Sky Creative Agency’s Robin Garton and director Dan DiFelice on why emotional connection and high-octane robot action were central to the brand’s biggest campaign of 2020
‘Harris & the Robots’ is a big deal for Sky Creative Agency. As Sky’s in-house advertising and creative agency and the largest in-house agency in Europe, this new work is the first part of Sky’s biggest campaign of the year.
The overarching creative strategy, ’Everything you love, all in one place, easy’ defines the campaign, which will unravel over the coming months, delivering a series of stories that celebrates TV viewers’ idiosyncratic tastes and how Sky Q allows them to ‘collect’ content that they define themselves by. The five stories in the series of ads aim to “represent Sky’s diverse customer base, the society it operates in and Sky’s ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion, both on and off screen”.
The first story in the series follows the life of robot-obsessed 12-year-old Harris, as he collects his favourite entertainment, from Disney+ (Ironman & BB8), YouTube (a robotic dog from Boston Dynamics) and Sky Cinema (Megatron from Transformers). We see Harris travel through the worlds of entertainment, collecting everything that inspires him, on Sky Q. At the end of the advert, it’s revealed that one of the reasons Harris is passionate about the entertainment he has collected is because he has a prosthetic limb and feels an affinity with the characters in his collection. For part of the production, Sky worked closely with Scope in developing the advert.
To find out more about the campaign, LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Robin Garton, ECD advertising, Sky Creative Agency and director Dan DiFelice, who’s represented by Biscuit Filmworks.
LBB> This campaign is a big shift for the Sky brand towards a broader storytelling focus. What drove that shift?
Robin> This was instigated by the need to drive desire and engagement with the Sky brand among a broader audience, including those that previously hadn’t considered paying for TV or had any connection with Sky as a brand. By shifting towards a more emotive, storytelling style we hoped to be able to connect with them emotionally, demonstrating why Sky Q is relevant to them.
LBB> Strategically, why is this a good time to make this shift?
Robin> We’re in a golden age of TV, and it has never been more important to people. You can see this through the ever-increasing amount of content that is being produced across so many different providers. It really emphasises that the needs of the viewer are increasingly diverse and unique, and that’s why Sky Q is the best TV experience. By providing a range of great entertainment all in one place, Sky Q reflects these diverse and unique needs of the viewer, better than anything else.
LBB> Why did you decide to create a series of characters and stories?
Robin> The whole campaign is about what Q does for the consumer, giving them the TV that resonates with who they are. The stories we are telling in the campaign are about that individuality and the diversity of tastes. They are themes that are better told by having many characters rather than just one.
LBB> How did you come up with the character of Harris and his passion for all things robots?
Robin> The campaign is built round the individuality of our customer’s TV tastes and so diversity goes hand in hand with that. We were looking for identifiable themes that cross the multi-platform nature of Sky Q. Harris and his passion for Robots fitted with that.
LBB> What were the major considerations around which titles to showcase? And were there any challenges working on that front?
Robin> We’d start with the individual and what their passion was. Then we’d look at the range of platforms and content that could illustrate this. The long lists that resulted inevitably got shorter as we started talking to the studios. But on the whole we already had strong relationships with them so they were lending us their IP on the basis of that trust.
LBB> Dan, what were your first thoughts when you saw the script(s)? How did you envision realising them?
Dan> My initial reaction was that perfect blend of my mind reeling with possibilities and the pragmatic, production side just thinking how?
Early on I really connected to the sense of unique vantage points... coming upon on a familiar scene but creating new perspectives.
LBB> And how did that change?
Dan> So much has developed (and also held together) from the early concepting phases of the project. Sky, as our main client, obviously has a strong say in the film. But additionally all of the studios and properties weighed in regarding the scenes. But even with all these entities, everyone along the way has been receptive to elevating the films and pushing for the best adverts.
There were a couple pieces of content along the way that seemed like they'd fit the concept really well, but then when watching the film or series you realise there's no real way in for our hero character to collect. So it's been a learning process in developing the campaign and the agency/client have been incredibly receptive and collaborative.
LBB> How did the film itself come together? There's a lot to weave into something coherent?
Robin> Like a jigsaw is probably the best way to describe it! Lots of moving parts that eventually fitted into place. But we had a strong idea at the heart of it, and Harris as an individual dictated the theme of the content. Those two clear drivers meant we could flex on specific scenes and the action within them until it all came together.
Dan> This film, being heavily intertwined with our hero's love for all things robots, relied more heavily on CG than some of our other upcoming films. Given that, we leaned on Framestore to aid in communication to convey what we were aiming to create through previz. Studios have such a love and reverence for their characters and so it was on us to convey our own respect, ability to maintain their standards, and show in a clear manner how we wanted to work with their characters.
Beyond the technical, I think it very much came down to character. These scenes and pieces of content all come down to some sort of theme around what the character loves and what's in their playlists. Coming back to the intertwining of character and content always helped create a realism to the journey.
LBB> What were the biggest production challenges?
Robin> Covid. That was a challenge. But in terms of the film, there were two sides to it. The first was recreating the filmic worlds that our protagonists collect from to a level whereby they’d be indistinguishable from the originals. That was a visual challenge (both in camera and in post). But equally if not more importantly these ads needed to be the story of the individual doing the collecting. And the audience needed to connect emotionally with them. Capturing the humanity of our characters in fleeting moments within these huge visual spectacles was key.
Dan> Our production teams across the campaign have been incredibly strong. Beyond the typical production difficulties that rise up like maximizing time whilst shooting with a kid on set and the 2020 production issues of Covid, it's been a pretty smooth production. I'd say the toughest aspect has probably been dramatically changing day to day what we're shooting. We're shifting gears constantly capturing a pretty big range of content. It's something to expect of course, in a campaign with this breadth. And I also think that's what's been incredibly fun about this set of spots.
LBB> Are there any aspects of or moments in the final campaign that you're particularly happy with?
Dan> Getting to shoot a scene on Tatooine or create an office in the Chrysler building overlooking Avengers' Midtown were both dreamlike experiences. And being able to create our own moments within some of the worlds, such as with Transformers and Boston Dynamics, is such an honour to be given that trust.
Beyond the production and post sides of playing within these iconic worlds, I think the thing I'm happiest with is how well Harris did and how incredibly badass he comes across in the film. This was actually his first acting experience. He offered so much of his own expression and personality and he was such a joy to work with. I'm really grateful that we were able to make a great ad that we're all proud of...of course for Sky...but definitely as well for Harris.
Robin> I’m pretty happy with the whole thing. We kept exceeding our own expectations along the way. Scene by scene as we shot the ad, we kept thinking we’d just shot the best scene, only to shoot a better one later that day.
The nature of the journey has also been hugely rewarding. From insight, to idea and then on to execution we’ve actually ended up pretty close to what we originally conceived, which is pretty remarkable. It was the first time that the agency had delivered to such a huge scale. It’s touched almost every part of the agency and has been a colossal team effort. Delivering a campaign of this magnitude simply wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t have the breadth of skills that we have under one roof.