“Just a bunch of kids that are screen obsessed,” says Billie Eilish at the start of the new Deutsche Telekom campaign, perfectly intoned to communicate how sick and tired people her age are of being patronised with words like these. And in an instant she convinces me, a jaded Millennial, that such a thing as a ‘voice of a generation’ exists.
I’m jealous of Gen Z for having such an inspirational, astute and impassioned ambassador. And other mobile networks are no doubt jealous of Deutsche Telekom for having put together, with Saatchi & Saatchi London, such a relevant, timely and moving campaign.
The ‘What We Do Next’ global campaign aired last week in line with UN International Youth Day, demonstrating the power and potential of youth in creating a better future. A jewel in the centre of the integrated offering is a two-minute film directed by Somesuch’s Vincent Haycock that will no doubt leave people dumbstruck when they see it from their socially distanced cinema seats. The five-time GRAMMY winner is joined by a host of inspirational Gen-Z contributors with real stories to tell, celebrating the raw, underestimated power of the youth in 2020.
Franki Goodwin, creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi London, told LBB’s Alex Reeves about the experience of showing the world how Gen Z might just be the greatest generation yet.
LBB> This is a really big, broad idea. Was it quite so ambitious at the start?
Franki> We did one round of creative that was more focused on trying to fix Gen Z’s tech use (i.e. help them to use it less) and then I met Billie and she just blew me away with her maturity and laser sharp feedback. We talked at length about her relationship with technology. The good, the bad and everything in between. She didn’t want to tell her fans to do anything she wouldn’t do herself – she does this thing at gigs where she asks fans to hold the phone by the side of their faces so they were looking at her with their eyes because she knew they wanted to record the moment, but she also wanted them to HAVE the moment.
I realised it wasn’t about helping people use their phones less, it was about standing up for them and letting them use them however the hell they wanted. We needed to listen, not judge. We’re all obsessed with how much time kids spend on devices we often don’t ask what they are doing! I knew it had to be about standing up for Generation Z and the way they use tech. A month or so later I went to Prague to meet Billie again and she agreed.
LBB> How did it shift to become an impassioned defence of Gen Z?
Franki> When Billie said yes it was all systems go. We knew we were on the right track. We built out the campaign to include an ensemble of powerful young people and started to create a longer-term strategy around it.
LBB> Can you talk about the research that went into this about Gen Z and the misconceptions around them? What was most interesting and how did that affect the campaign?
Franki> After meeting Billie I talked to my stepson about whether he felt judged for his use of technology and he reeled off all the clichés in the voiceover – screen obsessed, not living in the moment etc. As a testing group of one (two if you count Billie!) I knew we had the right approach.
We also have some great young people on the Deutsche Telekom team who kept us on track at every stage. Then the planners started to dig into the negative stuff written about Gen Z in the press – basically that they were all on “digital heroin” and that they’re a disconnected generation we should pity. Taking this insight, we worked with Proud Robinson + Partners and Kantar to create a rigorous piece of research around to support the campaign.
LBB> How did you involve Gen Z in the creation of the campaign? And what was that process like?
Franki> We know Billie is always on a level with her fans, rather than on a platform looking down so we really wanted to build a collective of amazing kids around her.
Billie is just one amazing teenager doing something great, but they are all around us. We went all out to find the right people, with our director Vincent Haycock and production company Somesuch, Deutsche Telekom and Saatchi all pooling resources, as well as influencer agency Pulse. Then we did long calls with them so Vince could explore the story he could tell with each one and make sure it would be sufficiently visual without losing any authenticity. It was a very detailed process because we wanted to tell real, relevant stories. Authenticity was our absolute focus.
LBB> What was Billie’s involvement in it all? What was working with her like?
Franki> She was very involved, as was her team. We pitched all the ideas to Billie in person, collaborated on the voiceover and of course shot with her. She’s a great person to work with. Warm, funny, direct, knows her own mind and role in her fans’ lives but also really open to ideas. I had to keep reminding myself she was 17 years old.
LBB> Gen Z aren’t easy to hoodwink with posturing! What is Deutsche Telekom doing to make sure it follows through on its promises to the youth?
Franki> That’s a great question. This is part of an ongoing strategy to support young people. Many markets across Europe are supporting the campaign with meaningful activations. This is just the beginning for sure as young people will be disproportionately affected by the coming recession, and have already had graduations and opportunities thwarted by Covid.
LBB> How did you cast the ad?
Franki> It took a massive team effort to find the main six cast members across Europe and then Vince did street casting in for the rest of the kids in the spot. It looks like LA or New York casting but it was done in Poland. I think the casting is one of the triumphs of this spot and huge credit should go to the casting director who delivered so well on our brief to find a group of diverse, powerful, authentic individuals.
LBB> It was all shot pre-Covid, right? What were the big priorities in production?
Franki> Yes. We shot in December and January. At first we wanted to end on a gig scene but we couldn’t make it work with timings so we built this beautiful stage to create the sense of her being taken on the shoot for this ad. I’m so glad that happened because it gave us a much more intimate, ownable moment with her and I think speaks to her being ‘on’ and ‘off ‘with tech playing a role all the time.
The photography from this set is also beautiful. Vince shot them on film, which was wonderful because they were a proper surprise when we got the scans back after the shoot. The rest of the shoot happened in Poland in January so our main concern was the light. We shot at night and magic hour to avoid lots of flat grey scenes. Obviously, none of our cast were professional actors so making them comfortable was also key. They were superstars each and every one of them.
LBB> What's your favourite part of the campaign? Is there a particular moment or line?
Franki> I think it has to be Billie’s voice – the way she delivers the line “just a bunch of kids that are screen obsessed” is perfect. I’ve watched this film a thousand times and it still gives me goosebumps.