Leo Burnett and Airbag describe the amazing 12 day production story behind the emotive film that’s touching hearts and changing minds in Australia
Last week Australians received postal surveys from the federal government asking them: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” At this crucial point in the campaign, debate has been lively, with campaigns on both sides making their cases emotionally.
During the season finale of The Bachelor, both the Yes and No campaigns aired crucial films to try and sway voters. The Yes film was an emotive montage, beautifully depicting the possibility that lays ahead if the country votes to legalise equal marriage - one that already exists and is celebrated by happy couples in several other countries. It was made in just 12 days, with media donated by Wrigley’s to give the campaign the impact it needed.
Excited by impact that the film has made on the global discussion, LBB’s Alex Reeves asked Leo Burnett Melbourne’s Head of Copy Sarah McGregor and Creative Director Andrew Woodhead, as well as Airbag Managing Partner Adrian Bosich, who directed the film, about how the campaign came together to grab millions of viewers by the feels.
LBB> How does this campaign fit into the broader marriage equality conversation in Australia? What have been the important points leading up to this? And how does this respond to those?
Sarah McGregor & Andrew Woodhead> With a national postal survey imminent, each side of the debate had released TV spots – the No Campaign’s ‘Coalition for Marriage’ targeting the mothers of school aged children and The Equality Campaign releasing a fairly pragmatic film that showed Australians marching to the post box to ‘get it done’. However, with a far greater budget, the No campaign was outspending Equality five to one.
We felt like there was an opportunity to tell a more emotive, human story that would simply prove that all love is equal and getting married is a right that should be extended to all of us. It felt like someone needed to turn the issue from a political one into a human one.
LBB> How did you get involved in the campaign?
SM & AW> This issue is one very close to our hearts and so we were keen to use our skills and resources to help change people’s minds and hopefully, their behaviour.
Once we’d enlisted the help of Airbag and were confident we could actually pull this off, we approached Equality with the idea. We had just 12 days to produce the spot and find a way to get it to run during one of the year’s most expensive timeslots, with zero budget. Only once we had the media donation in place from Wrigley’s Extra did we know it was actually going to happen; until then we were very much running on optimism.
Adrian Bosich> When Sarah and Andrew approached me with the idea, what struck me most was that this conveyed a positive message of hope. The No campaign is running a ‘slippery slope’ strategy - “if we allow this, then what happens next” - regardless of fact or the reality of what’s happened in other countries that have allowed same sex marriage.
To me, this idea speaks to the core emotionality of the Yes campaign. This is about two consenting adults wanting to express their love in front of their family and friends, and to be able to have that relationship acknowledged by society in an equal way. The timing - airing it during the finale of The Bachelor - was where the idea clicked to another level. This is a show with mainstream appeal, a show which is known to play with the idea of relationships and marriage, and has a million eyeballs watch the finale. We wanted to reach this audience, and make this statement, with the hope it would become bigger than just that audience, and spark wider discussion and interest.
LBB> How did you find all these beautiful couples? Who are they and how did you get the footage?
SM & AW> Incredibly, it took just a few posts on Facebook to be gifted with an enormous amount of real wedding footage. Everyone who responded was more than happy to be featured to help the cause – their generosity was very humbling. But as well as the couples, we also had to gain the permission of every family member and guest that you see in the footage – it still feels like a bit of a miracle.
AB> From the creatives showing me the concept, to dispatch to station for the finale air date, we had 12 days. That was the biggest challenge - time.
At Airbag, we try to push the boundaries of modern production, and how we approach briefs. It would be impossible to stage weddings, or even put out a call to film live weddings with this sort of timeframe. But the agency and I knew that a lot of people already shot their own weddings professionally. If we could crowdsource the footage, we could hit the edit with (hopefully) a lot of rushes to sift through and find amazing moments.
The first day, Airbag sponsored a five day ’call for entries’ post on Facebook, targeting Australia and also all countries where same-sex marriage was legal. That’s also when we started to approach offline and grade/online companies, to secure their support. There was a lot of good will in the advertising world for this cause, and luckily ARC Edit and Manimal jumped on board to help us.
We had no idea what footage we would get - if there would even be any usable footage - but by day two I had one video which had fantastic moments. I knew even if it was just this one film, I could tell a story around this. By day three we had two additional videos that I knew we could craft the heartfelt backbone around and now suddenly, you could tell a few people’s stories, so the idea got a bit bigger. By the end of day five we had 68 videos and over 150 hours of footage. Some of that footage was iPhone quality and filmed vertically, but through most of this footage was a beautiful authenticity that centred around love. I listened to the speeches, the specially-written vows - you really got the sense of how far the couple had come to reach this point, and how important it was to have their relationship celebrated in this way in front of their loved ones. It really touched my heart, and I wanted to be sure we captured that feeling with the final film.
We ended up whittling down the 150 hours into three and a half minutes of emotional gold, and then cut down the ads from there. We played with a few musical tracks, but were very quickly drawn to the idea of an iconic Aussie track reinterpreted by a stripped back, emotional vocal. ‘Don’t Dream it’s Over’ quickly became attached to the edit, and went down the path for approval. We feel very fortunate that Sarah Blasko and Crowded House allowed us to use this cover. Then all the featured talent, their family and friends had to sign releases and clearances to allow us to use them for these videos. The last seven days of production were utterly crazy, with multiple 16-hour days, but I’m super happy with where the films ended up.
All the while, Leo Burnett were hard at work trying to secure the air time for the ad to actually go to air in that timeslot. Yet despite multiple obstacles, we always found a way through the challenges - it is the project with the most condensed highs and lows I’ve ever experienced - and also the most rewarding.
LBB> Why was the Bachelor finale so key as a moment to premiere the film?
SM & AW> The reason was three-fold. First of all, the timing was perfect – research tells us that most people make up their minds up in the 48 hours after receiving their postal survey - the majority of Australians had received it that day. It also had the audience we needed – a large number of fence-sitting voters who would be open to our more emotive message. Thirdly, we wanted to make the point that while we watch the relative ease with which people get married on TV, we should remember that for a large proportion of the population, it’s still legally impossible to do the same.
AB> To me, it was utterly core to the idea. It had 1.3 million eyeballs from a certain demographic. The show plays with the idea of a relationship and marriage (strangers meet and court each other - the finale often ends in a proposal). The insight was to take what might be an abstract relationship for some, and to humanise it, to show the love, the passion, the emotions, the joy, the relief, the pride. And not just how this affects these couples, but how it affects the broader friends and families. Marriage isn’t something that happens in isolation - it happens in communities. It’s very difficult to change a firm ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ vote, but there is hope that for the oscillating ‘Maybe’ vote, or ‘Can’t be Bothered’ vote, if you can try to hit the heart, you can try to sway the mind.
LBB> Did you know that the No campaign were also airing a film during the show?
SM & AW> We had a very good idea they would be – and in the end it actually helped us as it presented such a wild juxtaposition to the kind of strategy we’d decided to take.
AB> It’s been reported that the No campaign, with ties to religious organisations, has five times the amount of budget compared to the Yes campaign. So not that shocked, really.
LBB> It’s provoked a discussion around the world. What are your thoughts on the reaction to the campaigns?
SM & AW> The reaction has been fantastic – The Bachelor’s audience was 1.3 million, and within 48 hours the spot had been viewed over a million times online and still counting. The response on social media and in the press has also been incredibly positive. Our goal now is to enlist the help of other marketers, like Wrigley’s, who are willing to donate one of their TV spots so we can air the film as many times as possible, particularly in programs where No voters are watching. We’ll only feel we’ve truly succeeded if the result is a big fat YES come November.
AB> It’s great that it grew beyond the initial TV audience, and lit up socials with at least that many viewers again and had articles talking about it ‘upstaging’ The Bachelor finale. It just allows the campaign to exist beyond the TV show audience, and to become a broader discussion point.