Doner Creatives Rock the Motor City…and Istanbul, too
This is the second story in an ongoing series of how the coronavirus pandemic is changing advertising. The first was Creativity in a Pandemic, about Leo Burnett’s TV spot for Facebook.
The bottled-water company’s marketing team wanted to produce their first-ever TV spot, even if that meant overcoming lots of logistical hurdles in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
Whereas Doner’s Detroit team had produced pandemic-related ads for American brands using everyday people and “remote direction,” the Icelandic spot required standard studio production with a photographer and model in the same space.
Doing so required scientific knowledge and international inquiry.
“Putting people together without PPE [personal protective equipment] is impossible here in the United States…you can’t put people together who aren’t related,” Doner Detroit Chief Creative Officer Eric Weisberg says. “The economy in Europe is significantly more open, as it pertains to film production. Because their [Covid-19] caseloads are so much lower than ours, they’re able to test and figure out isolation protocols where we are not, as a country, just yet.”
Doner’s L.A. team got busy, ultimately finding Istanbul photographer Erkin Demir on Pinterest.
“[We] loved how he expertly crafted visuals of nature and women that felt both fierce and raw,” says Jason Gaboriau, EVP, Chief Creative Officer at Doner LA. “We spoke to him and he was so excited and wanted to start right away. Ultimately, he was chosen because of his talent, regardless of location.”
Demir would go on to produce the photo shoot and film video content, working with one female model in a studio. Before the pandemic, Doner employees may have traveled to Istanbul to direct the shoot in person; but this summer, the L.A.-based team directed the Icelandic shoot remotely, via Zoom. Icelandic Glacial executives were also watching and providing feedback via digital means.
But then the Icelandic water bottles got held up by Turkish customs.
“Our team called me one day and they said, ‘We need you to shoot us the actual water bottle,” recalls Doner Vice President and Director of Content Production Zeke Anders. “They sent me the rough cut of the spot, where the model is holding a placeholder. I shot the bottle in Detroit, and they then blended the two images together.”
Such agility is becoming the norm at Doner, ever since Anders’s walk around Detroit at the height of the national quarantine.
In his 82-second film “When The Motor Stops,” Anders tells the story of a city whose mojo has been replaced by silence. His black-and-white footage and large, empty cityscapes create a stark effect. Executive Creative Director Michael Stelmaszek wrote the script and Olivia Hill, a Doner senior copywriter, narrated.
The film served as a public service announcement, urging people to stay home and keep their spirits up.
“The piece that Zeke and the team did for Detroit was the first piece at the height of the pandemic,” Weisberg says. “When Detroit was the number three market behind New York and New Jersey [in terms of Covid-19 cases], we wanted some way to help the community and make it feel strong in time of weakness.”
Anders’s route to the finish line was paved in reverse.
Usually, creatives present an idea for all to agree on. But in this case, he went out and did the work. It’s as if his gut instinct, driven by the need to do good, told him the work was good, too.
“The phenomenal script was written to the picture, which is not the norm,” Anders says. “Basically our final product was the presentation of the idea. It was an exception that worked out rather well.”
Stelmaszek’s sensitive copy gets an extra dose of empathy via Hill’s slow cadence.
“It feels unnatural to not be in action; for the city built on four wheels,” Hill narrates. “But these vacant streets, empty stadiums, are not signs of our retreat, but of our resolve. If he were alive today, even Henry himself would have put it in park.”
The PSA seems to have instilled a dogged determination in the team, which has gone on to produce numerous spots in their homes, transformed into professional editing and audio studios.
But, hey, this is Detroit, where cars are art. Turns out you can make art in cars, too.
That’s what Doner did to film a spot for Motor City Frontline Meals, a promotion that McDonald’s and the Detroit Pistons organized in May.
For three weeks, McDonald’s 28 Detroit restaurants gave free breakfasts to all healthcare workers and employees of the Detroit Police Department, Detroit Fire Department, and Detroit Department of Transportation. All they needed to do was provide ID and be willing to ham it up on camera.
From his own car, Detroit Pistons announcer John Mason boomed positive greetings to essential workers, which Doner filmed with some 15 GoPro cameras placed around one of the participating restaurants.
“We were able to use Mason’s booming, signature, pump-you-up, let’s-get-on-our-feet voice through the drive-thru speaker by having him wear an employee headset while in his car,” Anders says.
Media coverage in local news outlets such as the Detroit Free Press and a story on the Pistons’ NBA page publicized the free meals.
Another Doner client, Cox Communications, has likewise reacted to the pandemic in a civically minded manner.
Via Connect2Compete, Cox, the third-largest internet and cable provider in the country, is providing two months of free internet service to low-income families with school-age children through Sept. 30. After the two-month complementary period, the service increases to $9.99 per month.
Families in public housing or those who are eligible for the National School Lunch Program, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, early childhood learning program Head Start, among other public assistance programs, are eligible for the Connect2Compete service.
The ad, featuring professional actors and real teachers who filmed themselves using iPhone 11’s that Doner sent to their homes, has run in markets where Cox has a big presence: Cleveland, Las Vegas, Phoenix and San Diego.
“We weren’t going to fly out to them or have them fly in to us,” Anders says. “One of the main questions for production is, ‘how do we maintain a level of quality that best serves the creative?’”
Having mastered remote direction, Doner is beginning to produce live-shoots again. They have researched a set of protocols based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Screen Actors Guild, and Association of Independent Commercial Producers. A Covid-19 safety officer is on set for productions now underway.
“Creativity is still the same; we are still thinking in similar ways,” Anders says. “But I think what’s changed, at least on the production side, is we have to be more disciplined and more focused in terms of how to execute these ideas. I’ve worked as a photographer, an editor, and a director [to create pandemic-era ads]. It’s like being a Swiss Army Knife.”