Surreal mixing of film genres (rom-com and zombies!) helps AT&T sell its latest message

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A rom-com turns dark and a nail-biting cliff-side bus ride turns into a light-hearted musical in a new cinema campaign that mixes and matches genres from AT&T, created out of BBDO in L.A., with media via Hearts & Science.

The two ads, "Bus" and "Surprise," directed by Somesuch's Daniel Wolfe, are leveraging a media deal with National CineMedia, the country's largest cinema media vendor, to appear before films including "Jurassic World" and "Mama Mia: Here We Go Again."

They're part of AT&T's "More for your thing" platform, which debuted in February, and further plants the brand's stake in the entertainment world amid the ongoing saga of its proposed merger with Time Warner.

"Surprise," currently in theaters, is a rom-com spoof about a couple who kiss and make up in dramatic fashion only for darkness to fall and the girlfriend to tansform into a zombie. "Bus," which runs later this summer, starts out as a gripping drama of people on a treacherous detour but then morphs into "La La Land"-style song and choreography. Both 90-second films end with the line, "More for your thing, that's our thing."

AT&T introduced the platform to unite its offerings—wireless, data, TV—under a singular message. The cinema effort targets young viewers and debuts as the company is poised to move from telco to entertainment player.

The work "touches everything we do in our mobility and entertainment business," says Marc Burns, AT&T VP of advertising and social media.

The brief was "to cement AT&T as an entertainment player, going back to the core promise that the company is connecting people to the things they love," says BBDO co-Executive Creative Director David Povill.

Co-Executive Creator Director Dave Cuccinello says that BBDO's creative team of Kevin Mulroy and Dan Kenneally were behind the idea. "When you walk into the cinema a lot of the ads you see are longer, but they still feel like 'advertising,'" he says. "We really wanted something that when you started watching, you kind of didn't know—and then there's that twist—but you had to do this almost perfectly to get the viewer on a cinematic ride."

Wolfe, the director behind Libresse's Glass Lion Grand Prix-winning "Blood Normal" from AMV BBDO, is best known for bringing an artsy, off-kilter take to his films. But the agency says it also selected him for his breadth of cinematic knowledge.

"His treatment was like a doctoral thesis on film," says Povill.

The transitions between genres required strict attention to detail in all aspects of the filmmaking, he adds. Contributing to the work was color grading by Simon Bourne at Framestore and a score from Oscar and Grammy-winning composer Atticus Ross.

Burns says AT&T plans to continue the campaign using other film genres.

"We do social listening and we've got pages of tweets," says Burns. "That shows someone's watching this—and they're either choosing to bring their phones out and tweet about it, or they're watching the movie, then still remembering the ad and then tweeting about it."

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