Impossible Foods ECD Sasha Markova chats to LBB’s Laura Swinton about a spot that shows that the future of humanity lies in our own backyard
Back in April, during a chat at this year’s D&AD festival Sasha Markova described the Impossible Burger as ‘the key to another paradigm’. And while that may sound a little Huxley-esque (or Matrix-esque, depending on your frame of reference), she had good reason to describe the flagship vegan burger in such reality-warping terms. “You start to think if this burger tastes like meat and is made from plants… what else is possible?”
As Executive Creative Director at Impossible Foods, the California-based producer of the impossible-sounding vegan burger that tastes of meat, thanks to a plant protein called heme, Sasha had been working on the brand, helping to make sure that flew free the crusty vegan silo of lentils and bean burgers. That meant the branding, the packaging, the communication – and, to steal a very LA phrase – sorting out ‘the inner work’; no doubt drawing on skills she accumulated in advertising career, which culminated in a role as global creative director at Mother.
Now, just a few months later, they’ve released their first piece of big brand communication. And it’s a simple story that offers audiences to challenge their own perceptions and paradigms. In it, an astronaut marvels at the world around him as he traipses through a city park. It harkens to an idea Sasha raised back in April, about the fact that humanity’s salvation and progress lies not in escaping to Mars, but in saving the planet we already live on.
It’s also a piece of creative that embraces the new front of veganism. In the past three years, the US has seen a 600% rise in people identifying as vegan – and in the UK there are reportedly 3.5 million vegans. Indeed, you won’t see the old stereotypes of a hemp-wearing hippy or a middle-class yoga bunny in this ad. For one thing, according to Sasha, one of the fastest-growing audiences for the plant-based diet is young, urban people of colour. Rappers like Questlove, Ghostface Killah and A$AP Rocky have been huge supporters of the Impossible Burger. For another, Impossible Foods believe that a democratic approach is the best way to get the most people to buy into the idea of reducing their meat intake – that’s why another big target is the middle American guy and why the brand has partnered up with fast food chain White Castle.
LBB’s Laura Swinton caught back up with Sasha upon the release of the new spot to find out more about this spot that finds a whole universe of wonder on planet Earth.
LBB> The idea of the spot tracks back to something you said at D&AD about the fact that the thing that will save humanity is not space travel but saving the spaceship we’re already on – where does this belief stem from?
Sasha> We're living on the greatest planet ever in the galaxy. Everything on earth is a total miracle of creation. Look at a leaf, a butterfly, the ocean – it is so much more sophisticated than anything man has ever invented. And it is all connected. But we take all that for granted. Somehow, we’ve stopped seeing Earth and its majesty. And even if we do watch endless nature docs, we somehow don’t feel part of it. Nature feels like the other.
And now, there is a legitimate conversation about going to Mars as a Plan B, but to quote our founder Pat Brown, ‘Mars is pitiful!!” And compared to earth, it really is. I was watching Interstellar again the other night, and it felt so devastating that mankind has to leave earth in that movie. But we don’t have to, if here and now, we recognize the magnificence and utter exception of our home and focus our energy and passion into saving it.
That thought also comes from a Buckminster Fuller quote that everyone on earth is on ‘spaceship earth’ – we are already in space and on a great planet. And also ‘the overview effect’ – a phenomena that astronauts experience in space, when they look back at earth and realise how special it is.
LBB> Why was now the right time to release a brand film?
Sasha> The Impossible Burger is out there and it’s amazing, but we wanted to tell people that we’re more than the burgers – we’re Impossible Foods – and we have a whole mission going on. For us the most important thing is achieving our goal of removing all animals from food production by 2035 and helping to restore biodiversity. Food, for us, is simply the best way to do that. We are a planet company first, then a food company.
LBB> When it comes to production, it looks like a fairly low key shoot – how important is the environmental impact of the shoot to the team at Impossible?
Sasha> It was important and also, we really didn’t want to travel somewhere ‘epic’ or very obviously beautiful. All of this is shot about twenty minutes from my house, and the houses of the creatives and director who worked on this. It wasn’t about the classic script thought of, ‘we open on a beach…’ Or sitting down with our script writing pens, thinking, ‘does anyone want to go to Morocco?’ It was meant to be set in a regular city, full of regular amazing things, that we pass everyday but don’t notice anymore.
LBB> Why was Nick Walker the director for the job?
Sasha> Because he’s a very good director and not a classic advertising director. We didn’t want this to feel ‘addy’ at all. In fact, it is the only time a CEO of the company has said to me ‘do not put the product in this film.’ Everybody we approached other than Nick either felt too addy or too polished. I was surprised how hard it is for advertising directors to walk away from the traditional ad conceit model. One director said ‘so at the end there should be the most epic burger moment because this astronaut has travelled all the way from Mars to eat the burger.’ We said ‘no, no – he came back to earth because he loves earth, not for the burger.’ The director said ‘but what’s the story?’ We said ‘a man who loves earth.’ Then there was silence. He pulled out the next day.
The other fear was working with a director who was too polished. There’s already a divide between man and nature – we didn’t want to create even more of one through hyper-beautifying nature. We wanted people to watch this film and think ‘oh wow! I know this planet earth. I am part of it and it is incredible.’
Nick was the director to do that.
There was also a strange coincidence. He and I didn’t know each other at all, but randomly we were both invited to a Cactus-watching expedition in the desert in Chile. I am a big believer in following synchronicities.
LBB> Though the creative is the sort of thing that looks like it would appeal to a really wide audience, I thought the casting was interesting; it’s not your usual stereotype of a crusty vegan or a blonde yoga bunny, instead someone who is male and African American – and the voice over is by Fatlip. There's also the technological element wrapped up in the astronaut, which conveys a sense of progress, innovation and modernity. It feels like it’s attempting to change perspective about who veganism and Impossible Foods are ‘for’. Can you tell me about that?
Sasha> We are not a company who is ever going to use an old-fashioned aspirational advertising trope to advertise our product because our mission is for everyone on earth, and it’s only by getting everyone involved that the mission will succeed. Every day at Impossible Foods, I think ‘what would I have done in advertising?’ and then I undo that thought and that’s the place that I create from and the stories we try to tell. We don’t want our communications to be about out of reach desires played out by archaic elite archetypes. We are for everyone. We believe in an idea of progress that everybody can not only have access to, but also be a significant part of.
The astronaut is key to that - he has rejected expeditions on Mars, Jupiter etc... Because he wants to be home on his planet with the rest of us. He chooses earth. We decided to use a man because gender-wise that is the classic adventurer, pioneer and it was so interesting to flip that into someone who loves his home.
We had used Fatlip to cover a song for us for the film, then we thought that actually he would be much better as the voice of the astronaut.
LBB> This summer has seen some real extremes of climate around the world, that bring home the reality of your mission. Has that had an impact on your personal motivation and the sense of urgency internally?
Sasha> Yes, we are really running fast at the moment because time is really of the essence. Our Head of Communications was driving home from a California vacation the other day and she had to drive through flames on the freeway. Climate change is very definitely here and we need to move.
We have to do everything we can to pull this idea off – and there’s not just us, there are so many other companies out there trying to save our future. We have to give it everything we’ve got right now. Or as Pat Brown says ‘blast off.’