GRAND RAPIDS, June 21, 2012 – This week I spoke with the creative team from Grey New York, who are on the shortlist to win big at the annual Cannes Lions festival, to get a better understanding of how they create award winning work.
I talked to Steven Fogel and Doug Fallon, who came up with the concept for the well-known DirecTV Cable Effects commercials, in which the issues of having cable lead to a disastrous life-altering downward spiral.
We discussed how they came to this creative solution, the strategy behind it, and how they set themselves up for success.
Rob: What’s the story behind how you came up with this creative concept?
Steven & Doug: DTV is an entertainment brand, so entertaining people through their advertising is very important to them. It’s great to work with a client that truly wants to entertain and be talked about. You always try to do that of course, but we really pushed ourselves on this to think of something different and fun and really watchable. [We] had this thought, a structure - What if a small annoying cable issue led to this domino effect of events that turned into all sorts of horribleness for you, and completely turned your life to ruin?
We had this very earnest, instructional voice in our heads. This step-by-step story that felt factual and inevitable—that this will absolutely happen, we’re just laying out the facts. We started one step to the next and it just felt natural. Nothing forced. So we went with it.
We liked the ridiculousness of the idea that you could illogically tie the horrible end result to the beginning cable problem. And that each spot could end with a different line: Don’t wake up in a roadside ditch. Don’t have a grandson with a dog collar. Stop taking in stray animals. It felt ever-changing and different each time which made it interesting.
Overall, it just felt like a funny way to sell something and get a message across. We’re very clearly and obviously not selling. We’re making a transparent, ridiculous, illogical claim of what will happen if you have cable. It’s obviously not taking itself very seriously. I think people like that from a brand and an ad; to not be sold, to just be entertained. It says that this brand doesn’t take itself too seriously. And makes them likeable I think in our eyes.
Rob: How do you like to like you arrange your environment to make your work as a creative easier?
Steven & Doug: It’s pretty simple. We go in a room and just try to crack it. We really just try to come up with something that feels good and funny to us. We bounce stuff off each other until we’re both laughing. Then we know we might have something. We have family and kids though, so we can’t always be together at work cranking it out. But it’s always on our minds. We’re always thinking about it in the cracks. A lot of the thoughts happen in the cracks of life. And I think that’s key. As sad as that is, it’s 24 hours a day, always thinking about it. [You] feel an intense pressure on yourself to not squander this opportunity, to do it right, to not waste it.
That’s really our process, to just keep thinking about it. Make sure it’s always in your mind somewhere; nagging at you, distracting you from focusing on the movie, or your wife, or your neglected children. It’s horrible really. But it’s truly the only way. Some of the best thoughts are when you’re going out for dinner or watching TV. Or lying in bed on the edge of sleep and you force yourself to write it down, worried it might be forgotten forever.
Rob: What advice can you give to other creatives working in advertising about how to create the best work?
Steven & Doug: I guess we’re inspired really by stuff all around us. Ads we love and are jealous of, but also movies, comedy, comics, and books. We try not to just do what might be funny or great in commercial land and ad land. We try to do stuff that’s just good because it’s good. Someone once said to me very early on: do stuff that would make your friends laugh.
We try to keep that in mind at all times. Sometimes a joke in a commercial is funny just because it’s in relation to the commercial pod surrounding it. But it’s good to aspire to be funny or good in relation to the world around you, not just ads.
More in relation to the other things you find funny. Sitcoms or movies or stand up or pop culture. You rarely get there but it’s what we aspire to. It’s what drives us. Do stuff that would make your friends laugh. Also, get an idea down you like. Break the ice. It takes the pressure off. Put something down you’d be happy with selling and shooting. And then keep going. Don’t settle. Even if you’ve got something you love, keep going until time runs out. Like we said, always have it in your head somewhere.
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