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How Michelob Ultra Reminded Us That Sports Should Be Fun

Behind the Work 280 Add to collection

LBB’s Ben Conway speaks to GUT Mexico City and Stink Films about the spot revealing the negative impact on athlete’s mental health, caused by too much pressure

How Michelob Ultra Reminded Us That Sports Should Be Fun

Sports brand slogans are everywhere. On billboards, TV, magazines, posters at the gym… All of them pushing you – professional athletes and your average early-morning joggers alike – to run faster, jump higher, train harder, sweat heavier and win more. Exercise is serious now, don’t you know? Turn that smile into a grimace and add 10 kilos to your deadlift – you’ve got trophies to earn.

Michelob Ultra, along with three professional Mexican athletes (Guillermo Ochoa, Arantxa Chávez & Isaac Nuñez), has decided to address the enormous amount of pressure that this messaging is putting on both sportspeople and the public, reminding us that everything we do is only worth it if we manage to enjoy it. Created and produced alongside creative agency GUT Miami and Stink Films, the beer company’s ‘Under Pressure’ spot shares intimate moments of frustration and sacrifice in the athletes’ lives - hoping to highlight that extreme pressure can be damaging to people’s wellbeing.

The spot is also accompanied by an OOH campaign that features posters of the athletes being broken down by a wall of words - high-pressure expectations, cruel press reactions and online hate that has affected the three during their careers. The posters will be featured on billboards throughout Mexico City, in the hopes of raising awareness about the pressure we put on athletes and ourselves to over-perform, at the risk of damaging everything else.

To talk about shooting intimate moments with the athletes, creating a campaign that relieves pressure and witnessing Guillermo Ochoa receive verbal abuse from fickle ‘fans’ while filming for this very campaign, Ramiro Rodriguez Cohen, executive creative director at GUT Mexico City and Stink Films director Douglas Bernardt spoke with LBB’s Ben Conway.

LBB> Have you worked with Michelob Ultra before? How did this collaboration come about?


Ramiro> As their AOR in Mexico, this is the second campaign we’ve done with Michelob Ultra. Our first one was called ‘Train your FUN side’ and we loved working on that one and ‘Under Pressure’. In our campaigns, we’re trying to create a consistency that helps Michelob Ultra’s brand purpose shine through, which is to challenge the preconceptions of wellness and to communicate that it is possible to have a balanced life without sacrificing the things you enjoy the most. 

Part of being Michelob Ultra’s AOR allows us to work with them from the moment the briefs are created; it is a great work process in this way. When we began to discuss the tension of the pressure that exists around highly-competitive sports, many ideas began to appear around the subject because the pressure is everywhere. From there, we looked into the different places where extreme pressure exists to help fight against it.

Douglas> I liked the idea of using irony to portray the negative impact on athletes' mental health and pressure that is created by sports brand slogans which are thrown at us daily. I always felt the ad should have a contemplative tone - where these new slogans would create a sense of relief both in the characters and audience. 


LBB> When talking about mental health and the pressure on athletes, what did you have to consider during the writing process? 


Ramiro> The main thing we had to consider was that we are talking about people, understanding that they are not robots and that so much pressure can affect them emotionally. So we had to be delicate in how to create a campaign that would help society release that pressure.

LBB> How did you decide on the three athletes to feature? What was the process like, getting them involved and then shooting with them and representing their stories?


Ramiro> First, we looked for athletes who have suffered this pressure in their own flesh, who feel the problem as their own, and it was this same selection criteria that helped us to easily involve them. The resounding initial reaction was, ‘I think it is very important that we start talking about this. Count me in.’ That’s when we knew the relevance that this campaign would have from a sports and mental health perspective.

Douglas> We always get a bit nervous before shooting athletes but it was smooth and collaborative. The athletes were all receptive to the script and agreed on the importance of this subject. They were humble and fit into their roles perfectly. Everything was scripted in the first treatment, but I like to always leave space for improvisation. I wrote backstories for each athlete and built storyboards to guide our prep. Then once we started shooting, I adapted to each individual's performance in order to capture their genuine expressions - something I think is especially important when filming sports and even music. 

LBB> How was the process of writing the inspirational phrases/advice for the spot? And where did you get the soundbites of the ‘pressure’ and negative criticism for the start of the film?


Ramiro> Inspirational phrases contradict what high-performance sports brands communicate to those who want to play sports. ‘Win or nothing’. ‘Practice makes perfect’. From Michelob Ultra, we wanted to add a new layer of enjoyment, raising that sports and having fun in the game are both key when looking for a balanced life. The soundbites from the beginning are recreations of what we hear on TV and read in newspapers and the hashtags used on social networks are about the performance of an athlete coming from someone sitting in an armchair, a desk or a television studio.

We wanted to dramatise that sports should also be enjoyed like going out with friends, enjoying a dinner or anything that helps you achieve that balance that supports people's health.

LBB> When talking about mental health and the pressure on athletes, how did you want to visually represent the pressure, intensity and struggle? 

Douglas> [By] enhancing the small portion of seconds that expands when you’re under the limits of your efforts. We thought about situations that would be believable in the world and the performances of the athletes. I personally like the scene where Memo Ochoa drops his gloves on the floor. It’s a small detail but is quite dramatic and shows a bigger meaning. 

Ramiro> After speaking with the athletes, we produced the images with director Douglas Bernardt and his team from Stink Films and Habitant. We wanted to show that frustration can be generated in the most intimate moments of training. Beyond feeling the pressure when athletes are in the spotlight, the pressure also extends to those unseen moments of sacrifice and dedication. We knew Douglas Bernardt along with Stink Films and Habitant were the right partners for the project from the moment we saw how they treated the script - from the situations they proposed to the treatment in general - and we were blown away by their intuition and production.

LBB> How long was production and were you on-set for the shoot(s)? Do you have any fun anecdotes or lessons learned from that experience? 


Ramiro> The film was shot for three days in different locations throughout Mexico City. The best anecdote, which sadly proved the point and tension we exposed in the project, was the day we filmed Memo Ochoa on the soccer field. As the hours passed, children began to gather around the security fences wanting to hug their idol. When they discovered they could not get any closer, they began to yell the names of goalkeepers that could replace Memo on the National team and his team. It was a dramatic display of how we can go from loving to hating our idols in a matter of seconds, depending on what they are able to give us or not.

LBB> Who designed the OOH posters? What was the inspiration for these designs and how did you select the text to use?


Ramiro> It was a joint effort between the production company and the agency, led by the creative directors of the campaign, Jose Mario Muñoz and Rodrigo del Oso. We were inspired by brand messages that demand extremely high performances from athletes, along with their slogans that then contradict those messages, and put together a message that releases the pressure they want to impose on us.

The posters will be located on different public roads throughout the city with the brand message ‘It's only worth it if you enjoy it’. We believe this is a way to find those ordinary athletes who may be demanding more of themselves in some circuits of the city.

LBB> For the shot of Arantxa running down the stairs - was this created using VFX? How did you capture the right perspective and what challenges did this shot pose?

Douglas> It was all in-camera. Camera movement and forced perspective were key here. During the tech scout, we photographed the final camera angle and made a raw drawing. The challenge was syncing the speed of the camera with the speed of the runner all while finding the right perspective.

LBB> Douglas, were you involved in post-production? What direction did you give to the editors, sound team and colourists?

Douglas> Yes, we had a really nice exchange during post-production. GUT gave me the freedom to make suggestions and we had a lot of back-and-forth in the anti-slogans compositions. We worked with all Brazilian studios: Satellite (sound), Osmar Jr (colour) and Mosh (VFX).

LBB> What was the hardest challenge you faced on this campaign?

Douglas> The hardest challenge I think was finding the tone of pressure we were seeking without compromising the grace and poetry. 

Ramiro> It was difficult to choose where to start telling the story and what implications this approach could have. But above all, it was having everyone come together behind this subject as delicate as the mental health of all athletes. We covered many aspects behind the thought process and production of this campaign, so it remains to be seen how it will continue. Hopefully, we’ve made something that starts to change how we manage our own expectations about life and the passion with which our idols approach the sport. No more guys yelling barbarities at Ochoa from the fences, please.

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GUT, Wed, 25 May 2022 16:00:00 GMT