Due to irresponsible use, the word “epic” is a shell of its former self, but it’ll have to do the heavy lifting here to describe Nike’s “Write the Future” campaign.
It included everything from 3-D sculptures to an interactive LED light show on the tallest building in Johannesburg, but the world cup initiative centered on Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam’s three-minute showstopper of a spot, featuring soccer’s biggest names–Wayne Rooney, Didier Drogba, Cristiano Ronaldo, Cesc Fabrigas and others–and a supporting cast that included Kobe Bryant, Gael Garcia Bernal, and Homer Simpson. The premise is simple: In the biggest games of their careers, soccer stars consider the butterfly effect of a single action on the field. The spot takes viewers on an action-packed journey into possible futures. For Wayne Rooney, one path leads to a knighthood and ping-pong games with Roger Federer, another, trailer parks and baked beans.
The spot, which dominated the awards circuit this year, was directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel) and shot in locations including Madrid, Manchester, LA, and Kenya.
Eric Quennoy and Mark Bernath, Executive Creative Directors at Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam, take us through the pivotal moments in the mind-bendingly complex process that brought the campaign to life.
1. Pick the right director.
Getting the right director to pull off a piece with the epic scale and range of “Write the Future” was somewhat important. There aren’t many directors around who could have done what Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu managed to do, and with such beauty and authenticity. When the script was sold, Alejandro was one of our first choices because we love the wonderful, human quality of his films, and how watching them can be such a visceral experience. We were very keen to make the future successes or failures of the athletes feel palpably real–not like a series of ridiculous, fanciful conceits–and Alejandro really had the same vision, which he executed to perfection. I’d say the day he accepted the job, a fairly large piece of the puzzle was put in place.
2. Work with producers who can tolerate high levels of stress and no sleep.
If ever there was a more Herculean effort invested into a commercial TV production than that given by our producers, Elissa Singstock and Ollie Klonhammer, I am yet to see it or hear of it. Literally every day we were confronted by at least one unforeseen obstacle which forced them to adapt, re-organize, re-jig, re-schedule, etc, etc., but they stuck at it with a singular mission and passion to get it finished that was mind-blowing. Every single shot that we planned to shoot, we did, which was an amazing tribute to their perseverance. I have a lasting memory of me saying goodnight to them in a hotel lobby in Madrid at about 1 a.m., both of them on their mobile phones. The next morning at 6 a.m., as I left the hotel bound for the African part of the shoot, they were exactly where I left them, still wrangling away on their mobile phones. That’s commitment.
3. Have a client as crazy passionate about the work as we are.
When Nike tells you at the World Cup briefing they want to see something that’s never been seen before and never been done before, you gulp, inhale deeply, try hard to not be sick, and then start working your ass off. As a client, that level of ambition and passion to do something great is at once butt-clenchingly scary and everything you’ve ever dreamed of. Nike gave us their full trust and support and pushed us every step of the way to make it better. It was one of those great, synergistic periods when everyone is working towards the same vision.
4. Find a song whose name rhymed with the name of the band.
The most subjective part of any piece of film is music. Everyone has different tastes. And no one can really rationally defend their opinion against someone else’s and win. You just dig something or you don’t. You don’t need to prove why, it is just an instinctual feeling. What one person turns up, the other turns down. Almost 20 years ago I went skydiving over the border of Mexico with a friend who was about to get married. We weren’t trying to kill him, of course, just send him off with one final adventure. When we landed they made half-inch tapes of our jumps for us thanks to the helmeted-cameramen who went with us. We chose the music. Well, my friend Jon put a song called “Hocus Pocus” by a band named Focus on his film. It immediately spoke to me. It was an insane track. Brilliant and crazy in equal measures. Not unlike the film I would try to help make 20 years later. It just seemed like the perfect match for the footage we were shooting with Alejandro. We used it to cut and the film and the music just became inseparable. It provided the hardcore feel of sport with the occasional madman humor that our story had. And the song title rhymed with the band name. So, I guess we felt good about it. Of course, there were still people who wanted to turn it down. But not enough of them.
5. Orchestrate a launch to rival those of NASA.
Huge credit to both our client and our cohorts at W+K for devising a launch plan to get this campaign circling the globe at top speed. The use of social media to activate exclusive premieres, concurrent takeovers on YouTube, Facebook, and Xbox live, and dangling just one carrot of opportunity on broadcast television helped the film portion of the campaign own the conversation on the eve of the world’s greatest football tournament. We followed by giving this newly formed online community of fans a plethora of ways to help spread the campaign and more importantly to help author it. Along with the guys from the Mill, Grand Central, and the whole Wieden family, we watched one airing of the spot after an afternoon on the canals of Amsterdam. It was a huge release for all of us. And Bobby Solo, who stars in the spot singing Ce Cannavarro, was there to do a halftime set live! A year later, we found ourselves at our annual Founder’s Day party with a live performance by Focus. I have a feeling this is one of those families you make while on production that will continue to see each other.