LBB’s Addison Capper chats with Droga5’s Juliana Cobb, Stacey Smith and Alyssa Georg, and SMUGGLER director Mark Molloy about the fun, challenges and overload of cuteness that comes with casting and shooting an almighty cast of babies for a new kind of diaper spot
Babies. They’re cute right. But also kinda difficult to get to do just about anything that you want them to do. Never is this truer than when you put a camera in front of them - just think of all those sweet family photos with a sneezing / coughing / puking / eyes closed baby in them.
Anyway, the reason we’re talking about this is because diaper brand Huggies did its first ever Super Bowl ad this year and it is ABSOLUTELY PACKED to the rafters with all manner of babies in the absolute best kind of way. The two-minute film, entitled 'Welcome to the World, Baby', is set up as a demonstration of what it's like for our smallest fellow humans as they are taken from the warm solace of the womb to the bright, loud, brash and cold of the outside world.
Created by Droga5 New York and directed by SMUGGLER's Mark Molloy, the spot is anchored around a voiceover speaking directly to the babies, acting as both a reassuring and humorous sidekick as they take in all of life's marvels, from pooping to puking.
Eager to know how they pulled this one off, LBB's Addison Capper chatted with Droga5’s Juliana Cobb (executive creative director), Stacey Smith (associate creative director) and Alyssa Georg (creative director), and director Mark Molloy.
LBB> What was the initial brief like from Huggies and what were your thoughts when you first saw it?
Juliana> When we first took on the global pitch in 2019, two things excited us about the brief from Huggies. First, their recognition that the most important thing they needed to achieve was to build meaning within a more modern consumer base. Second, the obvious fact that the category left a lot to be desired in terms of relevant, compelling storytelling. We felt extremely lucky in both regards since it gave us such a massive opportunity to give the category a long overdue refresh.
LBB> What initially inspired the idea to 'speak' to babies? Why was it the right strategic approach?
Juliana> A critical part of the process was to establish a new purpose for the Huggies brand, ‘helping to navigate the unknowns of babyhood’, which would be the North Star for achieving that much needed relevance with modern moms and dads. From a creative standpoint, we wanted to show up as a brand that genuinely ‘got it’ and was actively committed to helping reassure parents and babies alike as they figure it all out together. We also knew that wherever we landed with the creative idea, it needed to resonate in markets around the world. From there, it was a short step to imagine Huggies as a kind of ‘copilot’ and ‘coconspirator’ for baby, explaining the ins and outs of their new world with a warmth, humour and wisdom that every human could relate to - but especially the brand new ones. The creative platform, ‘We got you, baby’, uses that voice as the key creative element, an essential character in an ongoing conversation with baby and, by association, with baby’s parents, across every channel of communication. It’s a potent and flexible element that lets us show up distinctly in everything from film to social to digital ads to e-commerce marketplaces.
Stacey> We actually thought about how many parenting books and guides there are directed to parents for all the obvious reasons, but that made us think, being born must be pretty strange, to go from happily floating around in your tiny, warm sublet to being dragged out into the cold, bright and loud world. So we wanted to create this gentle voice of reassurance and guidance that helped babies navigate this new world they find themselves in.
LBB> Why was Mark Molloy the right director to bring this to life?
Juliana> Having lived with the idea for a while, we built up a very clear sense of what it was and wasn’t and how it should and shouldn’t show up in the world. We were like protective parents. But from our first conversation with Mark Molloy, we knew we were in the right hands. Mark had a genuine passion for the idea that matched our own and he came to the table brimming with ideas for it. Also, Mark had such a sharp head on how to push visuals and the storytelling to reach that elusive but necessary balance between the imperfect realness of babyhood and the awesome, unparalleled magic that is babyhood. Not to mention, he’d had experience working with babies and knew up front all the many challenges and how to set ourselves up for success in how we shaped our shooting approach. He was a wonderful dad to the project and essential to how it came together.
LBB> Mark, so many babies. What were you thinking when this job came in? You must have had quite the challenge on your hand.
Mark> It’s funny, when the job first came in, I just read the script, I didn’t actually think about ‘how the hell do we shoot this?’ I was really enamoured with the idea and story, and diving into the world of these babies - then the reality of 'how the hell do i do this' kind of hit home the more we dug into it.
LBB> Why was it something you were keen to take on?
Mark> For a number of reasons. First of all, the script was great. I read it and could really see it in my head. And I instinctively saw this visual language of diving into the babies’ heads. I was really excited to tell a story about babies, that didn't talk to them like babies - an adult guide to the galaxy, but for babies. I was also really interested to take on this category and to try and make a really amazing ad for Huggies - I thought it was something that would be really fun, and I saw that in the script.
LBB> The first thing that struck me after watching the full spot was the actual 'performances' of all the babies. They've all got their own little characters and place in the script. How on Earth did you get all of those performances? A case of incredible patience or something else?
Mark> I’m not going to reveal all of my secrets, but it did involve a lot of research and conversations. You can’t direct babies, so for me, it was about how I can elicit certain reactions from them in front of the camera. In some cases, when the baby went to the bathroom on the plane, we literally just sat a baby there and waited. In those cases there was a huge amount of patience required.
Alyssa> Whenever you shoot babies, you have backup babies on set. If a baby needs a nap, then another baby comes in. If a baby isn’t into dancing, then we would try with another baby. Or we just had to adapt what we were looking for.
LBB> What was the casting process like? You've got such a brilliant array of babies.
Alyssa> We casted real families so the dynamic and portrayals were as authentic as possible. This was a way to make babies and parents more comfortable on set so we could get the most authentic moments, as well as the safest way to do things during the pandemic, which was a big priority for us and Huggies.
As you'll see in the spot, it was important to intentionally seek out an inclusive mix of family units, featuring talent that reflects a range of racially diverse and differently abled families.
Mark> The casting process was pretty tricky. It wasn’t just about finding great babies, but because of Covid, the only people that could touch the babies were their parents. So, I had to not just cast babies, but cast all their parents too. So, I was working with a lot of non-actors and trying to see what performances I could get from them and what performances I could get from their baby.
Over the holiday period, I asked all the parents: could you just video your child doing anything? From doing a poo, to crying as much as they could, to laughing. I was looking at the sum of what the baby could do, and then decided on the cast from there, keeping diversity and inclusion at the forefront of it all.
LBB> There are also a lot of scenes. How did you keep to a shooting schedule considering that and the nature of your talent?
Mark> That is a very good question, there are a lot of scenes. And it was so uncontrollable because you’re working with babies - they’re feeding, they’re sleeping, they’re crying, they’re just all over the place! We tried to schedule it around sleeps and feeds. It was crazy. We had an incredible team and they did such an amazing job. What I always planned to do was to have multiple units, and patience had to be part of the plan. Even though I was very impatient a lot of the time, we built a schedule based on allowing us to sit and wait for the right moment to happen rather than trying to force it.
LBB> Can you tell us about the production in general? What was the setup? Are there any particularly memorable moments?
Mark> We were surrounded by babies all the time, everyday. It was just obviously really tricky. They were super cute, but it was just hard because we were never in control. We had to work around them. We’d start out with the schedule in the morning and end up just throwing it in the bin by lunch.
In terms of the setup, we had to allow for as much freedom and patience as possible. We wanted babies to fall asleep in unusual positions so we would light the scene, set it up, and then let the parent and their child sleep in the position they wanted, and we would shoot it. That sometimes would take 20 minutes, that sometimes would take three hours - we never knew - but we knew we had to get the shot, so we just built a system based around that.
As for memorable moments - sometimes I asked myself, what am I doing here? This is crazy, being surrounded by screaming babies trying to get them to do things that babies don’t usually do. Definitely, that moment on the plane was the most funny. I was sitting there for two-and-a-half hours waiting for a baby to do a poo - how did I end up here? But I got the shot, and it’s a great shot, so all is good.
Alyssa> Babies are a pretty easy thing to look at for hours, so even though these were remote overnight shoots, we were lucky that we were constantly captivated by these adorable humans. One baby fell asleep into a pile of spaghetti. Another we just sat waiting patiently for them to poop. Sometimes we had four cameras going at once. It was crazy but crazy cute.
LBB> The whole film is really fast paced. Mark, how did you pull this off with the camerawork and edit? What was your approach to both?
Mark> In terms of camerawork and edit, I had a very distinct vision and language set up in my head for how I saw this playing out. I had very particular angles and perspectives for each shot. It was pretty structured the whole way through. I worked with the amazing cinematographer, Mauro Chiarello. We worked out our language, and that language guided us through. We did a lot of testing at the start on lenses and framing, and the language, and then it flowed its way through. I really had specific moments where I wanted to pull the camera out, bring it down and be playful with the camera. It had to be fun.
LBB> From a narrative standpoint, how did you work with the voiceover? What was the writing process like?
Stacey> It was a pretty fluid process. It was important that the voice felt real and natural, as if he was really talking to a baby and not a commercial voiceover announcer talking to an audience.
The biggest discussion around the voiceover was who it would be. We debated at length if it should be a male or female and ultimately decided it should be male. We felt like it was important to reflect a more modern perspective on the vital role men play in raising and understanding babies today. For too long, the role of child rearing has been given and reinforced to mothers/females. We wanted to break from the traditional category trope and support sharing the parenting load.
Mark> It was mostly locked in prior to shooting. A few things changed as we went through though. We always knew we were going to rewrite things based on what we could get the babies to do and what surprises would happen. We knew it was malleable and would be able to evolve, but finding the right tone in the video was tricky, and we didn’t want it to feel so much like a video. We wanted it to be talking to the babies and get their tone, which was tricky. But once we got there, we knew it was where we had to be.
LBB> What were the trickiest components and how did you overcome them?
Stacey> We were really up against the clock on a lot of this, not to mention producing during Covid-19 and all the restrictions that came with it. But for us creatively, it was definitely trying to get babies born that day into the final spot. It was a long production/logistical feat involving over 50 hospitals. We were up at 3 a.m. literally waiting for moms to give birth. And then around 5:30 a.m. photos started flowing in, so we raced to get it into the edit so it could be shipped on time. It was surreal, sitting there waiting for a tiny human to be born.
Mark> The trickiest component is working with babies and their parents for five days straight, over 40 babies. That’s tricky any day of the week.
LBB> Any parting thoughts?
Mark> I really love it. I set out to make an ad for Huggies that was unlike a normal diaper ad you’ve ever seen before. And I think we did that! I’m really proud of it given the crazy year we’ve all had. I think it’s a really nice fun spot that seems to have resonated.