Ogilvy Mexico and LATAM CCO Jessica Apellaniz and Media.Monks director Soloman Lightelm speak to LBB’s Addison Capper about their latest Day of the Dead campaign for Cerveza Victoria - which this year was centred around the legendary Cempasuchil flower
In Mexico, the Cempasuchil flower represents the bridge that the dead use to cross over to the world of the living to visit their relatives. It’s also the special ingredient in a special edition beer from Cerveza Victoria, a Mexican beer brand that has become known for launching moving, heartfelt commercials around Day of the Dead, all of which were created and produced by Ogilvy Mexico, Media.Monks and director Salomon Lightelm.
For this year’s campaign (Day of the Dead was on 2nd November), the team used the Cempasuchil flower - and the ingredient of the new beer - as inspiration. The campaign tells two stories, one of a daughter reconnecting with her late father, the other involving two brothers. An intriguing, quite beautiful aspect of the campaign is that the script was actually inspired by stories left on Cerveza Victoria’s social channels after they posted Day of the Dead campaigns in previous.
Be sure to check out the campaign below, which has a magical, enchanting, almost mythical quality to it. To find out more about the process of making it, LBB’s Addison Capper spoke to Jessica Apellaniz, CCO at Ogilvy Mexico & LATAM, and director Salomon.
LBB> What was the brief for this campaign and what were your thoughts when you saw it?
Jessica> At Ogilvy, it's part of our vision of Borderless Creativity to think of ideas that go further, ideas that in addition to communication include products or relevant innovations for our clients. Cerveza Victoria has always been known for reinterpreting the most profound and unknown traditions, so this year the objective was to tell a story of reunion between the living and the dead through the very special flavour of the Cempasuchil flower, an ancestral flower that connects the world of the living with the world of the dead and that also gives the unique flavor to the product innovation that we present this year, Victoria Cempasuchil, a special edition beer brewed with extract from this flower.
LBB> Tell me about the inspiration behind 'The Taste of Reunion' - what did you focus the narrative on taste? What relevance does this have for Mexican viewers?
Jessica> 2021 has been a year of reunions. We are starting to recover everything that for one year seemed to be lost. We are meeting once again with our families, with our friends, with places, and with everything else that made us feel alive. Every moment of 2021 is a reunion, and the Day of the Dead is the best occasion to meet once again with those who left us, and those who are still here a moment two years in the making.
One of the main things that represent this tradition is the Cempasuchil flower. It is used to dress the altars that people put in their homes to receive their loved ones from the other world. In Mexico, the Cempasuchil flower represents the bridge that the dead use to cross over to the world of the living to visit their relatives.
‘Cempasuchil. The Taste of Reunion’ is a campaign inspired by the Cempasuchil, an ancestral flower considered by the ancient Mexicas as the representation of the Sun and the only flower capable of illuminating the way and being the bridge that connects the world of the living with the world of the dead. It is considered by many as the flower of reunion.
LBB> Salomon, why was this film something you were keen to get involved in?
Salomon> I've really enjoyed the last couple of years working with Victoria. Ogilvy and Media.Monks teams on bringing these Day of the Dead, mythological stories to life. Not only do the stories have a mythological framework, but they're also deeply human. There wasn't just a story about a character on a mythological journey. It was also the story about the experiences of the people that have lost loved ones and the desire to both celebrate them, but also a desire to really see them again. And so for me the story transcended both a geographic-specific viewpoint and that was my entry into the story. I wanted to tell a very human story, and ultimately a very spiritual story, also a very geographically specific story and I love those types of stories. I love stories that are inherently human, inherently spiritual and making that with a community of people from a specific region, to make it authentic, to make it honest, and to make it resonate. And that's always for me, such an honour is making deeply human felt stories with people within different contexts.
LBB> Once you saw the script, what were your initial thoughts with regards to the look and feel of the film?
Salomon> The script was really potent, it was really simple, conceptually, and narratively. But there was a lot of room and capacity to make this film. Not necessarily overly complicated, technically. But there was a lot of room to try things and to experiment with things technically. It's a story of a person going on a journey in the underworld or in the afterlife. And people, loved ones who have lost the person going on the journey, trying to reconnect. And that story, essentially was quite simple, but the telling of it became challenging in the way that we could try and get in the way that we were trying to do that in a fresh and new way. It's a mythological story, in one sense, that we're telling and so these stories felt like they've existed for a long time, myths that have existed for generations. And particularly in the context of the story is in Mexico so I felt like it was important to tell this film in a very timeless nostalgic sense, but also in a very modern sense. The idea of making the story feel like it's existed for a long time by shooting it on celluloid felt really appropriate. One thing I love about shooting in Mexico is that the locations and the costing are different from other areas in the world and always have a sense of realness and authenticity to them. And it was exciting making a film like that again, then. Obviously, there's a technical element to this film when we transitioned into this. It's a small underworld space and how we get to the underworld space was always a bit of a question mark. But I always wanted those effects to feel quiet in camera, so to speak, and so there was always a plate so we didn't shoot anything against a green screen. Everything was shot on location. Effects were kind of added on the top or at the top, and I feel like that created a film that felt very timeless and very nostalgic, and in essence felt like it's existed for a while, which I always love doing.
LBB> The script was built on real comments that people left on Cerveza Victoria’s social channels throughout the years. Please tell us more about that! That's amazing.
Jessica> It's amazing. Over the years, people have left comments of thanks on Victoria's platforms, but also messages dedicated to loved ones, letters, poems and thoughts. They really open their hearts. This year we wanted to transform all those messages, take every sentence and every word and turn it into a letter, a way to honour and celebrate those who are gone through the voice of Mexicans.
LBB> Salomon, how did this element impact your job as a director?
Salomon> The thing that's been really amazing to me over the last four years that I've been doing this campaign is contrary to what you hear. People always say never read the comments on YouTube or wherever you put the work. But I think these films have been so meaningful to the people of Mexico. It's been amazing to me to see people's reactions and it's not the work that I've done. It's the work of this whole team of people from Victoria to Ogilvy to Media.Monks, and then my team. It's just amazing for me to see people's reactions. I come in as an outsider and these films are then created with a whole team of people that really understand the culture. For me to be able to see the nuanced perspectives, like with the people that I'm working with, and to see those nuanced perspectives being echoed in the film is incredibly powerful to me. Even things that I am blind to sometimes and worried if it’ll work or not but then being reassured by my team that yes this is, this feels totally right.
And then seeing people's perspectives of their own lives, telling stories of a family member that they've lost and now feeling like they're being able to connect with them again through one of the previous films. Those comments feed back into how we are writing this new film. It's incredibly powerful, and it's such a conversation between brand, client, agency, production company and audience. Not in a way that is just catered to sell more but to really understand the dialogue in a meaningful way. What resonates with the audience in terms of the stories they're telling and trying to basically retell those stories again. Sometimes when I read the comments, I've been moved to tears, both me and my wife. I think it's a blessing because it doesn't always happen that the comments are so positive. Creating with people from across the border, just from a different context than you, is a spiritual exercise because you learn so much about the world and you learn so much about other cultures. To see it resonate with people is a very powerful thing.
LBB> They are some very emotive performances. What was the casting process like?
Salomon> We wanted to anchor the four main performances in a sense of gravitas and also in a sense of realism. But what we've done in the previous years with the Victoria forum is that we've had a lot of the world in the film populated by street-casted actors or extended family members. But what we always try to do is have the main actors be the actors that carry the emotional weight, or the dramatic weight, of the film, so that they have that muscle training and ability to kind of pull from the deep well of training and emotive capacity, sometimes even intellectual capacity, once the pressure is on and we're rolling film. I think we were really fortunate with the talent that we got for this film because it felt like we struck that mix between real street caster talent and professional actors really well for the big moments in the film. The moments in the void where Carmen meets her father and when Eric needs Alex felt really true and being able to rely on more seasoned, experienced actors to bring that. When you're shooting at 3am in the morning, and it's super cold, and they can really bring that was a real blessing. So that was fun to see.
LBB> What kind of conversations were you having with the actors to coax out the performances?
Salomon> My feeling is in general is that if you do your job right with actors, you don't have to have too many conversations on the set or even so much beforehand that is coaching or manipulating or arm twisting a performance out of talent. I feel like so much of the directing process then is the casting process. If you cast the right person for the job, then inherently they understand the character so well that they can kind of bring that. I think a tricky situation would be getting what you need from them but with this film there wasn't any of that. For the scene in the black space in the void, which is kind of the most emotional scene of the film, we were shooting it at 3am in the morning. The character of Carmen was just able to give that to us, and the actor that played Mario as well. And the same for Eric, and Alex's characters. It only became a technical conversation. Small little technical things were the direction not big emotional things because they had that.
LBB> There's a real magical, mythical energy to the film - when building out the campaign, how did you go about visualising these elements?
Jessica> On the Day of the Dead there is a kind of magical realism. This year we wanted to tell the story of reunion but from the point of view of those who are here and those who are no longer here. So the story shows the journey of two souls who, guided by the Cempasuchil, travel back home from the world of the dead. While this happens, we see their loved ones carrying out the traditional preparations of the Day of the Dead offering to receive them. During the tour we hear the emotional letter written with fragments of the actual comments that were left to their loved ones who are no longer on Cerveza Victoria's digital platforms. This piece has three versions: father and daughter, brothers and a full-length version that mixes both stories.
Salomon> I think that was inherent in the script, to be honest. So the inspiration came from the script and we were just looking at how to pull those off in a simple way because we didn't have a lot of time to shoot. We couldn't go into a studio to go and shoot the void space. We were looking at references for void spaces that we've seen before in films like 'Under the Skin' or 'Stranger Things' and we just don't have the capacity to go into a studio. So, we had to look for practical ways in which we can get the same kind of emotional effect but visually kind of do something a little bit different. There was a field that we found a couple of kilometres away from the forest stuff that we were shooting and we saw that it would work. Let's set up a balloon light and we can do something that feels pure and visceral but it's taking that idea and kind of a different direction than the stuff that we were doing with the room spinning and people levitating. And honestly, it felt very film school when we were trying to kind of pull that off. Again, because we didn't have a lot of time or resources and so they were kind of quick fix, very simple in-camera solutions - shaking the camera, flashing lights, stuff like that. But it helped in the context of edits. When you start putting those things together, it starts to elevate each scene and each shot next to the other, and it becomes something bigger. That was fun to explore.
LBB> It's a very emotive subject - personally, how did you find the process of working on this campaign?
Jessica> We all have one or more people we would like to see again. For us this campaign is a way to get closer to them, a way to connect and tell them everything we feel. It is undoubtedly one of the most emotional and special experiences you can have, it is a very enriching, emotional, nostalgic, but above all comforting process, because as Mexicans we know that Day of the Dead is the opportunity to reconnect with those people we love so much.
Salomon> It's always really emotional when you're on set and you're seeing a performance that's so moving. That happened on the last day just as we were wrapping at 3am in the morning and we saw the character Carmen, who was played by someone named Gabby, walk onto the set. She was freezing cold. When we rolled the cameras out, I remember the scene started with the camera behind her. The camera comes in and kind of wraps around her and I remember the first time that happened you saw her eyes were just welling with tears as she saw her who was playing her character’s father. It's spiritual, it is a kind of a holy moment. On the set that really moved me and did again as we were working on the edit.
LBB> What were the trickiest components and how did you overcome them?
Jessica> Today we can say that the Day of the Dead campaign is the most awaited by Mexicans and undoubtedly it is thanks to the work and courage that we have maintained for years in Ogilvy together with Cerveza Victoria. In ‘The Taste of Reunion’, we made visible one of the great values we have: the contact with our affections. Once again, we have betted on an idea that has an impact on the lives of Mexicans, with a brand that continues to innovate.
Salomon> It's always not having a lot of resources, both in time and finances, and then trying to figure out how to work those limitations in our favour. So that's always tricky. And then just from a practical standpoint, who thought you always have warm filters on Hollywood movies when Mexico City or Mexico is depicted? Mexico City, I've learned, is not a warm safety net, especially when you're shooting. We were shooting kind of in the summer, but we were also shooting in this lake district and it gets cold. It got almost freezing cold and it was wet and the actors were sometimes barefoot and they didn't have a jacket on them. They were in very thin clothing. It gets cold and it was raining a lot and so for us as a team, the crew and everyone involved, one of the trickiest components was just dealing with the weather and how cold it was and how uncomfortable it was for the talents. They never complained. It was freezing cold on the first day and we needed to make sure that these actors weren't getting cold to the point where they were getting a cold or they were getting flu or they were getting sick. We really wanted to protect the actors.
LBB> Any parting thoughts?
Salomon> It's just such an honour, honestly, to work year after year with Victoria on creating these really special, meaningful projects. It's rare in the advertising space to get three minutes to tell a story like this. These types of stories that yes, have a sense of sadness to them, but are also very human and celebratory. I've really, really been very thankful and very grateful that they've trusted me and our whole team again to do this.