As the world slopes back to work, still slightly fuzzy from New Year revelries, the office could not be any less appealing. A new campaign from holiday resort Centre Parcs is offering an alternative to the urban grind as an overworked Mummy Bear, isolated Daddy Bear and tech-addicted Teen Bear and square-eyed Baby Bear escape to Sherwood Forest.
The campaign is a smart collaboration between agency Brothers and Sisters, director Ben Liam Jones and Electric Theatre Collective. 25 animators and a team of experienced actors were involved in bringing the family to life and the end result has the emotional power to melt the most winter-chilled heart.
LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Center Parcs Sales and Marketing Director Colin Whaley and Brothers and Sisters ECD Andy Fowler to delve into the strategy, creative and production of this winter warmer.
LBB> What was the brief that you first approached Brothers and Sisters with?
CW> We were looking for an emotional message to convey the benefits of Center Parcs to busy families – a route that would attract the attention of young families. We wanted to challenge any misconceptions by cutting through other advertising out there and working at an emotional and empathetic level rather than merely showing what families can actually do at Center Parcs.
LBB> Most travel ads focus on location and facilities but this campaign is very much about an emotion and goes quite deep into the psyche of the 21st century family. It takes in themes such as the pressures of work, a desire to disconnect, kids disappearing into their phones, an escape into nature. How did you land on this approach?
CW> Ethnography, qualitative and quantitative research and insight, talking with existing loyal guests and those we feel would most benefit from the Center Parcs experience, from all over the UK. We started by talking broadly about family life first, before homing in on leisure time, short breaks and holidays, and Center Parcs as well.
LBB> The spot launched over Christmas – in what ways did the timing of the ad feed into the strategy and creative of the spot?
CW> We always knew this was when we would launch, in time for the peak holiday booking period of January and February. The sense of family is obviously at its height around this time of year and certainly we have built on the harsh reality of getting back to work in January with some of the online and email executions of the campaign.
LBB> Andy, the campaign feels rooted in some really smart insights. How did you approach the campaign, strategically? Where did you look for insights and what were the key findings that informed the brief for the creatives?
AF> In research we found that family togetherness is a powerful subject to busy mums and dads. Everyone is struggling with the work/life balance. Even when we’re with our kids, we’re not really with them because we’re checking our emails. It’s a universal problem with modern life. Center Parcs is engineered to create family togetherness. That’s where we began the creative process.
LBB> How did you arrive at the idea to use a family of bears? I think the ursine urge to hibernate is analogous to the sluggish winter feeling that we all get at this time of year – was that part of it?
AF> I like your hibernation thought. I hadn’t thought of that to be honest! When we wrote the bears script, we loved it because somehow the bears gave us permission to tell a human story in a way that was more beautiful and more emotional than if we used people. We think of real bears as having tight families and sticking together. They fit awkwardly into our modern, human world and make the disconnected way we live our lives seem even more absurd and painful.
LBB> The montage of modern living really sets the scene and makes the spot so relatable (Mama Bear on the underground could quite easily be me on the Central line on Monday morning…). How did you go about brainstorming and developing these scenes, and deciding which ones to include?
AF> The scenes all came out of the writing process. We wanted to find the most universal and most frustrating moments in the work/life balance. The pressure to stay late at work, commuting on a packed train, and arriving home when your kids are asleep are things that millions of people experience every day.
LBB> It definitely feels like the creative comes from a very personal place. To what extent did your own experiences and families feed into the creation of the bears and their stories?
AF> As a dad struggling to balance home and work lives, I can massively relate to the predicament of the bears. So can many others involved in this project. It’s true that it helps when you can bring some personal experience into a project. It just gives you more certainty that what you are doing is true and will move people.
LBB> The creative idea is so ambitious! Colin, when you first saw it, before you went into production, what was your reaction to the script?
CW> I loved the script from the first time I heard it. I always close my eyes when listening to a script without visuals and immediately, as a father of three young boys, I sensed the powerful emotion and beauty coming through from the story. The brief was to do something different for us and to stand out in a cluttered market. I was convinced this was right for us – very different, and at the same time, empathetic, poignant and yet optimistic and uplifting.
LBB> From a creative perspective, what were the biggest challenges in developing the campaign?
AF> Time was the big challenge. I did the British Arrows Craft Awards judging early in the process and sat through Monty the Penguin 17 times and the SSE orangutan 15 times. The level of craft is mind-boggling and craft takes time. We only had four months from start to finish. Massive credit goes to Ben the director and the boys and girls at Electric Theatre Collective (ETC) for the thousands of hours of blood and sweat. We are privileged to have such astonishing skills so close at hand here in London.
LBB> Why did you decide to work with director Ben Liam Jones at Mustard – what did he bring to the finished spot?
AF> Ben is a storyteller who likes to tell it how it is. If you watch his Childline spot, it doesn’t pull any punches. A film lecturer would call it twenty-first century social realism. Shane Meadows is probably the leader of this movement. Anyone who has watched ‘This is England’ knows what I mean. We wanted a director who would connect with the audience by telling a real, unflinching, un-sanitised story that would connect with people in the most powerful way possible.
LBB> Funnily enough, I first saw the spot at home with my mum over Christmas and I think it hit home for both of us and there was a definite immediate emotional twinge! How did you ensure that the piece wasn’t just about technically brilliant animation and VFX but was a truly emotional experience?
AF> That’s where the choice of Ben as director was so important and his relationship with the ETC guys. They agreed together that ETC would look after the technical stuff, allowing Ben to concentrate on the story arcs of the characters and their performances.
LBB> You worked with Leland on the music – how did you arrive at the True Colours cover?
AF> We wanted a track that would lyrically help to tell the story. The Ane Brun version of True Colour was in Leland’s first bunch of tracks. Even though it was on the offline pictures, with human actors instead of bears, it genuinely moved us. I ran off and grabbed Kev, one of my partners, and played it to him and we both sat there close to tears, as two sentimental dads with young kids, knowing this was pretty special.
LBB> The final scene in the forest is so uplifting, and contrasts so starkly with the preceding scenes, which I reckon the art direction and, also, the grade play a really key role in. From an art direction point of view, what were you trying to achieve visually? And how did you make sure that the urban and wild segments had enough contrast but were also visually cohesive?
AF> In his treatment, Ben said he wanted the end to feel like a David Attenborough documentary. We shot at Center Parcs in Sherwood Forest which contains beautiful, wild forest so we knew we could achieve something that felt natural. The grade at ETC played a big role in ensuring it felt cohesive as one film, but that the mood lifted from frustration to optimism from the mid point.
LBB> Colin, as a client, what was your experience of the production process? What are your favourite memories of the shoot?
CW> The whole extended team of individuals and agencies on this job have been amazing. I feel privileged to have worked with this team. Brothers and Sisters were collaborative, inclusive and flexible with myself and my team. They delivered a great creative vision and then also listened and took on or debated honestly our feedback as we went through the production process.
Mustard and the director Ben Liam Jones quite simply ‘got it’ from the start and focused brilliantly on delivering the emotion to great standards.
ETC were phenomenal – their skill, craftsmanship and care for the quality of the job and the determination to meet the brief was unquestionable, so impressive, I cannot compliment them highly enough. We managed to re-create the storyboard with ‘real bears’ and the emotion comes through very powerfully, I think.
LBB> How would you say the spot reflects and amplifies Centre Parcs’ brand values?
CW> Family togetherness and the emotional benefits of this are at the heart of Center Parcs and we absolutely do not attempt to prescribe what that means because it is different things to different families. Center Parcs is not just for the children, it’s a place where the whole family has a great time. We create a blank canvas for families to fill in themselves but we encourage sharing, time together, trying new things together – whatever comes naturally to you and your family, the choice is yours.
LBB> Aside from the TV spot, what other activities are feeding into the campaign?
CW> This is a fully integrated campaign across online and offline channels: web, mobile, TV, email, PR and social.
LBB> What sort of response have you been seeing from the public?
CW> Overwhelmingly positive, I have to say. Some really lovely compliments but most importantly people are getting the story and it is striking a chord; the music is also adding a lot. The importance of families ‘getting together’ is coming through loud and clear from what I can gather so far. I have also lost count of the number of people that have personally told me they were surprised to be so ‘moved’ by an ad, let alone all the wonderful comments on social media. There will always be some negative comments and whilst some don’t understand why Center Parcs is using bears, or fear that we’ve introduced them to our forests(!), these ‘negatives’ are far fewer in number than I would have expected.
LBB> … can you see yourself returning to the bear family in future advertising?
CW> A great question – but the answer is ‘wait and see’.