For a commercials director, there are few cooler gigs than a defence forces ad. Lots of money and lots of big, loud toys to play with.
Earlier this year, the Air Force rolled out again its 2016 “What Is Up?” campaign, devised by Havas Worldwide. It’s still my favourite ad in ages. While it’s impeccably made, what I really want to talk about is the thinking behind it. So check it out and let’s start digging…
There’s a few key messages you could use to sell a career in the defence forces: patriotism; the call to adventure; the promise of making a difference. There are nods to all these here, but none of those are the key idea.
Look at that untraditional composition, pushing the action off to the corner of the frame. Look at that muted colour palette. Look at the lens flares, and the pure white of the overexposed doorways. Look at that strategically placed shaky camera work. Listen to that music – gentle chords searching for an ending that never comes, always on the cusp of taking off (sorry…) on a journey.
That’s a very different approach than we’ve seen in other defence campaigns. There’s something that feels imprecise – but trust me, nothing here is imprecise. No, instead it’s a deliberate randomness that says “this comes from a person”. It’s tactile. Even a little gentle and fragile. Because what we’re seeing is memory and imagination. We’re seeing dreams.
Take another look at this shot. It’s the third-last one in the ad:
The choice to end with this shot is deliberate. It’s not about thrills. It’s not framed to show how close she is to the edge or to make you feel the wind in your face. No, it’s about the striking juxtaposition of worlds between the tube of the plane’s fuselage and the green world beyond. It’s Alice looking down the rabbit-hole.
That’s what this campaign is about: the sense of wonder so many of us had as kids when we ran down the hall with a toy in our hands, dreaming of flying. (And, for those keeping count at home, that shot’s in this ad too. It’s the penultimate one, no less.)
I’m not a betting guy, but I’d lay money that one of the major references when conceptualising this ad was the campaign for the movie Man of Steel, which used similar music and imagery as it literally took us back to the days when we’d tie a towel to our backs and pretend to be Superman:
Now, are we comfortable encouraging little kids to dream of joining the military? Your mileage may vary. But this ad is in no way talking to little kids. It’s talking to the little kid in you…
And will this ad speak to everyone? Nope. In fact, I saw it for the first time while sitting with someone who never had those childhood fantasies, and this ad did zilch for her. But I’d say a hell of a lot more people did have those dreams. And more importantly, almost all people who are pre-disposed to consider the defence forces as a career had that dream. And for those people, that dream is a powerful thread to tug on.
And that’s a great example of why we make people the heart of everything we do here at Three Scoops. Yes, it’s partly because the happiness of clients and our fellow team-members is key to our success. But it’s also because every creative process is rooted in the heart. Strategy has to start by thinking about the audience for the communication, not as demographics on a spreadsheet but as people with hopes, fears and dreams. By asking how and why those people connect to our clients, we can create messages but that go beyond the rational and speak to those people’s feelings. Speak to their heart.
And that’s a hard message to argue with.