These days TV rarely gets our undivided attention. We tweet and we text our opinions as we take in our favourite shows, turning us all into instant TV critics. AMV BBDO and Mercedes have taken advantage of our double screening habits to create an interactive TV ad that takes its cues from Twitter. The project screened in the ad breaks during Saturday’s UK X Factor live show and invited viewers to choose the twists and turns in this ground breaking campaign. We spoke with Ben King, Board Account Director for Mercedes.
LBB>When you started talking to Mercedes about the project, what were they looking for in particular?
BK> Over the years Mercedes has produced some brilliant campaigns for their high end cars, which have traditionally been sold to an older, more affluent target. They now have this smaller, sportier, more affordable car that they wanted to bring out, which was very, very different to anything we'd seen from them before. What they asked for - and what we were trying to get at - was a campaign that was something no one had ever seen before and that would convince people that Mercedes wasn't just for older, rich men; one that felt a bit more relevant and appropriate for a younger target. Unlike so many things you see from premium brands was that it wasn't about being distant and aloof from people - it was about opening the brand up and encouraging people to write the story.
LBB> What was really interesting was that we've been hearing a lot about the death of mass media, but this campaign taps into the fact that Twitter and the like have revived live TV, and the way people watch things together, but online.
BK> I think people have been very quick to rush to declare TV to be dead. The truth is if you want to get a large number of people to believe something about a brand very quickly, there's still nothing more effective than TV. What has changed is how people are watching TV and what they're doing at the same time as they're watching it. We could bore each other with the stats about double-screening or triple-screening, but it's true. It might be more true for some TV shows than others, so whilst at first X Factor might seem like a strange choice of programming, what was so right about it was the audience's behaviour during it. They're not recording it and watching it later - part of the enjoyment they get from watching it live is going onto Twitter to talk about it and seeing what other people have to say about it. If we could replicate that behaviour somehow for the brand, then maybe we could have a similar effect for Mercedes.
LBB> The build-up to the TV commercial - the ads in newspapers and tube displays – played a big part in turning the campaign into an event.
BK> It's something we managed before for Mercedes when we created 'Escape the Map
'. These events are things that people want to participate in and can enjoy so I think it's legitimate to tell people that they are coming. Of course you've got to be cautious about overestimating the importance of advertising, but what I've experienced this weekend has shown me that actually people do get excited about it and they do want to talk about it.
LBB> In terms of the production, there were a few interesting details that chime with what you're saying about the repositioning of Mercedes. For example what were you hoping to achieve with the decision to have a female driver rescuing the male protagonist?
BK> It's true that historically that Mercedes make bigger cars that appeal more to men than women. That won't be true for the new A-Class. Everything we've seen from the research that they’ve carried out is that it's equally appealing to both sexes and we wanted to reflect that. We thought the blend of having the big celebrity, the guy, putting his life in the hands of a strong woman who's got the plan and who's got the smarts would be a really nice mix. It wouldn't have been anywhere near as effective the other way round, it would have been a bit of a cliche to have the helpless female star who needs the guy to get her there. This way felt interesting without being unbelievable.
LBB> And the storyline, of the pop star escaping fans and paparazzi worked really well with the X Factor media slot - how far did that timing influence the development of the creative?
BK> That was very deliberate. We had decided on the X Factor before we decided on the final story. When you enter the world of Entourage, of big international stars, Mercedes is very much part of their lives. It would have been utterly believable for this guy to have walked out the front doors and to have got into a big Mercedes to get to his gig. But we subverted that to have him use the smaller Mercedes that he's smuggled away in rather than the big limo. It builds the bridge between an aspect of the brand and X Factor, the show it was appearing in.
LBB> And what was the response like on the night?
BK> It was very good. What I can say at the moment is that Mercedes are very happy with the number of people who tweeted - we had no idea how many people were going to get involved because nothing like it had been done before! Ultimately the aim of this was to get people interested in the car, to get them to visit the website and download brochures - and all of that improved dramatically over the weekend.
LBB> And on the YouTube channel, have people been playing around with the alternative choices, building their own storylines?
BK> It was really important to us that it was genuine, that there were all those twists that could have been taken. We really want people to now go and have a look at it and play with what their choices would have been and ultimately to help with that we're incentivising that; there's the chance to win the car for a year.
LBB> In terms of production, there's so much more footage to shoot for a project like this compared with a straight forward TV spot. What sort of constraints did this present and how did you get round them?
BK> It made it different to a conventional advertising shoot because there was so much to cover, so it meant we had to work more like a TV programme where they have to shoot enough footage for 30 minutes or 60 minutes, but probably on a similar budget to what we usually have for a commercial. That's one of the reasons we were so keen to work with Yann Demange, the director, because of his experience working on things like Top Boy. We also wanted it to be him in particular because he had shot Top Boy with Kane Robinson, the main actor in the spot.
LBB> It was almost like a digital project, but made for TV. Did that inform your decision to work with a production company like Stink, who obviously also have their Stink Digital arm?
BK> We worked with both Stink, as a TV production company, and Stink Digital, so it was really valuable to have them on board speaking with each other to ensure the whole thing went as smoothly as possible.
LBB> As this project was something of a first, was there anything in particular that surprised you doing this project?
BK> I think the thing that I took out of it most was that what becomes important is to start thinking 'what's next'. Not that everything has to be a world first but it has to be fresh, interesting and different for the consumer. How can we do that again for Mercedes and the consumer next year? Ultimately if we do this as a one-off and we get some interest but it dies away after a few weeks and that's good, but not as good as it could be. What I would love is for Mercedes to be one of the brands that people look to see what's coming next.