and a clenched, over-thought strategy led to a curve ball. They had to swing.”
Rob and I were partners at Rethink, a then-Vancouver-only agency where the ethos is “keep going.” As the creative directors say, “Thanks for showing us these 25 scripts and 50 print ads. Keep going.”
Another team had started Dose and had already gone through a couple rounds of client presentations when we got the project. Rethink had named the publication, designed the logo, the newspaper and the newspaper box. But there was no editorial mission statement, and no content.
Then our account manager left to become the editor-in-chief of Dose.
We kept going and got three scripts and 12 headlines approved. Then we hired the Perlorian Brothers—Perlorian A & Perlorian B, noted Canadian directors of advertising commercials— with whom we’d once shot eight spots in one day for Bootlegger.
Why there ended up being 29 spots for Dose:
? At the pre-pro for the three :30s, the client happened to mention that half of the media buy was in :05, :10 and :15.
? That night, Rob wrote 15 more scripts.
? The next morning, Ann took those to the Perlorians, and they agreed to shoot them all. In one day.
? 29 spots were eventually finished. (!)
Reasons why the project was successful:
? Everyone we worked with was really good at their job, and each person pushed for their part of the work to be better.
? The interior of Hamilton City Hall is beautiful.
? None of the ideas were put into research. Not even the ones not written the night before the shoot.
? It was strange and tongue-in-cheek. Rob: “The weirdest spot was the one where he’s holding the log. He’s holding this dead medium, paper, and we’re revelling in how it’s ridiculous that they were [publishing] this on paper.”
What would be different if we did it today:
? As Ann says, “If we were to try to do that today, it would be a series of viral videos.” Then, we had so much airtime because the client’s parent company, CanWest Global, owned television stations. And back then, young people watched broadcast television.
? My aunties would never see the work. Now that ads are micro-targeted, there isn’t much spillover to the non-demographic. These days, my aunties never stop the car and whip out their cameras to take a picture of me next to an online banner ad.
At Rethink creative department meetings, whenever a team finished a production on a big project, we had to share our “lessons learned.” Maybe this still happens, I don’t know, I haven’t worked there in a couple creative generations (that’s when you see the creative department of an agency you used to work at and know like, one person). One of the big lessons shared was, “When you shoot the explosion first in slow-motion, make sure they change the film speed for the rest of the shoot.”
A few more lessons:
When the client has rejected two full rounds of ideas, keep going. When you have three scripts fully signed off on and ready for shoot day, keep going. Go ahead and write 15 more scripts the night before the shoot. Keep going; keep making it better. Always.
Be honest in advertising
Rob: “We said, ‘Hey, 18 to 25 year-olds, we made this to reach you guys!’ and we were totally upfront about it.”
(What would the Perlorian Brothers do?)
The Perlorian Brothers are specific and communicate their vision clearly. Their treatments are the best and most informative I’ve ever seen. Since Dose, every time I brief a photographer or illustrator, I try to be as specific and detailed as possible.
When asked to comment on this article, the Perlorians said, “zeitgeist,” “synergy,” “millenniumalist,” “mimp,” “deblaterate,” and “jet-ski,” among other words.
When life gives you a ridiculous product, make ridiculous ads
Rob: “My favourite of all time is when [the spokesperson] says, ‘They say the perfect ad has exactly ten words. [He stops to count]...Pantyhose.’”
Lisa Chen-Wing is a freelance associate creative director and art director who has worked with Grey, DDB and Rethink. She is also the chairwoman/president of Global International Worldwide.
This column originally appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of Applied Arts.
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