Veit Moeller, creative director at antoni, on crafting a campaign that feels like true drama
When we’re little, we’re encouraged to follow our dreams, but as we get older those hopes of becoming an astronaut, a president, a rock star start to get worn away and replaced by the expectations of adulthood. Study. Get a job. Settle down. Have kids. But - especially in the 21st century - things aren’t always that simple. Growing up is a tricky, often messy, experience. And that’s exactly the message in Mercedes-Benz’s striking new content project. Created by antoni in Berlin, with production by Iconoclast and direction by Gustav Johansson, ‘Grow Up’ is a series of five short films that are gritty, compelling, beautifully shot pieces that each feel like mini dramas. Notably, they don’t feel like advertising.
LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with Veit Moeller, creative director at antoni, to find out more.
LBB> This is an incredible campaign – for any brand, but perhaps especially a car brand. It’s very personal, relatable. Tell us about the starting point of this campaign. What kind of brief did you receive and what were you thinking when you saw it?
VM> Our brief was to create a content-driven campaign for the compact cars of Mercedes-Benz. Instead of marketing these five cars with separate campaigns, we decided to bring them together under a new brand platform for the first time.
It was also the first time that we felt we could target a younger demographic, being that the compact cars in many ways are the gateway to the brand. These elements, combined with the global nature of the campaign, meant that we needed a universal insight that felt true not only to the brand’s heritage, but also to the next generation of Mercedes-Benz drivers.
LBB> When did the brief come in?
VM> We started the creative development for the campaign in February 2016.
LBB> The stories don’t shy away from difficult situations or emotions, which feels like a really striking move. What inspired the ‘Grow Up’ strategy?
VM> The idea of ‘Grow up’ is based around an inherent tension of the brand – how do we continuously evolve and stay modern, while holding onto 130 years of tradition? It’s a tension that we discovered was mirrored in people today. The insight for the campaign comes directly out of the target group of the compact cars. These people want to live the life of their parents but with the freedom of their youth. They follow tradition but they redefine it. And they surround themselves with brands that stay for that live style.
In developing the films, we knew we had to be as authentic as possible. After all, the different stages of adulthood can be messy and complicated. As we grow older, we have these expectations put on us by our family, by society – they’re not always easy to navigate, especially as we try to maintain the freedom of our youth at the same time.
We wanted our content to be compelling, honest, and miles away from the world of advertising. Digging into this insight allowed us to achieve that. After all, authenticity, not to mention good storytelling, includes some degree of conflict.
LBB> Each film really feels like a mini drama – and I think it’s fair to say that most people can relate to at least one of them. From where did you and the team draw for the inspiration behind each of the themes and narratives?
VM> We initially created very rough archetypes for each car and story. From there we began to ask questions to ourselves about where they might be in life, what kind of issues they might be facing, what growing up might mean to them. We developed the characters until they felt authentic, and until the conflict that would comprise the stories felt modern, culturally relevant, and insightful.
LBB> Why did you decide to throw so much weight behind this style of branded entertainment instead of a traditional ad?
VM> Audiences are smart – they know an advertising construct when they see one. Modern brands understand that when it comes to communications being entertaining is better than being clever. People don’t care how ‘smart’ a brand message is expressed in a 30-second ad. Or whether the ‘idea’ is good enough to win an industry award. They simply want entertainment. So that’s what we created.
Our competition isn’t ads, they’re real films, real TV shows. Stealing four minutes from the time people would be watching their favourite show on Netflix is a tall order, so we tried to be honest with ourselves with what people might actually be interested in.
There is a lot of ‘branded content’ out in the world, but much of it still just feels like advertising. Whether it’s gratuitous product integration, or stories set in an “‘advertising world’ without real consequences for the characters. We just tried to tell great, relevant stories. And tried to stay away from the typical car chase. TV shows like Love from Netflix or Girls from HBO were our inspiration.
LBB> How did the relationship A$AP Rocky come about and why was he a good fit for this campaign?
VM> A$AP Rocky embodies the distinct style, cutting-edge design and confident attitude of the brand. He combines the classic and the modern in surprising ways in both his fashion and his music, which makes him a natural fit for a campaign that’s about re-defining tradition.
Mercedes-Benz stands for ‘modern luxury’. The partnership with A$AP Rocky redefines what this means, especially for a more traditional brand. We were honoured that he let us tell such a deeply personal and emotional story – it shows the tremendous amount of trust that we had in each other, and how natural the fit was from the start.
LBB> Why was Gustav Johansson the right director to bring this to life?
VM> While working and writing the scripts we had already two to three directors in mind we wanted to work with. Gustav was our first choice from the very beginning to bring these stories to life. Same as we had Alice Moitié in mind for the production of the still assets. Gustav’s and Alice’s previous work already had a lot of the ingredients we were looking for.
Gustav’s work has an introspective, yet hopeful quality that we knew would bring out the emotion of our films, and make the characters feel distinct and engaging.
From a technical standpoint, his aesthetic is gorgeous, and the chemistry he has with his brother, the director of photography Niklas Johansson, is incredible. The little details Gustav captures are what makes the films feel as natural as they are.
Finally, his style of working is closer to independent filmmaking than that of traditional advertising, which we knew we needed for such a demanding production.
LBB> Do you have a favourite film? If so, why?
VM> We’re proud of how each and every film communicates the ‘Grow up’ brand platform to new audiences, and how they push ‘branded content’ in a completely different direction for a luxury brand – one that’s more character-driven, honest and bold. My personal favourite is ‘Start a family’ because it’s not the typical, perfect family story. It’s messy, it’s complicated, it’s real. While shooting the argument scene in the desert, Sebastian (Writer), Sol (Art Director) and I exchanged looks and we all had the same smile on our faces: “Yes, that’s exactly like it is in real life.”
LBB> What were trickiest components and how did you overcome them?
VM> With brave clients who were committed to telling authentic stories from the beginning, and the production wizardry of Iconoclast, we were able to overcome any issue along the way.