Kruger Products CMO Susan Irving, the team at Broken Heart Love Affair and director Mark Zibert speak to Addison Capper about their ‘Unapologetically Human’ campaign that beautifully illustrates all blood, sweat, tears, pee and more that are a part of human life
Life is messy. People cry. They bleed, sneeze, cough, snot, puke, pee and poop. Sometimes they'll do a few of these all at once.
That’s not all that surprising, but if we told you that there was an ad that celebrated all of that and it was totally, unashamedly and downright beautiful, would you be surprised? We certainly were - in an extremely positive way - the first time we watched this spot for Kruger Products, a Canadian tissue manufacturer.
The spot is a first in a couple of senses. It's the first for the brand under the leadership of new CMO Susan Irving, since she joined Kruger from PepsiCo. It's also the first campaign from Broken Heart Love Affair, the agency that was launched earlier this year by Canadian industry veterans Carlos Moreno, Jay Chaney, Denise Rossetto, Todd Mackie and Beverley Hammond. The agency's vision for Kruger - the beauty of human life and all the snot and wee and blood that comes with it - has been brought to life in beautiful fashion by director Mark Zibert.
What's more, the entire campaign is particularly noteworthy within a category that is bogged down by deeply entrenched category conventions of stressed-out over-actors in obvious sets, overblown claims of absorbancy, and the like. In case we haven't made our point clear enough yet: we really like this campaign.
To find out more about the strategic thinking behind it and the process of making it a reality, LBB's Addison Capper chatted to Kruger Products' Susan Irving, the team at Broken Heart Love Affair and director Mark Zibert.
LBB> Susan, what was your brief to BHLA? What were your main aims and ambitions with launching a campaign right now?
Susan> One of the biggest asks to the agency was to bring us ‘purpose. I am a big believer in purposeful marketing to strike a chord with our consumers and give them a memorable reason why they should connect and purchase our brands beyond their functional benefits. There will always be a place for functional advertising but at this moment in time we were looking for a purposeful spot to connect with Canadians beyond the fact that we are Made in Canada. The brief was to develop a 360 campaign that included all of our brands and how they are supporting Canadians during these trying times. We wanted to connect in an emotional, relevant way with consumers and showcase how our brands play a significant role in their lives as a supporter.
LBB> This is a category that has some deeply entrenched category conventions, particularly kitchen towels - they tend to talk about the virtues of absorbancy and show stressed-out over-actors in obvious sets. Why was now the right time to shake all that up?
Susan> We all bought into the strategy. With the change in consumer sentiment, the time was right to show the human side of life - making our consumers the hero and not our brands. With all of us spending so much time at home, we wanted to showcase those real, human moments that our products are so lucky to be part of. At the beginning of the pandemic our main priority was ensuring that, as Canadians prepared for longer durations at home, we had the supply and there was no shortage. We were doing everything we could to catch up with demand. Once we caught up, it was time to shift gears and celebrate those human moments our brands are so lucky to be part of in life.
BHLA> The opportunity was now especially because of all of those firmly entrenched tropes and strategies. Our job is to wake people up to the possibilities, to excite their brains and open their hearts. How often do you get to shake up the category by showcasing the moments that the product is actually built for? Amazingly, the client was on board right from the strategy, but this was the first campaign under Susan Irving, who had just joined from Pepsi.
LBB> Every emphasis in life right now seems to be on sanitation and hyper-cleanliness because of Covid. Why was it important to lean into the reality and messiness of human existence? And what conversations did you have around whether people were ready to see snot, blood and dog wee?
Susan> It takes courage to lean into humanity and the reality of messiness and human existence and if you take this approach you need to be real and authentic. I think consumers are bombarded with sanitation and safety messages, which is truly important, but let’s not forget that we all have been spending long durations at home and regardless of the pandemic the real life situations of messes, of happiness, of sadness have not gone away.
BHLA> Marketers are forcing cleanliness down people’s throats and it may be a case that the industry is actually misunderstanding what consumers need to see from us. Lockdown for many has gotten us all used to a messy life and exposed us to our co-workers' messy lives. We are faced daily, on multiple fronts, with our own collective vulnerability. There is much fear in that vulnerability, but there is also beauty and a sense of human connection in it. We tested video rips with the idea and the scores were unheard of, so that gave the client a level of comfort. There were still active conversations through the process about lines and limits and a lot is still on the cutting room floor, but the client was brave and pushed themselves to accept visuals that they had been trained not to accept in the past. We give them all of the credit.
LBB> What was the strategy and insight that led to this approach?
BHLA> There is enormous power and strength in exposing our softer side. The world would benefit from all of us being more comfortable exposing a little vulnerability. The products deal directly with the more vulnerable aspects of humanity – blood, snot, tears, and, yes, pee – that connect all of us. The linkage is so tight and perfect. There is also an amazingly appropriate cultural timing for this message.
LBB> Susan, thinking more broadly, why do you think this category still has such fixed conventions with regards to marketing? And not that you want the competition to copy, but what do you hope other brands take away from a campaign approach like this?
Susan> Over the years and moderate CPG growth, I think within all categories we all got stuck in our ways of pushing more functional messaging versus emotional. Specifically within the paper category, it really became the ‘sea of sameness’. At the beginning of Covid, we halted all of our advertising as the message and tone was not right given what our consumers were going through, so it was really the right time to make an impact, make a difference and be purposeful. Not purpose in the sense of making the world a better place, but being there to help others when things get rough. Consumers are looking now more than ever for authenticity, and this campaign does just that.
LBB> You worked with Mark Zibert on this - why was he the right director to bring your vision to life? And what did he add to that vision?
BHLA> Mark is exceptional at capturing the human experience. From the way he shoots right through to his own personal humanity in how he connects with the talent as he was shooting. Because of COVID rules, he casted real families and real couples and he captured incredibly intimate and candid moments that you cannot get with actors and many of those moments. There is a palpable authenticity to the love between people in this spot. Mark added an amazing vision to the storyline and treated it like a film and thoughtfully connected dots with Graham Chisholm [editor] and they both created magic from many moving parts to follow personal journeys to create a collective experience.
LBB> Mark, this is quite an epic piece of work. What was the script / brief like when you received it? And why was it something that you were keen to get involved in?
Mark> The script/brief was rather empowering. Some of my more memorable work was created with the creatives before they started BHLA and with that history comes a lot of trust. They shared the script, a mood film they made for the client and some key words like ‘raw’ and ‘unapologetic’, then told me to run with it...
On another note I was truly excited to be part of BHLA’s first campaign and make something great for my friends who just launched their agency during a pandemic.
LBB> The whole thing is so emotional! There’s an arc to it - it’s sad, dramatic, funny, there’s a euphoric peak and then a lovely, peaceful ending of a girl rushing to the portaloo with a nice sunset behind. There are also clear storylines within - it’s not just a montage. How did you go about building all of this when writing the campaign? And Mark, how did you go about crafting all of this and packing so much in?
BHLA> Mark is an amazingly talented director and he came to us with his vision, which enhanced the original script from a story arc perspective. The emotional push and pull was always critical, but the :60 is reflective of the original script and the :90 is reflective of Mark’s passion and talented evolutions.
Mark> The peaks and valleys of life were clear in the script, but what was crucial for me was to craft a story rather than simply showing vignettes. Part of crafting the story involved laying out all the vignettes and seeing how they could build upon each other, show how similar we all are and ultimately come full circle as tears of sadness transition to tears of joy.
LBB> Let’s talk a bit more about those storylines and the actual happenings in the film - where did you look for inspiration for them? What was your thought process? Was it quite collaborative between the agency and director?
BHLA> The original script was a poetic homage to being human. We didn’t need to look much further than our own homes or our friend’s homes. Inspiration is all around us, every day. It was in the messes, the happiness and the sorrow of all of our lives.
Mark> Some of the scenes were in the original script, others we developed as we built our mood boards and some were even discovered on set. The opening scene for example was never boarded but instead stumbled upon as we were shooting and discovering chemistry within our cast.
LBB> The production sounds like an interesting process. People are navigating Covid rules in all manner of ways at the moment but shooting actual families in their homes seems so smart - they can all get as close and messy as they like, and it really challenges the mantra that everyone has to be apart. What inspired that idea initially?
BHLA> Because we wanted to represent the many facets of being human whether it is race or sex or age or personal interests, we knew that we needed a volume of people. The only way we were going to make that happen was to use real families and real couples who were within each other’s bubble.
Mark> I typically shoot my own spots and like to keep a lean set/crew even before Covid, so the learning curve for me and my team wasn’t too bad. I often try to cast families for natural chemistry, so again, it all felt relatively normal. The masks, hand sanitising, etc. was definitely new but production handled all those elements perfectly leaving minimal impact on our shoot days.
LBB> Given that production approach, what was the casting and pre-production process like? Were you quite involved in this with Mark?
BHLA> Truthfully, it was odd, but we all made it work. Pre-pro took place with half of the team in a room in Vancouver, six feet apart and in masks, and the other on Zoom in Toronto. Casting was also accomplished over Skype. The experience probably lengthened the time of the meetings, but overall the results were the same. We trust Mark implicitly and we worked closely together, but many times we were happy to let him do his thing that he does so well. For instance, we were, client included, only on set with him for one shoot day due to limits in on-set numbers. We all slept easily knowing it was in his hands. He would graciously show us selects with an energy that is Mark. Everything was beautiful.
LBB> My most pressing question: Mark, you’ve managed to make snot, wee, sick and blood (and sometimes a number of those combined) look… beautiful? I didn’t once grimace at things that the human brain is programmed to dislike. From a technical and emotional point of view, how did you pull that off?
Mark> I think the right cast/performance happening in ‘real’ locations/situations made those moments feel familiar almost as if it's happening within your own home. Shot with mostly natural light or lit to look natural combined with a strong editorial pace took the edge off the grosser moments.
LBB> And when you were writing the campaign, what was your vision with regards to visualising those aspects? And what are your thoughts on the outcome?
BHLA> Mark captured our vision perfectly. None of us wanted anything gratuitous. There is a beauty and elegance in these aspects of humanity and that was our intent, to portray that beauty. We knew Mark was the person to deliver.
LBB> The music obviously makes so much sense but is also totally genius. At which point did the Rag n Bone track come into play? And what were your thoughts when you landed it?
BHLA> We went into research with the song and it tested off the charts. Mark had a song that inspired him and the agency fell in love with Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Love’. But, ultimately, Human really reinforced the messaging, it fit with the visuals, broke category, and we knew that consumers loved it.
Mark> The music was part of the initial brief from the agency. The acoustic version was discovered while editing and for us it had the perfect balance of grit and emotion.
LBB> What were the trickiest components and how did you overcome them?
BHLA> Given the reality of the world, it was pretty smooth sailing and we worked fast. All of us. There was active negotiation around scene selection and music, but nothing that isn’t usual for the business. The level of preparedness, personal emotional investment, and shared vision made for a relatively easy campaign quarterbacked by the ever so talented producer, Erica Metcalfe.
Mark> The trickiest moments were not knowing what to expect in the new Covid world, but as it turned out, when production anticipates the worst case scenarios and gets ahead of it with testing and safety protocols it’s all quite manageable.
Susan> As Denise said to me yesterday, “this campaign was like carrying a little breakable egg through a tornado”. There were many bumps along the way and we had to protect the vision. Landing the spot, selling in the spot, producing the spot during Covid... the list goes on. When you produce something that is so category defining and have the courage to show the real beauty in love in life, you really need the courage to commit. Specifically with these products and sharing the message that we all cry, we all bleed, we all make messes and, yes, we go to the bathroom. Those are real moments that you don’t typically see shared in our categories… the real reason why consumers use our products. I am proud of the work and the messaging that we may all be different but what unites us is our humanity. We all cry, we all make messes and, yes, we all go to the bathroom.