This blogpost is a celebration of the 12th anniversary of VSQUARED. The article speaks about the progress of VSQUARED over the years and the obstacles faced by the team. The passion of video storytelling and the appreciation of all those who contributed towards building the business where also mentioned.
If you’re a business owner who still wants a killer video, worry not. Animation might just be the answer to advertising during the coronavirus pandemic
When countries (and then continents) began to fall victim to COVID-19, advertisers around the world began to sweat. Quarantine means people staying home, which means businesses closing, which means less money to spend on advertising. Whenever there’s a recession, advertising always gets a hard knock.
We’ve had plenty of exciting visitors at VSQUARED HQ over the past year: influencers, pop stars, and even a robotic dog. One of our most interesting guests, however, was a young wanna-be filmmaker named James Lightfoot, a whizz kid with a passion for making tongue-in-cheek videos. His work caught our eye, and we invited him round our offices to show him the ropes of making professional videos (you can see that visit here).
It was blast having him round, and we knew we’d have to collaborate with him again soon.
This Easter seemed a perfect opportunity, given that James was on holiday, and we needed to make a little video to mark the occasion. James spent two full days and the VSQUARED office. Unlike the last visit, this was to be a stop motion animation rather than a live action video. James was to have more creative control and responsibility, working hand in hand with me over the course of the visit.
First off, the concept had to be imagined. It needed to be short and sweet. Stop Motion is a time consuming process, in which bits and pieces are moved by hand, a little at a time. Anything complicated would have taken too long.
James and Bruce, the creative director, developed an idea where a dragon hatches out of an Easter egg, a little tip of the hat to the Game of Throne hype currently sweeping the world. James then storyboarded the idea. Then came a long day of drawing, cutting, and sticking. The floor became flooded with pieces of cardboard paper and tape. Stop motion always gets messy, but final result has a charm that digital animation just can’t capture.
James was very much the director on this project, and oversaw it every step of the way. He even got to grips the Adobe Premiere editing software, which he’d never used before. James showed us some of his recent directorial efforts, and it appears he’s becoming increasingly ambitious. One sketch was an homage to Back to the Future, featuring some very impressive driving stunts. Next up, James would like to try his hand at the zombie genre. We cannot wait to see it in all its gory glory. The next Edgar Wright may well be in our midst.
Keep it up James! Keep making videos, and, when you’re a big-shot director, please hire me! In the meantime, it’s always a pleasure having you around here at VSQUARED. You’re a soft-spoken gent with a very wise head on your shoulders. We look forward to your next visit.
For those who haven’t seen it, here is the finished result:
Are you interested in having an animation made for your business? If so, get in touch with us here.
Jingles are the super-sweet musical icing laid on top of video commercials, with insanely catchy tunes that will remain glued to your brain indefinitely. Jingles can be a very powerful tool for advertisers, but, as any Spider Man worth his salt will tell you, with great power comes great responsibility. Jingles can be both shoe-tapping fun, or hair-tugging horror.. Ever the optimists, we’ve decided to list our top 5 favourites. Plug in your headphones, and unplug your snobbery. Let’s get this jingle party started!
Our Top 5 Favourites:
Pepsi – Pepsi Generation by Michael Jackson
Possibly the most 80s Jingle of all time, this is the King of Pop’s reworking of his classic dance-floor hit ‘Billy Jean’, fitting in references to ‘The Pepsi Generation’ slogan. Including this may be a little cheat, given the tune wasn’t original, but to hell with it! It’s a song that has so much beat, it’ll boost your energy more than any soft drink.
Crocker Bank – We’ve Only Just Begun
We’re all familiar with the classic song ‘We’ve only Just Begun’ by The Carpenters…. you’re not? Ask your mum… Anyway, despite being one of the band’s most famous hits, it was originally a jingle for Crocker Bank, written by Roger Nicholas and legendary 70s songwriter Paul Williams. It’s a touching heart-felt number, that could only be improved with the added Carpenter magic.
Chili’s – Baby Back Ribs
This jingle may not be that familiar to Maltese ears, but every American is knows this soulful hit, written for ‘Chili’s’, a franchise steakhouse. It sounds pretty different to anything else out there. Guy Bommarito, the creative director responsible for the original ad, hated jingles. Never-the-less, Chilli’s insisted on one being created. So embarrassed by the brief, Guy didn’t even bring the assignment to his creative department, and came up with it himself. It seems to have worked. The song has become iconic, and is continually referenced in pop culture, including Scrubs, Austin Powers and The Office.
Intel – Nobody Else Quite Like You
A delightful slice of whimsy from Indie musician Rob Cantor (the man behind musical phenomenon ‘Shia Labeouf Live’). In this jingle, Cantor incorporates a wealth of references to Youtube oddities, in order to describe just how unique everyone truly is. We discover at the end that its a promotion for Intel’s True Key face recognition software. It’s a great example of how a creative songwriter can think outside the box when it comes to writing songs about objectively boring things.
Algida – Spread the Joy
Ok, we’re a little biased… Local band The Busker performed this for our very own commercial (watch it here). But its place on this list is truly deserved. The song captures the joy of summer: beaches, pretty girls, and, yes, ice-cream. It’s a song so catchy that, a year on, we’re still humming it.
And The Worst:
Easthills – Back to School
Where to start with Shopping Mall Easthill’s infamous jingle? It boasts the quality of a drunken karaoke on a flip-phone. The singing is off-key, the tunes all over the place and the less said about the lyrics the better. But we’ve got to admit, its ramshackle nature gives it a charm all of its own. It’s so loveably terrible that the cast even got invited onto the Ellen show, to reprise their so-bad-it’s-good masterpiece. All together now: BOOTS-AND-PANTS-AND-BOOTS-AND-PANTS…
Following our trip to the dystopian world of Apple’s 1984 commercial, where next? An idyllic hilltop in Italy, of course. Bring your hiking boots and a bottle of Coke, because we’re revisiting Coca Cola’s iconic ‘Hilltop’ advert.
Our millennial readers may be unfamiliar with this 1971 commercial, but older generations may still remember it and have the insanely catchy song I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke stuck in their heads. The advert features a group of diverse young hippies, from all over the world, singing along to the tune, while holding bottles of… well, you know what. At the end of the ad, over a helicopter shot of the entire crowd, text scrolls, telling us:
“On a hilltop in Italy, we assembled young people from all over the world… to bring you this message from Coca-Cola Bottlers all over the world. It’s the real thing.”
The catchiness of the song and the heart-warming ‘world peace’ message of the concept, made the advert tremendously popular, so much so that it is now regarded as the most popular commercial ever made. It’s so iconic that Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner decided to use it to close his hit series, suggesting that anti-hero Don Draper got the idea for it while on retreat.
In fact, Hilltop’s real Don Draper was Bill Backer, Creative Director at McCann Erikson. Ironically, the idea for such a popular video came about thanks to one of the least popular things: travel delays.
The date is the 18th of January, 1971. Backer is on a flight to London, when a thick fog covering the capital forces the plane to land in Shannon, Ireland, grounding them till the next day. While most would grumble and glare angrily at their watches, Backer noticed a group of fellow passengers doing something different. Sitting in the airport café, he saw his fellow passengers laughing off their misfortune, enjoying a conversation, and drinking coke. At that moment, Backer saw Coca-Cola from a different perspective. Rather than a simple thirst-quencher, Backer realized that Coke is used around the world as a way of getting people together.
“I began to see the familiar words, ‘Let’s have a Coke’, as more than an invitation to pause for refreshment”, says Backer. “They were actually a subtle way of saying, ‘Let’s keep each other company for a little while’. And I knew they were being said all over the world as I sat there in Ireland. So that was the basic idea: to see Coke not as it was originally designed to be – a liquid refresher – but as a tiny bit of commonality between all peoples, a universally liked formula that would help to keep them company for a few minutes.”
Finally arriving in London, Backer teamed up with songwriters Bill Davis, Roger Cook, and Roger Greenway. After Backer pitched his idea of ‘buying the world a coke’, Davis was at first sceptical. He admitted that “If I could do something for everybody in the world, it would not be to buy them a Coke.” Backer asked him what he would do, to which Davis responded that he would buy them a home and fill it with love. This became the basis of the song’s opening lyrics. British song-writing duo Cook and Greenway already had the perfect melody for it, by reworking a previous song of theirs called Mum, True Love and Apple Pie. Cook recalls that the four of them thrashed out jingles for “about 3, or 4 hours, and we had the song written”. The jingle went on to be smash hit in the UK and the USA.
The advert proved to be the perfect antidote for the neuroses at the time. In an interview with AdWeek, Pete Favat (Chief Creative Officer at Californian Marketing Agency Deustch) claimed this was key to its appeal. “It was a terrible time in culture. It was extremely negative. There was violence everywhere. And then this piece of film comes on TV. And basically, it was a bunch of kids singing on a hilltop about sharing a Coke.” In fact, Favat claims that this is the most powerful commercial created. “I haven’t seen anything that even comes close to that.”
The advert is without a doubt a product of its time. It was created close to the height of the hippie movement in 1969 (as the kids’ clothes seem to show). It’s somewhat ironic that the advert uses a crowd of hippies, a culture based on rejected consumerism, to sing about the most consumerist product of the 20th Century. Never-the-less, its sentiments about harmony fit perfectly with the ethos of the movement.
Watching the advert today, it’s clear that, while its inherent charm is evergreen, it’s admittedly dated. It’s easy to imagine that the ‘apple trees and honey bees’ lyrics that those hippies sing would be winced at by today’s more cynical hipsters. However, this commercial has undoubtedly been hugely inspirational to future advertisers. Hilltop proved the power of marketing to youths. It was also a very progressive commercial for its time, showing a very diverse mix of races. Watching contemporary commercials aimed at millennials, it easy to see Hilltop’s influence, with their inclusive casts and social messages.
The Hilltop commercial is a perfect time capsule of a video. One that shows a more innocent generation, that dreamed of a utopia that never really came. While the singing hippies didn’t exactly inspire world peace, they did sell a lot of Coke. And in the world of advertising, isn’t that enough?
by Bruce Micallef Eynaud
If you have a Netflix account or are interested in high-concept films, you have probably heard about Black Mirror’s interactive film ‘Bandersnatch’. This is a psychological thriller in which you make choices along the way, and control the direction of the story. Whether this is a novelty or the future of film is up for speculation. If it’s a gimmick, however, it’s an incredibly engaging one and has led to watercooler conversations across the world.
But can this interactivity be applied to video commercials?
Well, it already has. In 2011, online streaming service Hulu introduced the ‘Ad Swap’ function. This allows the viewer to choose which advert to sit through, by giving them two or three others to pick from. This sounds like a pretty good idea, truth be told: a teenager, for instance, may be more interested in a gadget commercial than one for life insurance.
However, in practice, this didn’t work out as well as hoped. In their article ‘Commercials by Multiple Choice’, The New York Times reported that one of the problems connected with the Ad Swap option was that by the time users would select a different ad, they’d have already seen a lot of the default one. Hulu then tried delaying the start of the default ad to give users a chance to choose. This, however, proved frustrating, as the delay prolonged the ad break.
Still, this option doesn’t make the adverts, in and of themselves, interactive.
As shown in the video above, Mercedes tried something far closer to the ‘Choose-your-own-adventure’ nature of Bandersnatch. Back in 2012, they launched a campaign entitled #YOUDRIVE. This was something of an event, advertised much like a blockbuster with its own trailer and poster. The story depicted a suave musician and his female driver racing through a city to get to a secret gig, while authorities are in hot pursuit. It was divided into three parts, 60 seconds each, shown in the ad breaks of the X Factor UK. At the end of each part, the audience were given a choice of commands that they needed to tweet (for instance, #HIDE or #EVADE). The command with the majority of tweets dictated the next part. The combination of storytelling and audience interaction was a hit: the campaign hashtag appeared 103 million times on Twitter and 30 Million times of Facebook.
BMW is another car company that embraced audience interactivity. However, they used a different method: 360° video. The viewer is in control of the angle he or she views, but there’s also a game to play: the ad asks you to keep your eyes on the car that model Gigi Hadid is driving, a tricky task given she’s surrounded by four identical ones. A simple challenge like this keeps viewers engaged till the end and makes them need watch the commercial again and again.
Coca-Cola similarly pushed the envelope when it came to interactive ads: they created the first ever ‘drinkable advertisement’, done in collaboration with Shazam. The app detected the sound of a Coke pouring on TV, and a graphic of a filling Coke glass appeared on their smartphone screen. Viewers were then gifted with a voucher for free Coke Zero.
The increasing sophistication of online technology has opened up new storytelling doors for commercials. Interactivity is a new tool, one that is still being played and experimented with. You can decide to steer clear of this innovation or embrace it and see where it leads.
The choice is yours.
If you want to create your very own interactive video for your brand, drop us a line!
Bruce Micallef Eynaud
There was a time when the main aim of an ad was to sell a product in the most audience-friendly way possible. Sparking boycotts would have been an advertisers’ nightmare. But as Nike’s Colin Kaepernick’s ad showed, advertisers are now unafraid to risk controversy. They may be seeking just that.
Following Nike’s lead now comes Gillette’s ‘We Believe’. The concept of this advert was that the #MeToo movement has shown that the definition of what is considered ‘acceptable male behaviour’, generated by decades of media stereotypes and inappropriate role models, needs to change. That men must stand up to what is considered to be ‘toxic masculinity’ and show the young boys of today the right way to act.
The brand now questions its own world famous slogan, asking “Is this really the best a man can get?”
At one point, bullies chasing a boy rip through a screen projecting an old Gillette advert. It seems that Gillette is turning a critical eye on itself. The brand always encouraged men to be the best they can be, but it was mostly based on career success and physical strength, more than strength of character. Rather unsurprisingly, this ad has flared up controversy worldwide and sparked debates over whether this is a positive message or blatantly sexist, one that tars all men with the same brush.
The ad was viewed over 11 million times, a remarkable number given its only been on 3 days at the time of writing. However, the comment feed is almost exclusively negative, accusing it of being anti-male. A vast number of commenters pledged to switch brands. Many repeat the same catchphrase: ‘Get Woke, Go Broke’, aimed at companies pushing progressive messages. (Ironic, given Nike’s sales shot up 31% thanks to the publicity of their ‘woke’ Kaepernick commercial).
Scorn isn’t just coming from anonymous keyboard warriors. Piers Morgan, host of the popular ‘Good Morning Britain’ breakfast show, took offence. Morgan tweeted “This absurd virtue-signalling PC guff may drive me away to a company less eager to fuel the current pathetic global assault on masculinity. Let boys be damn boys. Let men be damn men”.
However, many have come out in support of the campaign. Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, wrote “This commercial isn’t anti-male. It’s pro-humanity. And it demonstrates that character can step up to change conditions”.
On a personal note, I find it hard to empathise with the view that this is ‘anti-male’. The advert is criticising inappropriate behaviour that is often excused, wrongly, as ‘masculine’ behaviour. This can be physical fighting and cat-calling. If the critics think that the commercial is anti-male than they hold men to a very low standard.
The commercial is simply asking men to stand up for what’s right and break the cycles of violence and harassment that have been permitted for too long. If you are a man who believes that men have been given a bad reputation by the #MeToo movement, then counter that by setting the example. Show others what ‘being a man’ really stands for… As actress Whoopi Goldberg expressed on talk show ‘The View’, “What they’re basically saying is ‘Don’t Be a Jerk.’”
However, that’s not to say there isn’t an argument to be made against ‘virtue-signalling’ in commercials. One should question Gillette’s ultimate motive in creating this TV commercial. Do they genuinely want to make men think about how they can be better? Or did they purposefully create the ad for the sake of controversy, knowing that it would light a wildfire of free publicity? Does Gillette care more about the cause or the headlines?
Sure, Gillette state that they are donating 1 million a year for the next three years to non-profit organizations aimed at educating men on how to achieve their best. However, a total of 3 Million dollars is a pretty minuscule sum for a company worth 17.1 Billion. The value of the free publicity the ad generated will likely to be vastly greater than Gillette’s donations.
Sarah Banet-Weiser, professor of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics, says this:
“The Gillette ad is part of a much longer tradition of what I’ve talked about as commodity activism, where political messages are harnessed to boost the reputation of the company and to sell products”.
One may see this as capitalism hiding behind a veneer of moral righteousness, and there may be truth in that. One must acknowledge, though, that creating an advert that asks its target demographic to be self-critical is a very risky move; the consequences of which have yet to be seen. And when a world-famous brand takes such a risk to promote a positive message, that is something to be applauded. Commercials aren’t there to just plug products. Commercials can be a statement about what the brand stands for. Gillette is willing to lose the customers that don’t share their values, but they will attract those who do.
by Bruce Micallef Eynaud
This article will kick off a series of retrospectives on classic commercials from the advertising world: the adverts that have shaped the ways commercials are conceived, produced and distributed.
When it came to deciding which to start with, there really was only one answer: Apple’s ground-breaking advert for the Macintosh, titled ‘1984’. The advert, first shown during the Super Bowl game in December of 1983, is remarkably ahead of its time and is considered avant-garde even by today’s standards. It depicts a dystopian future closely modelled on George Orwell’s novel.
We see a herd of brain-washed workers shuffle into a large auditorium, where the projected face of ‘Big Brother’ preaches about a ‘garden of ideology’. A woman wielding a sledgehammer runs into the chamber, pursued by armoured guards. She hurls her weapon at the virtual dictator, causing an explosion of blinding whiteness. The text promises that, because of the release of the Macintosh, “1984 won’t be like 1984”.
The concept was created by Apple’s PR firm, Chiat/Day, specifically by Creative Director Lee Clow and copywriter Steve Hayden. The concept originally pitched in 1982 to promote the Apple II. The idea behind the ad was that the ease-of-use of Apple’s computers gave the power of technology to the people, rather than corrupt rulers. While it was originally rejected by the executives at Apple, Steve Jobs encouraged them to develop it for its upcoming Macintosh.
John Sculley, then Apple’s CEO, disliked the advert, but because of Job’s enthusiasm for the concept, approved it for production. Chiat/Day hired visionary director Ridley Scott to call the shots. Given Scott had recently directed sci-fi classics ‘Alien’ and ‘Blade Runner’, he was the perfect choice for the project. Under his direction, the dystopian future is incredibly atmospheric and sombre. Scott’s attention to detail is also noticeable: some of the slaves, for example, wear elephantine breathing masks, indicating the dour state of health and pollution.
The advert was shot in Scott’s native England. Looking for bald extras, cast several British skinheads, a subculture of shaven-headed youths, with a notorious reputation for racism. In retrospect, these figures seem to foreshadow the ‘Engineers’, the alien race from Scott’s recent sci-fi films Prometheus and Alien Covenant.
While Chiat/Day and Jobs were ecstatic about the final result, the Apple Board were far from satisfied and suggested Apple drop Chiat/Day as their PR firm. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak greatly supported the ad, going so far as offering to pay for the Superbowl spot out of his own money, if it was refused. Eventually, CEO Sculley put the decision to marketing manager Bill Campbell. Needless to say, he was a fan, and the rest is history.
The ad grabbed more headlines than the actual Super Bowl game and proved so popular it generated $5 million in free publicity, thanks to repeat plays on news programmes. The 1984 advert was undoubtedly a trendsetter. It began a tradition of using the Super Bowl to premiere high-end commercials that generate huge amounts of talk. It showed the power of producing commercials in a cinematic style. And most importantly, it showed that a commercial doesn’t need to show the product to be effective. In fact, not showing the Macintosh computer is perhaps this ad’s greatest masterstroke. It built a huge amount of curiosity in the audience back then, and it doesn’t feel dated today. This style of this has become increasingly popular, such as the Sainsbury’s ad ‘1914’ or Spike Jonze’s Kenzo World fragrance commercial. They are ads that capture the feeling or spirit of the brand and intrigue the viewer to find out more.
There’s no doubt that the combination of the moody atmosphere and lack of product made this a very risky ad for Apple, but thanks to the creative team sticking to their guns, it proved to be a gamble that paid off. As Jobs himself said, “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”
Would you like to have your own groundbreaking commercial for your business but you don’t know where to start? Drop us a line, we can’t wait to hear from you!