Trends and Insight in association withSynapse Virtual Production

Behind The Scenes on a World-First Ad as Virgin Holidays Live Streams from 18 Locations

London, UK
AMV BBDO, HLA and ITN Productions guide us through an ambitious collaboration that proves the power of live

On Saturday evening, while you were chilling on the sofa, a crew of adventurous (and ambitious) people from AMV BBDO, production company HLA and ITN Productions were busy coordinating an audacious advertising event from all corners of the map.

The campaign for Virgin Holidays was created to turn exotic vacations from a dream into reality. As families around the UK settled down in front of their TVs to watch X Factor, they were met with scenes from real holidays, live streamed from all around the world.

The project involved careful planning between all parties, and ITN’s own production team brought its crucial experience of live broadcasting into the mix. And all that hard work paid off. Within 20 minutes of the ad airing, there were 7,400 mentions of the #SeizeTheHoliday hashtag (a number other brands might see in a week), with over 11,000 mentions in total on Saturday night. The campaign saw 2.33 million Tweet impressions and 16.9M trend impressions on Twitter on Saturday. 

LBB’s Addison Capper caught up with the team from AMV BBDO, Head of Commercials Adam Barnett and EP Jemma Cassey from ITN, and HLA EP Mike Wells and director Simon Ratigan to find out about the planning and collaboration that went into Seize the Holiday…

The Strategy 

LBB> What was the initial brief and how did it end up with the idea of a live-streamed ad? What was the strategic thinking behind it? Why is it right for Virgin Holidays?

AMV BBDO> People enjoy dreaming about their ideal holiday. The problem is that they rarely take the leap and turn that dream into a reality. This is partly because they don’t think people like them really get to go on their ideal holidays. In behavioural economics terms this is called a ‘false consensus’.

Our idea uses social norms to break that false consensus. In other words we aim to show people that actually, people just like them, really are experiencing their ideal holidays all the time thanks to Virgin Holidays.

One of the most powerful ways of demonstrating that truth is using live streams. There is an immediacy and realness that live footage gives the viewer that is unlike anything you will get from a recorded film. It allows us to give a very true sense that people just like them really are enjoying their ideal holidays, right now. Such a cutting edge and daring campaign is exactly what people expect from Virgin Holidays, a brand they feel is innovative and always doing new and exciting things.

LBB> Given that it’s such an ambitious project, did you ever worry about its feasibility? 

AMV BBDO> We knew we had the right teams to make this happen so as a producer at AMV, Anita was confident this would always happen. And with the amount of work and dedication everyone put in, the feasibility never worried her.

Preparation, Preparation, Preparation…

LBB> A project like this must be all about the planning - what did it involve?

AMV BDDO> For AMV the planning began with sourcing the correct destinations and then working out who would be the best collaborators to make an ambitious idea like this work.

We were immediately impressed with ITN for their knowledge of live broadcast. We wanted to make sure we creatively chose the right person who would collaborate with everyone and Simon Ratigan at HLA was the perfect person for the job.

The planning then became almost prepping for 18 shoots - the amount of destinations we had in the film. Creatively it involved casting, in depth recceing of all destinations and then technically finding out what was feasible.

LBB> How did you decide on the final locations and shots for the film? 

AMV BBDO> We were guided by our client at VH of all the destinations they flew to and provided experiences in. The goal for us at AMV was to make the commercial feel as varied as possible with times of day, land, sea etc. Variety was the key and then we were guided by ITN on whether actual satellite or wifi feeds would actually work.

LBB> And Simon, as a director, how did you orchestrate so many locations at the time of shooting? Where were you? 

Simon Ratigan> Knowing from the start of the project that we would be incorporating so many live feeds from all over the world, the entire process became about pre-planning and scheduling. Not only did we need to agree which destinations would be featured, and what would be happening there, but also how we were going to be able to recce them all before the air date. We had to devise a complex schedule that allowed everyone involved to visit each location in order to identify what was visually strong and technically possible. It was then a matter of having to remotely run castings, organise and brief crews and carefully block out shots in the days and weeks running up to last Saturday night so that everybody knew where to be and what to do. This is hard to achieve when you’re working face to face with people, but doing it with phone calls and emails in 18 different places with all the inherent time zone complications is a challenge to say the least. But it had to be precisely done so that on the weekend of the broadcast we could be in London in an ITN broadcast gallery and know that everyone else around the world was in the right place at the right time with a clear brief to follow.

… After the Planning, Prepare to Relinquish Control

LBB> As a director who primarily works with commercials, did you have to alter your approach to this project? 

SIMON RATIGAN> I had to embrace the idea of a live broadcast, which meant very careful planning leading up to the air time and then completely relinquishing control at the last moment with the hope that everything would run smoothly.

I also had to accept that things might go wrong and everyone involved was on-board with this. Seamless live broadcasting is about having escape routes, whether it’s a presenter who keeps talking or a camera that shows the action from a safe angle. These escape routes enable gallery directors to avoid problems, deal with hiccups and hide any behind the scenes chaos from the audience. We, however, were very exposed will no real safety options as we were cutting between shots every few seconds meaning there was no time to fix a problem. So when I took the project on, it was with the full knowledge that the risks were high, probably inevitable, and that was OK, it was going to be live and raw and real and out of everyone’s control. Scary? Absolutely, but that’s what was going to make it different to anything else on air.

The Power of Collaboration

LBB> How did ITN Productions work with HLA on this project?

Mike Wells> On the face of it the differing areas of responsibility were very clear - HLA would look after everything in front of the lens from locations,  casting, props and logistical operations etc while ITN would look after everything from the lens back - Camera,  up and down link, and of course the live broadcast on the night.  In fact, the overlap between us had to be constantly managed and it was a testament to both the production teams that communication never failed.  A mammoth round the world combined location scout and technical recce took place with both ITN and HLA teams together with agency creatives and production to finally identify locations and cast. That relationship was finally defined by both the ITN gallery director Jon Bennett and Simon working together in the gallery through the camera rehearsals that took place from each location in turn throughout Friday 9th prior to the Saturday live broadcast.

An enormous amount of communication and information was being shared on a daily basis.  There were so many moving parts to mesh together that at times the flow seemed relentless - it was equivalent to eighteen location shoots happening simultaneously with all the necessary location searches/permits/casting/wardrobe required from a location perspective, plus all the necessary approvals from a client perspective. This meant that information had to be very carefully sifted.  Of course all this was happening simultaneously with local production teams and gently coaxed to fruition in London by the HLA/ITN teams at the same time - in fact at exactly the same moment in time 8.15pm on Sat 10 September - from the very outset of the production.

Jemma Cassey> Collaboration was the most important thing with a project like this. With lots of conversations in the early pre-production stages working out how best to structure everything,  to creative and technical recces all happening together to ensure all shots and locations worked. On the day the relationship between ITN and HLA was really important to ensure performance, technology and ultimately the live commercial all happened.

Going Live

LBB> How were the nerves on the night of the shoot / broadcast?

ADAM BARNETT> From an ITN Productions side of things, we were actually very calm. Remember, as a company we do this daily for three major broadcasters, and have been for 60 odd years. We are uniquely placed to manage a project of this scale, and problem solve in real time. When a project carries an element of risk such as this, clients come to ITN Productions because they trust us to have the expertise, resources and technological capability to be able to execute it consistently and successfully. Our infrastructure makes ITN Productions uniquely placed as an advertising producer to do this kind of work in-house.

LBB> Talk us through shoot / broadcast night - how did it go?

JEMMA CASSEY>  It went really well.  We had tested feeds the day before to resolve any issues, so we changed a few elements on the Saturday to give us better picture in some locations. We did a couple of run throughs that went well. The beauty of this type of live production is any dropped feeds still play out, it's live after all.

SIMON RATIGAN> It started well, with lots of nerves and an incredible sense of anticipation. We had spent the day before rehearsing every location so that the cast and the camera crew were fully prepared. 

With 18 different units though, this became like speed directing and it needed sorting and refining on the Saturday. More emails and phone calls. But as the various live feeds started to appear on the gallery screens early in the evening, everyone could see that the months of careful preparation were paying off and every shot looked beautiful, every signal strong and we managed to do a few last minute rehearsals that just gave everyone in the room confidence. 

Nevertheless, when the countdown reached 60 seconds to record, the tension in the room was unbelievable. There was a fair amount of noise from the gallery director and technicians, but the client, agency and production company people, including myself, were silent. There was nothing we could do except wait and watch. Then suddenly I noticed a cast member not in shot and an audio feed that was silent and notified the gallery director. He calmly engaged comms with the various locations and reminded them that we were now less than 30 secs from record and if they would please get ready. It was incredible, no screaming, no yelling, no sudden blast of anger that would induce panic their end, just steady, clear instructions. 

Well, before we knew it, the cameras were rolling, the action was playing out and fate took over. Luckily our actress moved into shot 7 seconds before her scene, but we did lose one feed entirely during the minute and we never did get that audio from the other location. But that’s live and what a thrilling experience it is.

The Morning After…

LBB> What sort of response are you seeing from the public? 

AMV BBDO> The response online has been immensely positive. People seem to have appreciated seeing something new and the fact that it was live has made people realise that at any given moment, something incredible is happening around the world.  Generally, the public seems impressed that this ad was indeed captured live.

SIMON RATIGAN> I’m not entirely sure of the public’s response other than everyone I knew seemed to be watching and they didn’t spot any of the mistakes other than the single lost feed. More importantly, they didn’t question the fact that it was really live. The worst thing would have been to make a 60 second live commercial that is so tight, so perfect, so flawless that people don’t believe it’s live. We needed the uncontrolled, unexpected, randomness of life to give it energy and edge and in that I think we succeeded 

LBB> Any parting thoughts?

ADAM BARNETT>  I think my parting thought is around collaboration. When you bring a great agency idea from AMV, partnered with a fantastic Director in Simon Ratigan and the team at HLA, and the capabilities and expertise in live TV that ITN Productions bring, you get a great showcase in how collaboration done well can produce excellent work.

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