Behind the work: TBWA/London taps into cartoon nostalgia for Muller.

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Imagine taking KITT the talking car from Knight Rider, Mutley from Wacky Races, the Mr. Men and Yogi Bear and putting them together into a single commercial. Alongside real actors.

It sounds like the kind of blue sky pitch that might initially impress the client but would never get ultimately made. And, admits creative director Paul Pateman at TBWA/London, when the agency's Muller team started looking into the possibility of using all these much-loved cartoon characters in one spot 'it seemed like it would be prohibitively expensive'.

But Muller's Wunderful Stuff did happen, and the result is a 90-second extravaganza studded with much-loved cartoon favorites, combining a live action film with CG, animation and fun visual effects. The spot, which broke during the U.K. premiere of The X Factor, is the first branding campaign for Muller from TBWA/London, which won the account at the start of this year. (Muller marketing director, Lee Rolston, was previously at Cadbury, where he was part of the team behind award-winning work such as Fallon's Gorilla).

Muller's brief was that the brand needed to be famous and loved--and that's where the cartoon characters came in. Pateman explains: "We saw Muller as something of a 'Willy Wonka' brand, always stirring in experimental flavors and ingredients. That led to the idea of 'Wunderful Stuff'; taking a mundane city and stirring into it as much wonder as possible."

The spot was directed by Partizan's Antoine Bardout-Jacquet of Honda "Cog" fame and features an array of characters that tap into a certain nostalgia; the target audience was grocery-buying "ASDA mums," although the agency believes it has appeal to the whole family. Each was selected for a reason; for example, transforming drab businessmen into Mr Men evolved from wanting Muller to be the "transforming catalyst" of the spot, bringing color into the grey cityscape. Meanwhile Muller had its own characters to add to the mix; the Muller Robot, for example, whose mouth, made up of individual sheets of metal, was one of the many challenges involved in creating the spot.

Permission Granted
Eventually, says Pateman, gaining permission to use the characters was easier than expected. "Once we talked to people about the scale of the ad, and the fact that we were going to be true to the charm of the original characters, they were keen to get involved."

A three day shoot at Paramount Studios and in downtown L.A. was only the start of the work. Various tricks were used to prepare the live action shots for the animation to come; for example, explains Pateman, wetting down the set at Paramount so that when 2D characters were embedded, there would be a slight reflection in the water. The shoot was followed by days of painstaking CG and animation work at The Mill, with artists hand-drawing animated characters before The Mill rendered them in 3D.

Wunderful Stuff broke during the same X Factor show as rival yogurt brand Yeo Valley's much-hyped Boybandspot, highlighting the increasingly competitive nature of the sector. Pateman says the team were keen to get away from either the "functional foods" or "organic farming" themes prevalent in yogurt advertising and create something, "unlike any other ad on TV at the moment." TBWA also hopes to cement "Wunderful Stuff" as a long running strapline for the brand, so look out for future manifestations of 'wunder'.

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