100 Real Dads, An Acclaimed Director, Lots Of Crying: Behind Toyota’s Tearjerking Dadvertising Hit

Director Lauren Greenfield and the creative team at Saatchi LA talk about capturing real fathers for a viral Super Bowl teaser.

100 Real Dads, An Acclaimed Director, Lots Of Crying: Behind Toyota’s Tearjerking Dadvertising Hit

With a 2012 Sundance Directing Award (for her film The Queen of Versailles), two DGA nominations—one for her documentary work on Versailles, one for her commercial work on the viral hit “Like A Girl”—Lauren Greenfield is by all counts a director on fire. As she heads to the Super Bowl with “Like A Girl” she’s also been getting attention for another emotional, docu-style spot, Toyota Camry’s Super Bowl teaser, “To Be A Dad.”


The short film, showing several real dads talking about, and with, their kids about their approach to fatherhood, has drawn over 2 million views on YouTube and a healthy amount of media coverage. The ad is part of Toyota’s “One Bold Choice Leads to Another” campaign and includes a call for viewers to tweet pictures of their dads with the hashtag: #oneboldchoice (another dad-related spot, directed by Nicolai Fuglsig, will run during the Super Bowl).

Greenfield spoke to Co.Create from Sundance to discuss the casting process and surprise turns involved in the making of her newest tear-jerking commercial.

Making It Real

The Camry is a family car, so agency Saatchi & Saatchi wanted to make the ad about families says creative director, Erich Funke. They started with the idea of a social experiment looking at dads, what makes a good dad, and how one learns to be a dad. But, says copywriter, Nick Cade, the team, which also included art director John Kritch, did not want to pursue stories about silly, stereotypical dads. They wanted to portray real people and real dads. Lauren Greenfield was the obvious choice to bring the idea to life: “her work draws the real stuff out of people,” Nick said.

When Saatchi approached Greenfield with the idea she was excited. “Most of my work has been on gender and women,” she says, “but what my husband always says, and I agree, is that shifting ideas about men is just as important.”

The ad shows an array of dads, from NFL players to a firefighter to a juice bar owner. Each man has a unique story: “I wanted to look at three generations,” Lauren explains, “I wanted to know about their relationships with their dads and their relationships with their kids. So we didn’t have a very typical casting process.”

Greenfield used a casting professional that specializes in “real people.” “We didn’t want actors;” she said, “We wanted fireman, white collar people, professionals, policemen.” She sat down for four straight days and conducted 20-minute interviews with over a hundred dads. She filmed these pre-interviews, because “real moments only happen once.” The interviews often got intensely emotional, she said: “The dads were crying and I was crying. It was totally exhausting.”


An Emotional Pivot

Greenfield and the Saatchi team went into the interviewing process expecting to hear stories of good dads teaching their sons to be good dads as well. The team ended up confirming that yes indeed, good dads spawn good dads. But they were also surprised and moved by the stories of men who didn’t have a great dad or any dad but still made the decision to be a great dad anyway. “It was uplifting for us to see you can make a choice to be the type of dad that you want to be, that it can still come naturally,” says Greenfield. These stories, disproving cultural narratives about cycles of negativity, ended up as the central message.

Cade credits Greenfield for this twist in the concept: “She’s not bound by what she’s trying to capture; she’s searching for the truth. And she was there with us through the whole editing process keeping us honest.”

Honesty and intimacy are hallmarks of Greenfield’s work and characterize this project as much as any. Grown men get very real and very soft and even cry. When asked how she got these men to open up and make themselves so vulnerable on camera she explained that she tries to create a safe space. First of all, she gets to know her interviewees before the interview. She tries to keep the crew on the set small. She uses an interrotron, so that she can make eye contact with her subjects and film them from the same angle. In her interviews, she tries to be open, nonjudgmental, and to really listen. “But at the end of the day,” she says, “people want to tell their stories and just asking is enough.”

About the author

Zoe Mendelson is a mushroom salesperson in Brooklyn, NY. She writes a weekly map column for UntappedCities.