A re-recording of the Sammy Davis Jr. track “Yes I Can” provides an unexpected yet inspired soundtrack for “We’re the Superhumans”–the new campaign conceived by Channel 4 in-house creative agency 4creative to promote the broadcaster’s coverage of this summer’s Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Launched simultaneously across social media and Channel 4 platforms last week, the three-minute film at the heart of the campaign is a fine balance between building on the success of the broadcaster’s heart-pumping, multi-award-winning 2012 campaign, “Meet the Superhumans”–Channel 4’s biggest marketing push in 30 years–and doing something different.
“The challenge was how best to build on the legacy,” James Walker, Channel 4’s head of marketing tells Co.Create. “The 2012 work was gritty and defiant and that was right at that time. And the Olympics that year were in London, on home ground, which lent itself to a certain attitude.”
This year’s setting in Rio lent itself to something more joyful and celebratory, however. And there was a desire to do something broad and accessible rather than edgy or cool to broaden the campaign’s reach.
“The superhuman idea was a great asset to build on. So we set out to encourage people to think differently about what superhuman means–to widen the idea to include people who do amazing things in life, not just Paralympians,” Walker adds.
The end result features a cast of more than 140 disabled people from all walks of life.
The film opens with a swing band formed of disabled musicians from around the world. As they perform the upbeat Sammy Davis number, the lead vocalist Tony Dee glides through a fast-paced sequence of intercut scenes in which “ordinary” and sports people do extraordinary things demonstrating that, despite their disability, they have turned “No, I can’t” into “Yes, I can.”
As well as fast-paced sequences of Paralympians in action, the numerous “ordinary” members of the public hero’d by the film include disabled ballroom dancers, a pilot who flies her plane with her feet, a drummer with no hands, and a couple who hoof Fred and Ginger-style on prosthetic limbs.
Despite the upbeat tone, this year’s film–like the 2012 film before it–includes a counterpoint within the action conceived to jolt expectations.
In the first film, this was a sequence depicting how some of the featured Paralympians disabilities occured–by an accident, for example. In the new film the narrative flow halts, briefly, when a schoolboy is confronted by a teacher saying “No, you can’t” before the Paralympian in the next shot defiantly shouts: “Yes, I can.”
Working with director Dougal Wilson, through Blink Productions, whose numerous commercials and music videos credits include Monty the Penguin and Tiny Dancer for John Lewis, the team at 4Creative began with a rough narrative outline of the range of superhuman achievement–both in sporting life and beyond–they wanted to present.
Only once the music track was chosen did the storyline fall into place, however.
Back in 2012, the choice of the music–Public Enemy track “Harder Than You Think”–was made late in the day, during postproduction, explains 4creative creative director Alice Tonge. This time around, the track was chosen early and the rest of the narrative built around it inspired both by the lyrics and casting.
“One of the first things we did was put together our own disabled swing band to perform the number,” she says. Without any dedicated casting agencies for disabled people, however, finding the people other than Paralympians to feature was down to hours of research online and through social media.
“For example we found Tony, the lead singer who lives in Brisbane, when we came across a family video posted online in which he sang for fun in the style of Frank Sinatra. As he had no representation, we simply approached him direct,” Tonge adds.
Once the band was assembled, the track was recorded in Studio 2 at Abbey Road Studios where the Beatles recorded. The rest of the footage was then filmed around the country over 12 days in May before the final film was edited and postproduced at the Moving Picture Company.
“We’re the Superhumans” will run in various cut-down versions post-launch throughout the summer in the lead up to the 2016 Paralympics, which opens on September 7 in Rio de Janeiro. It will be Channel 4’s most accessible ad to date with subtitled, signed, and audio-described versions of the film available across every platform.
The film is accompanied by a powerful poster campaign shot by Nadav Kander, and a series of online films featuring the stories of some of the “superhumans” in the ad will also be available online. Meanwhile the track “Yes I Can” will be released separately by Universal Music with all profits going to the British Paralympics Association.