Bits & Pieces?
LeBron James moving to the Miami Heat did for his brand what oil spills do to big oil companies. They continue to make money and they achieve success in some way. But they are also tainted, in many ways — irreparably damaged by their actions. As the NBA finals drew on, I kept thinking to myself, I have never seen so many people rooting against someone. How did this happen?
LeBron is an amazing success story. A man among boys in high school, he opted not to attend college and he entered the NBA draft and was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Guy from Ohio gets picked by team from Ohio. The story writes itself, right? And it’s not just any team from Ohio, but a team that has never won. A team whose legacy is sadly embedded on every Michael Jordan highlight reel ever made. The Cavaliers needed a savior and LeBron was it. A community embraced him. He signed a contract with Nike. And on the court, he was a magician. The Cavaliers came close to the championship, but never finished the deal. Again very similar to the early days of a guy named Jordan.
But what LeBron didn’t realize was that his brand, like every brand, is something he doesn’t have total control of. That’s an illusion. The customer dictates your brand. And the customer likes the Ohio boy helps Ohio team win the championship story. They like seeing their guy in all the Nike commercials, crowned king. It made the fans feel all warm inside. That’s our guy! He’s going to take us to the promised land!
Not so fast. LeBron became a free agent. And LeBron let his desires get in the way of what he came to stand for. He walked outside the parameters of his brand. He crossed the threshold of good guy helping team who needs help to bad guy going to bigger city who wants to buy the championship. Not only that, but when he decided to go to that team, the Heat, he put the knife in and twisted it. He aired a live televised event that featured him making the decision to leave his beloved town. He made a new Nike commercial asking “What do you want me to do?” — implying that he was confused and less self aware than he probably should be. And then, upon arriving in Miami, took part in a pyrotechnic inflamed celebration of his arrival in front of thousands of screaming Miami fans, saying he was there to win at least 7 championships.
In other words he was saying that Cleveland, contrary to what the popular song says, doesn’t rock.
No brand is safe from public scrutiny. CMOs everywhere are constantly ensuring that their brand integrity is solid and as bulletproof as possible. Any major change to a brand is heavily scrutinized. What LeBron lost in his quest for a championship is the brand integrity he worked very hard to gain. And the truth is, it remained to be seen whether he could win in Cleveland or not. Now instead of being spoken of with the likes of Jordan, Nicklaus and Aaron, he is spoken in the context of Barry Bonds and Tiger Woods — two infamously great players tainted by missteps that have tarnished their image forever.
What do you think? Is LeBron’s image something he can rescue? Would winning a championship do it? Or is the positive image of LeBron a thing of the past?
Once again, it’s time to go back to the trusty hard drive for the things that I found great inspiration from the beginning of my career. I still find this spot amazing. I had pulled this commercial off a random site back in the day; it blew me away the first time I saw it. It is simplicity in communication, yet sophisticated and eloquent and poignant in its delivery. The spot for The Times of London, has a simple strategy: There are no simple stories – you have to dig for the meaning. It is executed and written with great skill. This spot is all about a banana, of all things; a banana being representative of so many more things than simple sustenance. The spot says it all – it has caused wars, bad jokes, and even ugly racism.
The spot is also a reminder, for me, of how we should never underestimate the value of great writing. I can’t remember the last time I saw a commercial that captures eloquence in communication quite like this. It seems the TV commercial landscape (which is still very alive and well by the way) is littered with bad humor, big type and maudlin emotion. It’s rare to see a commercial like this. The visuals tell a simple story and don’t get in the way of the idea. Awesome spot. I hope you find as much inspiration in it as I do.
When it comes to pregnancy, the woman does all the work.
There. I said it.
It’s not like I don’t have experience. I have two children, ages 10 and 13. I was a personal witness to the trials of pregnancy, the happiness, joy, the pain, and the pushing. My wife was valiant for the 9 months of pregnancy and both deliveries.
Fast forward to 2011. As a creative director, the task to create a commercial for Wheaton Franciscan – St. Joseph came across my desk. St. Joseph is an institution in Milwaukee, especially when it comes to labor and delivery. Its long history of neonatal care has earned it the title “The Baby Hospital.” For expectant Moms with a high-risk pregnancy, it’s one of the safest places to have a baby.
It makes you all fuzzy inside.
But back to the creative brief. How can we tell people about The Baby Hospital from a new angle, yet still get our point across and keep the tone emotional? The universe of health care advertising is loaded with testimonials, doctors and shots of technology and patient rooms. We have to try something different.
It occurred to us that one point of view that hasn’t been explored is one of the Dad’s, the understanding, tough, squeamish, not-so-innocent bystander. He’s just as much responsible for the pregnancy as the Mom, right? I thought of my own experiences, and the things that were important to me, and they really were many of the same things as my wife. Yet, my attitude towards those things were slightly different. Slightly, um, … male.
So we wrote scripts and had the Dads be real. I used my own experiences and the experiences of the people I talked to. And we were able to sell The Baby Hospital in a very natural way. And kudos to our client for having the courage to take the journey with us.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a 13 yr. old who needs help with her math homework.
Here I am, heading home from a pretty big still shoot for a national client—something I do often and something I still can’t believe I get paid to do—when I get an e-mail from Jen Kuhn, “Wanna do a TV spot?” it reads. “Sure,” I reply, “how do I do that? I’ve never done one.” That simple e-mail, coupled with my love for Jigsaw through a past project, was all it took.
So the journey begins. I had heard about TV shoots. And some big ones, with directors from @Radical Media, the company that represents me. Through that connection I had a lot of impressions of what I thought shooting TV would be like. This post is about my ideas on what I thought a TV shoot would be like and the reality of creating something wonderful out of almost nothing (a tiny budget). A trait I respect (not the budget part) from my friends at Jigsaw.
Day 1 - I think, “Shooting TV is going to be glamorous.”
My plane lands at Milwaukee International Airport on a cold November morning where I am expecting to be picked up by Kinkka, Steven Wold’s stunning, Icelandic personal assistant. Then we’d take the Jigsaw helicopter back to the agency for a pre-pro. Well, I guess expectations were high. It is actually Kip, a local PA who picks me up. We drive back to Jigsaw in his beat up Subaru. I am wondering if it has floor boards or not under the tattered floor mats. I start to get the picture, we must be putting all of our money into production, not pampering the director.
Day 2 - I think, “TV shoot days are long so I’ll be in my personal trailer quite a bit.”
For the first time in my career I am late for a crew call. I place the blame squarely on Jigsaw for booking us into a sketchy hotel and not giving me a personal assistant. But, instead of heading to my trailer for a latte, the next 14 hours pass by in a blur, because we don’t stop moving. In order to maximize the somewhat limited budget, the producer has scheduled almost everything today. So we arrive at a location, I take my camera out of the bag, and the producer tells me we have to move to the next location in 15 minutes. It being that this is my first commercial, I take it all in stride and pretend I know what I am doing. I don’t. But somehow, we get the shots. Including an awesome time-lapse of some high school students spelling the word “hope” out of luminaries set among the bleachers at their stadium. It is really, really cold outside, I am left wondering why anyone would want to live here now that Brett Favre is gone. Oh yeah, I never see anything resembling a trailer all day.
Day 3 – I think, “In TV they can “fix anything in post.”
Somewhat more manageable than day two, we only have to stuff a ten hour day into five hours. But we run into a little road-block. One of the shots is of a bicycle messenger with a tattoo of a wheel chair on his calf. Trevor, at the agency, has designed an awesome wheel chair logo which they have printed with an ink jet printer to make a temporary tattoo. At least that is the idea. But it’s not working, it’s backward. When I ask where the tattoo expert is, Steven points at Jen. When I ask where the art department is, Jen points at Steven. When I ask who the hell is responsible for this mess, they point at each other. When I ask, “Can we fix it in post,” they both say, “not on this budget.”
Day 4 – I think, “ TV Directors are respected and even feared.”
Hey, it’s my first spot, I am excited. And I went out and bought new toys just for this shoot. Like my new “Cineslider,” that allows me to shoot small dolly moves with pans. It’s kick-ass. But you know how you get that new sweater, or pair of shoes—and you want to wear them all the time? By Day Four I knew if I said, “bring me the slider,” one more time, I was going to have to be able to digest it, because one of these guys is surely going to shove it down my throat. So much for being respected and feared.
Day 5 – I think, “TV production is filled with experts for everything”
We’ve got some shots to pick up, so we drive to a park to scout a location. Not only do I not get a driver, but Jen’s driving now, because I was fearing for my life with Wold behind the wheel. We park and go find our spot. Coming back to the car we are surprised to find the driver’s door wide open. In a crowed parking lot. Jen says, “Hey, but it’s locked!” Now I start to wonder if I am safe with either one of them, driving or standing still. Later I get my confirmation when we come back to a parking structure and Steven can’t find the car keys. Ahhh… but the keys aren’t lost, he just left them in the car. This time it’s unlocked. With all my equipment. I don’t know if it is proof of their incompetency or proof that Milwaukee is an honest town. Well, one I know for sure.
Day 6 – I think, “Wow, that’s not the way I thought it was going to be.”
On the trip back home, I ponder about what I thought doing TV was going to be like and what it was actually like. My expectations were big and elaborate and I expected there was only one way to do it. But this was different. The production was small. The extravagance was replaced with passion. The pomp and circumstance was replaced with camaraderie. When I thought about it, I hadn’t just learned the way to do a TV spot. I once again experienced “The Jigsaw Way” where there isn’t one way to do something, where it isn’t the same way as everyone else’s way. For instance, who the heck would hire me to shoot a TV spot? Well, Jigsaw did. “The Jigsaw Way” is a pathway that twists and turns, and even doubles back on itself sometimes, but always takes you someplace wonderful and magical. And I can’t wait to go that way again.
Thank you Jen, Steven, Madonna, and everyone else for a great trip. Enjoy watching the spot as much as we enjoyed making it.
Michael Prince is a prominent photographer who has had solo exhibitions in Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. His work is in the Library of Congress, several museums and many private collections. In 2000 he began shooting commercially, quickly gaining a broad clientele. Although this is Michael’s first TV commercial, he has been experimenting with video for the past year. Michael currently lives near Boston with his wife and two children. For some strange reason he loves Jigsaw. We are not sure why.
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