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BBC Campaign Spotlights The Finger

By Published on . 3

For a global campaign to promote the BBC iPlayer, an iPad app to access the broadcaster's content, BBH New York eschewed the typical snazzy interactive video and made a body part the star of the show.

A series of television spots and short films features U.K. celebrities like 'Top Gear' host Richard Hammond, 'The Office' star Ricky Gervais and 'Tribe' presenter Bruce Parry speaking earnestly about personal topics -- all while a finger pokes them in the face. While the BBC may have stodgy, old school image, there are a surprising number of fun, light-hearted shows on the network. The creative concept needed to underline the ease with which users could reach out, touch and control the shows they watch on the new player.

"We needed a simple motif to tie that idea together," said BBH chief creative officer John Patroulis. "The joy of it is that all that content is at your fingertips. So we made that literal." This is the first campaign that the agency has done with the BBC, with more projects slated to launch later this year.

Along with the films, the campaign includes interactive banners and Facebook and iPad games that let users get in on the poking action, using their own fingers or a mouse to poke. In response, the personalities grimace, cringe or try and blow the errant digit away.

To direct the films, BBH New York approached O Positive's David Shane, a director known for his mastery over verbal wordplay. In the past, Shane has worked on hilarious, awkward spots for K-Y out of Mother New York, and partnered with Wieden + Kennedy on witty ESPN work.

"We just needed a great comedy director," said Patroulis. "We need someone to understand the silliness of that finger."

Both the creatives at BBH and Shane pushed to do the shoots practically, without post- production magic that could digitally insert the finger into the shot. During the actual shoot, "we thought it would be more fun to have a real hand interacting with the face and then see what happens," said Shane.

But what would the hand do? At the beginning, Shane experimented with having the hand swiping at the faces -- like you would on an iPad. But that didn't feel right, so instead, "we incrementally started abusing them," he said. While the celebrities spoke, someone on set would reach out and prod their nose, play with their lips, or touch their eyes.

"The sweet spot is for them to not acknowledge the finger fully, but still react to it," said Shane. "It's interesting because it's simple."

The idea was to juxtapose the very serious things the personalities were talking about with the silliness of the finger, to illustrate the idea of how viewers could easily manipulate the content they watched on the iPlayer.

All the films were shot off-script and completely improvised. Shane approached the shooting process like an interview, asking questions and letting the on-camera personalities run with it. Initially -- possibly as a bid to please the client -- he even had them talking about BBC content. "But it soon became clear that the interesting stuff was when they got more personal," said Shane.

For example, during the shoot, Gervais started by talking about last year's Golden Globes, for which his performance as host had been slammed for going too far. That led to one clip from the campaign in which Gervais holds forth about comedy censorship.

Shot in clear, bright light with the faces close up and no camera movement, the films were shot only as masters and were never cut. That was one of the challenges for Shane: keeping his subjects' rants under 26 seconds.


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