How Apple Music's Star-Studded Emmys Ad Came Together

Spot Starring Kerry Washington, Taraji P. Henson and Mary J. Blige Grabbed Headlines

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Perhaps one of the most talked-about moments during Sunday night's Primetime Emmy Awards was when Kerry Washington, Taraji P. Henson and Mary J. Blige came together for a touching musical moment -- not on stage, but in a new 60-second ad for Apple Music.

The commercial features Ms. Washington, of ABC's "Scandal," and Ms. Henson, of Fox's "Empire," approaching a well-appointed abode, their faces erupting in delight when they hear an old school track from Slick Rick as Ms. Blige greets them at the door.

Once they're inside, the three revel in a nostalgic dance party with tracks ranging from Phil Collins to Blackstreet to Diddy.

Why all the musical reminiscing? Ms. Blige, in the ad, was just sorting through some past mixtapes and also happened to discover Apple Music's own playlist service, which quickly throws your favorite tunes together for you. "It's like you have a boyfriend who makes you a mixtape in your laptop," Ms. Washington says.

The kicker reads "instant boyfriend mixtape service."

The first of a three-ad series titled "Chapters," the spot gained praise from Emmy-watchers including writers for New York magazine, the Guardian and E!, whose headline rated it "all people care about on Emmys Night." The Twittersphere gushed, praising it for everything from its casting to director choice to musical selection.

The commercial was created by Translation, in its first work for Apple, and was directed by "Selma" director Ava DuVernay and produced out of RSA Films.

Translation founder and CEO Steve Stoute said the agency worked with Apple Music's Jimmy Iovine and Bozoma St. John, head of global consumer marketing, iTunes and Beats Music.

Mr. Iovine, the legendary music producer now leading the charge on Apple Music alongside Dr. Dre since the company's acquisition of Beats last year, said that the idea for the campaign started to form when he received a call from Mr. Stoute, his longtime collaborator and friend. "He called me up one night and said, 'Why don't you use Kerry Washington at Apple?'" Mr. Iovine recalled.

"Everyone talks about streaming, but no one speaks to this specific segment," said Mr. Stoute. "I felt like Kerry Washington was a great representation of this group, so I spoke to Jimmy and we went through some ideation."

Mr. Iovine said he thought that idea was "smart, and the next morning I woke up and thought, we need girlfriends talking about relationships. When you see the third spot, you'll see the idea that started all of this."

Oprah's Idea
Mr. Iovine said that the idea for the ads' director, Ms. Duvernay, came from another friend: Oprah Winfrey. "Saturday night Oprah came over to watch the [Mayweather-Pacquiao] fight. I told her, I want to do a spot to explain to people how you use this service, what it can do for you and I want to shoot these three women. She said, you're really onto something, but you need Ava DuVernay."

That choice of director felt like "the right thing," said Mr. Stoute. "We tried to make a statement around African-American women."

"I've always been a big supporter of African-American women, who are an underserved audience in our industry for reasons that make completely no sense to me," Mr. Stoute added, noting that the ads' portrayal of African-American women was a long time coming. "How come the last thing advertising used Mary J. Blige for, they wanted her to sing about crispy chicken?" he said. "It's not about casting famous people. Casting famous people is easy, but putting them in a circumstance that's believable, that tells an authentic narrative is good."

The marketing war to promote music services has also catered to men, according to Mr. Stoute. "I think it speaks to women in general that streaming and streaming services are also user-friendly for women," he said. "Everyone makes creative about streaming, but the stories are dripping in testosterone. No one says this is for women."

Mr. Stoute helped build the African-American-focused beauty brand Carol's Daughter, where he is chairman and lead investor; Mr. Iovine is among the other investors.

Connect and Educate
Of the campaign's goals, "It's very hard to explain streaming subscription music to the general public," Mr. Iovine said. "It had been four months and I felt like we hadn't nailed it. At Beats and at Apple, we work with emotional messaging all the time and believe that if you create something emotional, people will react."

Beyond the emotional connection, Mr. Iovine explained that the campaign was designed to educate. "We spend a lot of time on curation and making these lists powerful as you see in the spot," he said. "Most people don't know the difference between internet radio and subscription services. With some services, there is no difference. We try to deliver a music service that is actually of service. It's about showing the potential audience what it is and what it does, why it can help make their interaction with music better." One of the offerings of the service is expert suggestions for listeners on new music they'd love, given their musical taste and listening histories.

Largely Improvised
According to Translation Chief Creative Officer John Norman, the ads were largely improvised. "There was a lot of freedom within the framework of the scripts," he said. "We set up the premise, seeder lines, and Ava was really great at getting [the actresses] in the mood and getting them to open up."

The idea for Emmys placement came up during the shoot. "Literally, we were on set and Ava was doing her thing and it came together," said Mr. Stoute. "John [Norman] was like, 'We can make great 60s out of this to run.' The original thinking was that it would run on Scandal, Empire, but debuting the 60 on the Emmys came from the camaraderie on the set, and the magic these women were creating."

Mr. Stoute said the two forthcoming commercials in the series, which will feature the same cast and continue the storyline of a gathering among friends, will debut in the next six to eight weeks during major prime-time events.

This article has been updated from previous version to include comment from Apple Music's Jimmy Iovine.

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