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Timing Is Everything for Arnold’s “Anti-Manifesto”

Timing Is Everything for Arnold’s “Anti-Manifesto”

Sulaiman Beg

Sulaiman Beg

February 21, 2018

“As much as there is to risk in terms of being creatively brave, there is arguably more to risk by not being creatively brave,” says Arnold’s Wade Devers.

How do you get to the Super Bowl? Patience, patience, patience.

That’s how Arnold Executive Creative Director and Managing Partner Wade Devers, describes the journey of the agency’s “Anti-Manifesto” Super Bowl spot for Jeep.

The agency first pitched the idea for the :30 TV spot in 2015 but, for a variety of reasons, didn’t get the go-ahead from the client to film the spot until the last week of December 2017.

“This project, as it turns out, was an exercise in patience and a reminder that sometimes things just need to run their course,” Devers said.

"Holy f’ing shit! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing."

Tell us a little about how this campaign came together.

During the summer of 2015, Fiat Chrysler invited us to pitch a project for the Jeep brand to help celebrate their 75th anniversary. We presented three fully integrated campaigns of creative that included work for the entire Jeep lineup. In that presentation was an idea for the Wrangler for the LA Auto Show: a film called Anti-Manifesto. We felt at the time that it was a perfect spot to run during the Super Bowl because of the nature of the spot and the fact that it was a commentary on advertising. Little did we know that between the time we presented the idea and the time the spot actually ran during the game, advertising agencies and brands would reach a fever pitch of “manifesto”-style advertising in an effort to be relevant.

The pitch ended with CMO Olivier François recommending that Anti-Manifesto be used for the launch of the all-new Wrangler in the fall of 2017. Yes, a full two years away. Needless to say, I was skeptical about the timeframe and being asked to make the piece at all after two years had passed. I think I speak for the entire team here when I say we were pretty surprised, shocked even, when they called us in September of 2017 and asked if we were still interested in making the film.

For us, the truth of the matter was that if there were one brand, one product that didn’t need a manifesto, it would be the Jeep Wrangler. We have long since forgotten that Jeeps were used as general purpose vehicles in WWII and have been supplied to every branch of the U.S. military for decades. A vehicle that has spawned an industry of copycats and yet remains one of the most capable of all its competitors.

Nowadays we are used to seeing Jeeps every day as grocery-getters and family vehicles. And with a giant aftermarket and consumers’ appetites for customization, there is no end to ways people personalize their Wranglers with lift kits, giant tires, and front fascias. Yet we rarely see a Jeep covered in dirt and mud.

We decided that what we needed to do was remind people of a Jeep’s capabilities simply by letting it speak for itself. A good old-fashioned product demo. And to emphasize the point, we decided to pick on a genre of advertising that just tries too hard. We felt that the best way to stand out in the Super Bowl was to simplify, separating ourselves from the visual and auditory bombast we were sure to see. And many spots did not disappoint.

Anti-Manifesto ran just before the game was decided and stood out like we had hoped. It was subdued and confident. And the response was great. The commercial was called out on sites like Reddit and Gear Patrol and celebrated for its lack of pretense and advertising bullshit.

What can you tell us about the shoot?

Well, we shot it twice. Yes, twice.

When the clients called us to make the spot, we were told that it would only be used for the LA Auto Show announcement – this context guided the budget, which would affect everything from the director choice to the location. We were also given a Jeep that was completely stock; and while it’s an extremely capable car, bigger tires and a 2’’ lift would have gone a long way toward achieving the shot we wanted.

So, we shot it and edited it, and we all felt a tinge of disappointment. It was fine. But it needed to be awesome. The spot was always designed to work in one take, because it needed to feel as true as possible. And to have the spot work in one take, it needed an epic ending—something you wouldn’t see coming. Because of location limitations, we just didn’t have that big ending. And the client felt the same way.

After about a month’s time, the auto show had come and gone, and began to feel we had missed an opportunity. Unexpectedly, the client asked for a phone call the day before Christmas break to discuss next steps. “How would you guys feel about shooting the spot again? Bigger budget. Better location. And a more equipped vehicle.”

Not only did they ask us to shoot it again, but they also said there was a certain sporting event in February that it may be selected for. Holy f’ing shit! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This was simply too good. And we were hell-bent on taking full advantage of this second opportunity.

The first call we made was to director Jeff Zwart. It was critical for us to have a director who could not only make a great-looking spot, but could also truly understand how a car works. Jeff is not only an award-winning director, but also a multiple Pikes Peak Hill Climb champion and racecar driver. His knowledge of cars and their capabilities may be unsurpassed in the world of directors. Zwart also works most often with precision-driver Rhys Millen, son of the famous Kiwi family of Baja champions and owner of Rhys Millen Racing, which is an outfitter of off-road racing equipment.

Jeff had a vision for the location, which had to be built up and turned into a waterfall. Rhys hit his marks all but once, which was impressive because he had 60 seconds to get from start to finish, and he had to be more or less exact if we wanted to keep the spot as a one-take.

This team was exactly what we needed. And they didn’t disappoint.

"And the truth remains: great creative ideas are delicate. They can’t get beat up too much."

Was it always going to be a Super Bowl spot? If not, how did unveiling it during the big game come to be?

We were told by the client that it would be “in consideration” for the game. But we really didn’t know until a few days before the spot was due to be shipped that it had actually been selected to run.

How is working on a Super Bowl campaign different from working on a traditional TV spot? Is there a difference? Is the client more hands-on?

Super Bowl spots are obviously a great opportunity and as someone recently pointed out, one of the last remaining places that we celebrate the much-maligned television spot. In this day and age of fast content creation, which has its benefits, making television commercials is still an art that takes craft and time to do properly.

This was the second year in a row I made a Super Bowl spot at the last possible minute. For Super Bowl LII, I made a spot for “It’s a 10 Haircare” in partnership with Havas Edge. ECD Mary Webb, an old pal who used to work here at Arnold, called me the first week of January in 2017 and asked if I wanted to take a crack at some Super Bowl scripts for a client she was working with. Oh, and she needed them in 48 hours.

Of course I said yes and immediately called two of the fastest, most-talented people I know: Gregg Nelson and Chris Valencius, both CDs on my team at Arnold. Three weeks later, we are in the Super Bowl.

The advantage to making Super Bowl spots quickly is that it prevents overthinking. If you are running a spot during the game, you are spending big money, and if you are spending big money, you are probably dealing with decision makers – people confident enough to say yes and trust the creative process.

The worst thing for a Super Bowl spot is too much time. Too much time can mean more layers of approvals on the client’s side. And the more layers you have, the more opinions and subjectivity you have to deal with. And the truth remains: great creative ideas are delicate. They can’t get beat up too much.

Those living outside of the U.S. may not fully appreciate the significance of producing a spot that airs during the Super Bowl. How would you describe how big of a deal this is?

It’s a big deal. The Super Bowl is not only one of the biggest sporting events in the world in terms of audience, but it has become a showcase for creativity. The audience for the Super Bowl is a savvy TV-watching audience and they are brutal critics. They look forward to the game, but the commercials are almost as big of a topic in the days leading up to and after the game.

The sheer number of people who will see your commercial is staggering. So, in terms of awareness, that opportunity is enormous. But buying a spot isn’t even half the battle. Making a spot that can capture that audience’s attention is where the real work lies. And as much as there is to risk in terms of being creatively brave, there is arguably more to risk by not being creatively brave. And bravery comes in many forms, controversy, political statement, and of course, humor – a well-used tool in the fight for attention. The challenge is to figure out how to stand out from all the rest and be the one talked about the most the next day.

Super Bowl spots are the most watched ads in the U.S. and also the most scrutinized. But the response to Anti-Manifesto was overwhelmingly positive, with Ace Metrix ranking it No. 1 in its Products That Stole the Show in Ad Bowl 2018 wrap-up, CNET describing it as “gloriously simple, yet powerful,” and Cindy Gallop tweeting her approval. Were you surprised by the response?

Surprised, yes. But only because you never really know what to expect. We were confident that the spot would resonate with the general public.

We tend to forget how attuned the general public is to advertising. They are truly professional commercial watchers and they are smarter than we sometimes give them credit for. Our hypothesis was that the public was getting worn out on brands using the Super Bowl as a soapbox. And seeing a positive response on sites like Reddit and Gear Patrol made it clear to us that we had struck a chord. Not only are we, as creative professionals, tired of the manifesto approach to advertising, but the public may be more tired of it than we are.

How do you get to the Super Bowl? Patience, patience, patience.

That’s how Arnold Executive Creative Director and Managing Partner Wade Devers, describes the journey of the agency’s “Anti-Manifesto” Super Bowl spot for Jeep.

The agency first pitched the idea for the :30 TV spot in 2015 but, for a variety of reasons, didn’t get the go-ahead from the client to film the spot until the last week of December 2017.

“This project, as it turns out, was an exercise in patience and a reminder that sometimes things just need to run their course,” Devers said.

"Holy f’ing shit! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing."

Tell us a little about how this campaign came together.

During the summer of 2015, Fiat Chrysler invited us to pitch a project for the Jeep brand to help celebrate their 75th anniversary. We presented three fully integrated campaigns of creative that included work for the entire Jeep lineup. In that presentation was an idea for the Wrangler for the LA Auto Show: a film called Anti-Manifesto. We felt at the time that it was a perfect spot to run during the Super Bowl because of the nature of the spot and the fact that it was a commentary on advertising. Little did we know that between the time we presented the idea and the time the spot actually ran during the game, advertising agencies and brands would reach a fever pitch of “manifesto”-style advertising in an effort to be relevant.

The pitch ended with CMO Olivier François recommending that Anti-Manifesto be used for the launch of the all-new Wrangler in the fall of 2017. Yes, a full two years away. Needless to say, I was skeptical about the timeframe and being asked to make the piece at all after two years had passed. I think I speak for the entire team here when I say we were pretty surprised, shocked even, when they called us in September of 2017 and asked if we were still interested in making the film.

For us, the truth of the matter was that if there were one brand, one product that didn’t need a manifesto, it would be the Jeep Wrangler. We have long since forgotten that Jeeps were used as general purpose vehicles in WWII and have been supplied to every branch of the U.S. military for decades. A vehicle that has spawned an industry of copycats and yet remains one of the most capable of all its competitors.

Nowadays we are used to seeing Jeeps every day as grocery-getters and family vehicles. And with a giant aftermarket and consumers’ appetites for customization, there is no end to ways people personalize their Wranglers with lift kits, giant tires, and front fascias. Yet we rarely see a Jeep covered in dirt and mud.

We decided that what we needed to do was remind people of a Jeep’s capabilities simply by letting it speak for itself. A good old-fashioned product demo. And to emphasize the point, we decided to pick on a genre of advertising that just tries too hard. We felt that the best way to stand out in the Super Bowl was to simplify, separating ourselves from the visual and auditory bombast we were sure to see. And many spots did not disappoint.

Anti-Manifesto ran just before the game was decided and stood out like we had hoped. It was subdued and confident. And the response was great. The commercial was called out on sites like Reddit and Gear Patrol and celebrated for its lack of pretense and advertising bullshit.

What can you tell us about the shoot?

Well, we shot it twice. Yes, twice.

When the clients called us to make the spot, we were told that it would only be used for the LA Auto Show announcement – this context guided the budget, which would affect everything from the director choice to the location. We were also given a Jeep that was completely stock; and while it’s an extremely capable car, bigger tires and a 2’’ lift would have gone a long way toward achieving the shot we wanted.

So, we shot it and edited it, and we all felt a tinge of disappointment. It was fine. But it needed to be awesome. The spot was always designed to work in one take, because it needed to feel as true as possible. And to have the spot work in one take, it needed an epic ending—something you wouldn’t see coming. Because of location limitations, we just didn’t have that big ending. And the client felt the same way.

After about a month’s time, the auto show had come and gone, and began to feel we had missed an opportunity. Unexpectedly, the client asked for a phone call the day before Christmas break to discuss next steps. “How would you guys feel about shooting the spot again? Bigger budget. Better location. And a more equipped vehicle.”

Not only did they ask us to shoot it again, but they also said there was a certain sporting event in February that it may be selected for. Holy f’ing shit! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This was simply too good. And we were hell-bent on taking full advantage of this second opportunity.

The first call we made was to director Jeff Zwart. It was critical for us to have a director who could not only make a great-looking spot, but could also truly understand how a car works. Jeff is not only an award-winning director, but also a multiple Pikes Peak Hill Climb champion and racecar driver. His knowledge of cars and their capabilities may be unsurpassed in the world of directors. Zwart also works most often with precision-driver Rhys Millen, son of the famous Kiwi family of Baja champions and owner of Rhys Millen Racing, which is an outfitter of off-road racing equipment.

Jeff had a vision for the location, which had to be built up and turned into a waterfall. Rhys hit his marks all but once, which was impressive because he had 60 seconds to get from start to finish, and he had to be more or less exact if we wanted to keep the spot as a one-take.

This team was exactly what we needed. And they didn’t disappoint.

"And the truth remains: great creative ideas are delicate. They can’t get beat up too much."

Was it always going to be a Super Bowl spot? If not, how did unveiling it during the big game come to be?

We were told by the client that it would be “in consideration” for the game. But we really didn’t know until a few days before the spot was due to be shipped that it had actually been selected to run.

How is working on a Super Bowl campaign different from working on a traditional TV spot? Is there a difference? Is the client more hands-on?

Super Bowl spots are obviously a great opportunity and as someone recently pointed out, one of the last remaining places that we celebrate the much-maligned television spot. In this day and age of fast content creation, which has its benefits, making television commercials is still an art that takes craft and time to do properly.

This was the second year in a row I made a Super Bowl spot at the last possible minute. For Super Bowl LII, I made a spot for “It’s a 10 Haircare” in partnership with Havas Edge. ECD Mary Webb, an old pal who used to work here at Arnold, called me the first week of January in 2017 and asked if I wanted to take a crack at some Super Bowl scripts for a client she was working with. Oh, and she needed them in 48 hours.

Of course I said yes and immediately called two of the fastest, most-talented people I know: Gregg Nelson and Chris Valencius, both CDs on my team at Arnold. Three weeks later, we are in the Super Bowl.

The advantage to making Super Bowl spots quickly is that it prevents overthinking. If you are running a spot during the game, you are spending big money, and if you are spending big money, you are probably dealing with decision makers – people confident enough to say yes and trust the creative process.

The worst thing for a Super Bowl spot is too much time. Too much time can mean more layers of approvals on the client’s side. And the more layers you have, the more opinions and subjectivity you have to deal with. And the truth remains: great creative ideas are delicate. They can’t get beat up too much.

Those living outside of the U.S. may not fully appreciate the significance of producing a spot that airs during the Super Bowl. How would you describe how big of a deal this is?

It’s a big deal. The Super Bowl is not only one of the biggest sporting events in the world in terms of audience, but it has become a showcase for creativity. The audience for the Super Bowl is a savvy TV-watching audience and they are brutal critics. They look forward to the game, but the commercials are almost as big of a topic in the days leading up to and after the game.

The sheer number of people who will see your commercial is staggering. So, in terms of awareness, that opportunity is enormous. But buying a spot isn’t even half the battle. Making a spot that can capture that audience’s attention is where the real work lies. And as much as there is to risk in terms of being creatively brave, there is arguably more to risk by not being creatively brave. And bravery comes in many forms, controversy, political statement, and of course, humor – a well-used tool in the fight for attention. The challenge is to figure out how to stand out from all the rest and be the one talked about the most the next day.

Super Bowl spots are the most watched ads in the U.S. and also the most scrutinized. But the response to Anti-Manifesto was overwhelmingly positive, with Ace Metrix ranking it No. 1 in its Products That Stole the Show in Ad Bowl 2018 wrap-up, CNET describing it as “gloriously simple, yet powerful,” and Cindy Gallop tweeting her approval. Were you surprised by the response?

Surprised, yes. But only because you never really know what to expect. We were confident that the spot would resonate with the general public.

We tend to forget how attuned the general public is to advertising. They are truly professional commercial watchers and they are smarter than we sometimes give them credit for. Our hypothesis was that the public was getting worn out on brands using the Super Bowl as a soapbox. And seeing a positive response on sites like Reddit and Gear Patrol made it clear to us that we had struck a chord. Not only are we, as creative professionals, tired of the manifesto approach to advertising, but the public may be more tired of it than we are.

Sulaiman Beg is Havas' Director of Global Internal Communications. He has never eaten canned tuna fish.

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