With the Olympics currently underway in Tokyo, sports is ever the topical point of discussion. But for the athletes to get there, it takes strength, dedication and sheer force of will. That’s why support systems are increasingly important for ensuring athlete success and enjoyable competition.
As one of the supporters of the Great Britain team, Toyota wanted to experiment with the idea of helping athletes by providing them with a robot that could assist them with various tasks, be it serving as a coat-hanger, or helping one of the paralympic athletes have equal access to mobility. This was showcased during their recent video in which the athletes were shown working alongside Toyota’s HSR robot which was developed with the express purpose of helping those with restricted mobility.
LBB’s Josh Neufeldt spoke to The&Partnership’s Dominic Gettins and Mike Vinall to discuss the creation of this campaign.
LBB> What was the brief like? And what did you think when you saw it?
Dominic & Mike> Anything where the Olympics and Paralympics are concerned is an exciting brief, but with a partnership message there’s a danger you end up with something worthy or that struggles to make a meaningful link. We also felt the world had seen enough inspira-tainment and as a UK-only campaign we felt it was our job to be a little more nuanced and down-to-earth, while satisfying the need to show positive support for Team GB and ParalympicsGB.
LBB> The idea of showcasing this new technology which can help with everyday tasks - through the idea of athletes not using the robots for their originally intended purpose - is an interesting approach. What was the inspiration behind that approach?
Dominic & Mike> We started looking at what a sponsor does for athletes beyond financial support, like sending free products or goody bags. We also had some research that suggested UK audiences enjoy how Japanese culture differs from ours, so the idea of misunderstood intentions around freebies was kicking around in early chats. But what would a global mobility brand send to its athletic ambassadors? The fact Toyota gives equal weight to Olympic and Paralympic games opened up the notion of providing support during training. We knew Toyota has several robot programs including the sophisticated, humanoid T-HR3 and basketball-dunking CUE-4, as well as some advanced sports tech. But they also had the HSR, developed to help those with restricted mobility. Maybe we could combine all these skillsets to create a character that could analyse an athlete’s oxygen stats, but is equally happy to be used as a coat rack. The HSR’s wide-eyed innocence was perfect for this. It all came together.
LBB> This campaign is done at a time with the idea of athletes training for the Tokyo Olympics. But a central theme is the idea of these robots potentially one day helping everyone have the freedom of movement. What was the strategic thinking behind that element of the campaign?
Dominic & Mike> Toyota are very aspirational and look for big answers to the environment and social challenges facing them. But as their early investment in hybrid showed they are focussed very much on what is practical for ordinary people right now rather than showing off fanciful technology. A robot assistant for someone unable to get out of bed is a far cry from the sports event that shows us the most sublime achievements in human movement. Yet they are connected, as the Paralympics exemplifies. The levelling of the playing field in mobility is a profound social good and is summed up in their guiding principle – when you have the freedom to move, anything is possible.
LBB> The upbeat nature of the soundtrack really compliments the upbeat aesthetic of the ad. How did you go about selecting it?
Dominic & Mike> The soundtrack was one of the hardest executional nuts to crack. The decision to go the opposite way to most sports-based content left us with a tricky music dilemma. Our theme combined high tech with the everyday, elite sports with menial tasks. Discussions about what track to use were interminable as we struggled to find something that could elevate and build in a way that signalled the essential fun and optimism of the idea, while still matching the action. The jollity of ‘Pocketful Of Dreams’ seemed not only to work tonally but it brought with it the aspirational story that matched our ambassadors’ trajectory as they prepared for competition. We tried many times to create a modern cover but in the end Barbera Lea’s 1957 version couldn’t be bettered.
LBB> With regards to the inclusion of athletes in the script, what was the writing process like? And what was the experience of working with them like?
Dominic & Mike> Although the ambassadors were central to the brief, the writing process focussed on creating scenarios that developed the personality of the robot, with the athletes appearing almost as co-stars. Had they been big egos this could have been awkward, but we’d worked with them previously at the start of 2020 talking through their lockdown experiences, so we knew they were very easy-going and on the day they played their roles perfectly.
LBB> In general, what was the production process like? Were there any particularly memorable moments?
Dominic & Mike> The production experience could be summed up as humbling.
Shauna doing countless pull ups whilst we were shooting her and still needing fake “sweat” to be sprayed on her.
Alice Tai having to pretend she was making an effort with the dumbbell…heavy to us, featherweights to her.
We worked with the same DOP as Game of Thrones and Justice League - Fabian Wagner.
And then there was Victor, a student from Kings College university, yet who achieved feats of robotic fine tuning with the clock ticking and the whole production depending on him.
LBB> How much was done in post? In general, what was the post production process like?
Dominic & Mike> Post was surprisingly full-on, though you’d never know from the finished film. For example, it was important for the robot’s screen not to detract from its subtle facial expressions, so we replaced its screensaver in every scene to something slow and calm, to suggest the robot’s smooth mental processing of its situation. Coffee & TV were very patient as we nerdily debated the robot’s internal telemetry screen or the design of its mind-meld laser with them.
LBB> What challenges did you face with this project and how did you overcome them?
Dominic & Mike> The biggest challenge was the pandemic, which complicated everything, from schedule to athlete availability. Our US-based director, Jon Barber, was fundamental to the treatment we wanted and quarantine could have ruined our plans. There were unexpected obstacles at every stage that in the end could only be overcome through sheer goodwill, from our transcendently patient client, Tom, to the optimism and Olympic dedication of our producers Charlie and Dale.
LBB> What has the reception of the campaign been like?
Dominic & Mike> The response has been warm and positive, importantly (from our point of view) that includes from within the Toyota corporation itself. Getting appreciation from HQ in Japan was particularly gratifying as ours is not a conventional vision of the future. But given that one of their goals is to bring more humanity to their engineering achievements, perhaps it’s not surprising.
LBB> Any parting thoughts?
Dominic & Mike> Our robot character has gone down well enough to sell in a sequel for the winter games. Look out for Winterbot, coming soon.