How Three Generations of Aviation Took Flight in KLM’s Centenary Commercial
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DDB’s Esther te Pas and MassiveMusic’s Tom Tukker explain the ideas and attention to detail that went into the Dutch airline’s 100th birthday campaign
This year KLM, the Dutch national airline, is celebrating its 100th birthday. So it needed something big to mark the occasion. Being the world’s oldest airline it turns out it even has its own historians, so the team turned to them, using the ‘KLM archive’ to create a 90-second film that reflects on the brand in tandem with the history of aviation, but also on progress. From a craft and art direction perspective it's a phenomenal feat. Hundreds of historical uniforms, props, details - and of course aircraft - are included and all the details are spot on.
The idea centres on three generations of one family that work with KLM. The magic of flying inspires the first two featured women (mother and daughter) to become flight attendants. However, the film closes on the grand daughter, who ends up as the pilot and captain of the flight.
Behind the campaign was something of a Dutch dream team, with creative provided by DDB Unlimited, working with top director Ismael ten Heuvel and original music by famed musician & pianist Joep Beving via MassiveMusic.
Impressed by the craft that went into the film, LBB’s Alex Reeves spoke to Esther te Pas, managing director at DDB Unlimited Amsterdam and Tom Tukker, music producer at MassiveMusic Amsterdam.
LBB> Let's start at the beginning. Your client KLM had its 100th birthday coming up. What were the initial discussions about what you'd do?
Esther> We knew we were working with a very special moment that we were very proud of and wanted to celebrate but we didn’t want to just look back. We thought about how we still keep it relevant and look forward. We wanted to bring some emotion into play – and to underline KLM’s pioneering spirit as an airline that has been at the forefront of aviation for the last hundred years.
LBB> How did that progress to the idea of telling the history of the brand through the lens of three people's lives?
Esther> This is not an actual true story, it’s a scripted narrative. But it was 100% inspired by real examples of families and multiple generations who work within KLM. There are a surprising number of multigenerational stories within KLM, where two and sometimes three generations have worked there.
In terms of the female pilot, more and more women are training as pilots and being recruited by KLM. However, there are definitely more men than women who decide they want to become pilots - maybe this campaign will inspire future female pilots.
LBB> How does the idea also tie in with KLM’s admirable ‘Fly Responsibly’ call to action?
Esther> KLM is committed to its sustainability drive, called Fly Responsibly, which we launched earlier this year. This initiative is a global call-to action to the wider aviation industry and individual travellers to work together to help create a more sustainable future for aviation. Therefore, the Fly Responsibly message and logo is present throughout all touch points of this campaign.
Also, the two campaigns tie in well together insofar that they both say, we’ve been here for 100 years and we want to be here for another 100 years so let’s look to the future and the progress we need to make to do so. And if you look into the future it’s inevitable that sustainability is key. We all have a big responsibility to leave a world for our children to explore.
LBB> Tell me about the KLM archive. What is it and what treasures lie within it?
Esther> We had many meetings with the team of KLM historians that look after KLM’s archive. They know everything about the KLM company and brand and they have all the historical assets you can imagine – including every single uniform, accessory and prop that the staff used. It’s like a treasure box.
Our stylist was so excited to go there because she could see all the original outfits and was allowed to borrow them so she could remake them. All the outfits used in the film are exact remakes of the originals.
LBB> How did that guide the making of the campaign film?
Esther> We recreated everything from the archive and had continuous contact with the historical team throughout. Even to the point of sending photos on WhatsApp when we were at the shoot to check that they had the scarves on in the right way. We were in contact the whole time and, if we were ever in doubt, we reached out to them. We didn’t make any shortcuts.
LBB> Let’s talk more about the craft of the film. What were the key decisions?
Esther> The decision to get Ismael ten Heuvel on board as director was key. He’s one of the best in the country and specializes in emotional storytelling.
The craft of the post-production and CGI was also very important. The company that we worked with, Storm Post Production in Amsterdam, did an amazing job of recreating the aircrafts in CGI and everything else that was needed to make this a seamless visual experience.
And finally, it always boils down to music. It’s the shortcut to creating emotion.
So having MassiveMusic on board was really important. And then of course the idea of asking Joep Beving to compose an original piece for this, made it unique and befitting for the moment of celebrating KLM’s 100th birthday.
Most people in our industry know Joep Beving, he worked with MassiveMusic since its early days, but in the last five years has found fame and international recognition as a leading pianist and musician.
The final track fits the film perfectly and has proven to be really popular already. We’ve had lots of comments on social media asking for the song, so it has most definitely stirred up a reaction, which is great.
LBB> Tom, the music is beautiful! Can you tell the story of the original brief and how that ended up with this piece?
Tom> The brief was basically – how can we put KLM and neoclassical music together and come up with a song that elevates the hopes, dreams and accomplishments of the characters in the film? If you try to picture the collective image of KLM, which, let’s not forget, it’s the world’s oldest airline in the world, it’s not difficult to associate it with the grandeur of a piano. They’re both glorious, respected, legendary. However, the ‘new’ aspect was essential as, despite being a centenarian, KLM is modern and innovative in everything it does. During the initial stage, we sat down together and thought – who can best embody, from a musical perspective, classical and new at the same time? Ismael ten Heuvel, the director of the film, suggested having pianist Joep Beving, so we asked him to be part of this important anniversary campaign. That’s how we ended up with a modern classical atmospheric piano piece composed by Joep and produced by MassiveMusic.
LBB> What was working with Joep like? What was it that only he could bring to the film?
Tom> Joep is an old friend of MassiveMusic, so having him on board really helped when it came to understanding each other and managing expectations from the get-go. The music for the campaign also needed to be part of a bigger picture, which is KLM’s sonic branding identity, which MassiveMusic is responsible for. I’m personally very happy with the result, especially if you consider we had a limited time to pull this off from early stages to completion – as Joep is currently touring around the world. I think that having three Dutch parties who are also internationally-oriented such as KLM, Joep himself and MassiveMusic gave the project that special something we were all looking for. Joep’s touch was exactly what we needed to hit the trifecta.
LBB> How does the music fit with the storyline?
Tom> The film aims to celebrate KLM’s achievements through the story of three generations of women from the same family. In the first half of the film, we see two women, mother and daughter, becoming flight attendants, whereas the second part depicts the last woman, the first generation’s granddaughter, becoming a pilot. To highlight their ambitions, confidence and accomplishments, we wanted the music to gradually increase, which is what we achieved by adding strings to have more dynamics whilst still keeping the piano as a foundation for the whole track. It’s funny to think that the musical term ‘crescendo’ means ‘growing up’ in Italian. That’s exactly what the women in the film – and KLM – have done, with a journey that never seems to end.
LBB> Esther, are there any favourite moments in the film for you?
Esther> There are many great moments. But my favourites are the reveal moment where you see that the little girl has become the pilot, I think that touches everyone. But also the excitement of the flight attendant when she’s on her first job in 1949. She’s so happy and you can feel her enthusiasm. The actress was great and her performance makes everyone who watches it feel how important that moment was in her life.