the chance of a lifetime
Unbeknownst to me at the time, the foundation for "The Postcard" was laid in my first interview at Vistaprint when the woman who was to become my VP, mentor, strategic partner, and dear friend, Bridget O'Brien, promised that someday, we'd do something truly great.
I didn't know when it would happen, but in January of 2014, Bridget came through. In spades. We'd gotten the green light from CMO Don LeBlanc to do a big "Super Bowl-ish!" brand spot. Of course, as always, there was a catch. We needed something WOW! And emotional. Featuring our customers. Focused on our products. Extensible to offline. And easily localized for global use. Oh yes, and looking at schedules, we needed it yesterday.
to whom much is given, much is expected...
Coming off a year spent defining and refining our brand strategy, we could dive straight into creative development.
To ensure we were giving ourselves the best shot at success, I agreed to bring in a top flight agency to help in the beginning. As weeks turned to months, it became clear that the work was not up to our standard creatively or strategically.
I decided that if we wanted something truly great, we'd have to do it ourselves.
So, nights and weekends, early mornings. Any second we weren't doing our "day jobs," my partner Kim DiVincenzo and I created ideas. We tried comedy. And drama. Straight. And weird. Some were good. Some not so much.
But then, THE idea came to us.
We would tell the story of a father and son business - not that unusual. But, we would do it in a way where the dramatic foil, the device that drove the plot forward, would be our products themselves.
I knew immediately that this was original. And could be highly dramatic. And, because it didn't rely on dialogue to drive the story, was easily localizable. And product focused. And possibly the coolest solution I'd ever been a part of.
And fortunately, Bridget and then Don agreed. We'd checked literally every box.
Now all we needed to do was to not fuck it up.
the world is smaller than you think, fortunately
And that meant we needed a Director. And not just any Director. We needed something of a rare breed - an exceptional story-teller, a craftsman who could integrate a LOT of product without it looking like "product shots," and most important, a true collaborator.
With that in mind, our incredible producer, Maura Larose, brought in a slew of great directors. We started with the usual suspects from Europe, Dougal Wilson (John Stuart), Ringen Ledwidge (Sainsburys) and others.
We kept pushing, and eventually we ended up looking to South Africa, where they run long form spots and thus have marvelous story-telling Directors, to find Greg Grey of Velocity Films.
He was perfect. A great guy. An amazing Director. And part of one of the most buttoned up production companies in the world.
What's more, while winter and its bare trees were approaching the US and EU, spring was turning to summer in Cape Town - just in time for our shoot.
Now all we had to do was finalize the boards, pick locations, cast our principals, create over a 70 branded items for our "business," and get them and our team to the other side of the world. Oh yeah, and not get Ebola.
7722 miles, 480 mugs, 128 pens, And A guy who knows a guy in customs...
With about 4 weeks before our flight, the days started to run together. We redid our screenplay - tightening story arcs, building tension, and figuring out the final resolution.
We took daily multi-hour conference calls with Cape Town - over seven thousand miles away. We changed the business from tailor shop (too dated) to bike shop (not upscale enough) to finally a bakery/cafe (high quality, universal, tactile, and full of latent emotion).
Then we researched bakeries around the world.
We brought in Michelle Martin, one of our top content designers, to create an original identity for Barrett's Bakery. We even did a modernized version to show the passage of time.
And then we applied both the looks to the products of ours we were going to use to drive the story: posters and pens, mugs and key chains, business cards, polos, and more - each in English and French and German - and each of which Maura somehow got through customs in time. (It was rumored to have involved a guy who knew a guy...)
At the same time, we scouted Cape Town locations - pouring over hundreds of photos a day - narrowing until we had just what we wanted.
Even then we went back and forth with Velocity's art department on just how to dress the sets and costume the characters. Authenticity, while maintaining a global appeal, was key; it not only had to 'be' a real bakery, but also had to pass for one in Paris or London, Akron or Boston.
And let's not forget our casting! Casting calls were done in London, Johannesburg, and Cape Town. We sent Greg to direct and film each of them in person. We got his feedback and reviewed film over and over until we finally landed on our favorites: the father and older son off the stage in London, and the mother and younger son out of Cape Town, South Africa.
We then brought together everything we'd done in the document below. The same one our CMO gave final sign off the day we went to the airport!
2 days wardrobe, 4 days shooting, 5 days editing, and ALL FOR 3 minutes...
While I would not have thought it possible before, upon arrival in Cape Town, our schedule only picked up.
In fact, we got off the 12-hour flight from London only to drive right to the wardrobing facility for "principal wardrobe finalization." Two 14 hour days later, we were on set at 4:45 AM.
What followed was pretty much a blur of 12 to 16 hour shoot days. Each more rewarding than the previous. (And all better captured in the "Behind the Scenes" video above than I could fit on this page.)
We were then in the dark of an edit room. Just us and our rock star editor, Ricky Boyens (quite possibly the best editor I have ever worked with) and Sheldon Mirowitz ( founder of Verite Music), an amazing composer, professor of Film Scoring at Berklee School of Music in Boston, and friend who had helped us write our holiday song the year before. He was with us to create a piece of original music to take our great film to the next level.
"The Chicken" - A Social Media idea spawned on the shoot that would reward those who watched the spot over and over.
And then, as quickly as it had started, it was time to show our clients.
And so that's what we did. Us in some random conference room in Cape Town, our entire Global Marketing Team back in a huge room in Lexington. Only a phone line in between. They played the spot. They asked us to play it again. We did. And we waited, hearts in our throats. And then, for the only time ever in my career, they approved the spot without a single change.
Ending the project as it had started - with a moment of total disbelief.
(And speaking of disbelief, as a reward for making it to the end here, be sure to check out the "Chicken video" above - a social media idea I came up with on the set to motivate the team and create assets we could use in other media. It's one of my favorite little add ons we got out of the project - and a great summation of the creative energy that flowed through this entire project!
what the hell, you only live once, go ahead and watch the spot again...
(You know you want to)