When ad executives sit down to brainstorm potential directors for a commercial, the sky is the limit. The A-listers are often name-checked but the reality is a combination of factors – namely timing and budget size – will ultimately determine who sits in the director’s chair.
The idea for deodorant brand Mitchum’s first ad campaign in five years started as a conversation between Revlon chairman Ron Perelman and filmmaker Brett Ratner, who had started creative consulting firm Brett Ratner Brands with CAA Marketing last year.
That initial conversation inspired Mitchum’s Hardest Working Person in America, a contest based on the notion that the 40-year-old brand has the most active – or hardest-working – ingredient in its deodorant. Beginning in May, entrants uploaded submit videos demonstrate their worthiness for the title. The submissions would then be voted on by the public.
To direct a series of five-minute short films about real-life hard workers, Ratner suggested Albert Maysles, the veteran documentarian and one half of The Maysles Brothers, the directing duo responsible for Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens and Salesman.
Maysles has been directing commercials since 1963. Along with his late brother David, he helmed innumerable ads, many of them testimonials that featured non-professional actors, such as the ‘Take the Pepsi Challenge’ spots from the 1980s.
Ratner met the filmmaker and his current directing partner Bradley Kaplan at a dinner honoring the launch of Maysles’ book of photography two years ago. When the Mitchum idea came up, he decided to give them a call and the directors agreed to shoot four of the campaign’s eight web films.
‘Albert Maysles is not only a legendary documentarian, he’s the hardest working documentary filmmaker: he’s 82 years old and he still shoots every day that he can,’ says Jae Goodman, chief creative officer for Brett Ratner Brands and CAA Marketing, a division of Creative Artists Agency (CAA). ‘There’s a certain caliber of work that Brett Ratner Brands wants to put out in the world so we wanted to set the tone for the storytelling within this campaign.’
‘More often than not when it comes to the more commercial-driven or branded content-driven projects,’ says Kaplan, who is also executive producer at Maysles Films in New York, ‘those will be, interestingly enough, through relationships we’ve developed.’
During the first call with Maysles and Kaplan, Goodman said the campaign should have a Studs Terkel feel. ‘We neither needed not wanted for Mitchum to have a bunch of bells and whistles on this. We just wanted to tell stories,’ says Goodman.
The reference struck a chord with Maysles, who responded that the late American historian and author was a friend. Shot documentary-style the resulting four films are earnest odes to modern-day Americana. Each profiles a person deemed the ‘hardest working’ in their field: a cattle rancher, a baker, a coach and a web entrepreneur.
The creative approach was no different than a documentary shoot. Production began in March, with Maysles manning one camera and another cinematographer on another. The rest of the crew was rarely more than Kaplan, a producer, a production assistant and a sound person. The directors would spend two-to-three days embedding themselves with the subject to develop a rapport.
‘We didn’t try to reinvent the Maysles wheel, if you will,’ says Kaplan. ‘We tried to keep it looking and feeling like we were shooting a documentary film. Period.’
Once the films were finished and posted on the campaign site, the second phase was the contest. The prize: $100,000 and the chance to become the subject of a film directed by Maysles and Kaplan.
To encourage entries beyond the usual webcam testimonial, Mitchum and the agency provided pre-cleared music and film titles for hopefuls to use. Media agency Mediacom helped spread the word, YouTube provided the backend for submissions and US Sweepstakes administered the contest.
Execs at US Sweepstakes told Goodman he could expect around 50 submissions. By August, the campaign had received 154 videos. Entrants were then encouraged to campaign for themselves using social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter and promo materials with the tagline ‘I’m the hardest working ______ in America’ available from Café Press.
The winner wound up being somewhat of a celebrity in environmental circles. Mike Rowe, the host of Discovery’s Dirty Jobs, heard about the Mitchum campaign and nominated Chad Pregracke, founder of not-for-profit Living Lands & Waters and an environmental activist who travels up and down the Mississippi River on a barge and dredges up the junk lying beneath its surface. He won with more than 50,000 votes and the resulting film about him will premiere on the Sundance Channel on Oct. 22.
A deserving candidate was christened the hardest working but was it worth Mitchum’s investment? Goodman says the brand witnessed its largest sales gain in more than two years and landed prime shelf space at Wal-mart and Target. Brett Ratner Brands and CAA are in talks with their client for a potential 2011 campaign push.
‘On the one hand, as a marketer, I don’t think you need to see yourself in a campaign,’ says Goodman. ‘But I think there’s value in connecting with people on an emotional level and reality or documentary-style is one way to do it.’
CAA Marketing’s Ned McNeilage will be discussing the Mitchum Hardest Working Person in America campaign at Realscreen’s Branded Entertainment Forum on Oct. 25 in New York City. For more information on the Forum, click here.