The Real Dot-com World

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A teenage girl sits on a table in a vaguely medical-looking room. "Look, she's nervous," giggles a voice behind the camera. The girl mimes panic and mouths, "Oh my God." The camera cuts to focus on her mouth, where her tongue is now held between tweezers and swathed in cotton to prepare for the needle. Mercifully, the needle's descent into flesh is eliminated; the camera cuts to show the attendant fiddling with the new piercing. "It's done?" she whimpers. As she strides out of the room, she makes a display of bravado, sticking out her tongue at the camera. "You see this?" she asks aggressively, and then, proudly, "My mom's gonna kill me." The screen flashes the logo for and the tagline, "Don't hold back."

So goes one of 24 often gritty and very real-seeming spots for the Gen Y hangout-cum-shopping mall, via Bartle Bogle Hegarty/New York. Showing teens in their natural habitats - school cafeterias, pickup trucks, malls and living rooms - the scenarios range from typical adolescent pranks to melodramatic revelations: a boy angrily strips off his clothes in a mall store to protest sweatshop labor; a girl thanks her parents for sending her to rehab; a truckful of guys change the lettering on a movie sign to read, "Smell butt gas inside." Copywriter Eran Thomson, art director Rob Baird and CD Ty Montague had a simple but potentially very challenging vision for the campaign: to film a range of authentic teenage experiences. "We're trying to fill out a spectrum," explains Thomson. "We brought in kids and talked to them to see what their interests were, and we left our casting really loose." BBH hired the casting agency Haxan Films from Blair Witch Project, but quickly found that they preferred kids pulled right off the street. They redirected their talent search and assembled a more motley crew. The creatives pre-selected a number of the topics, including piercing, school prayer and the pranks, but some spots emerged almost spontaneously from the kids themselves.

In one spot, an adolescent male voice behind the camera tells his ex-girlfriend from eighth grade how hurt he was when he found her kissing someone else. In a faltering voice, he says, "I thought we were gonna lose each other's virginity together." There can be no doubting the veracity of this squirmingly painful scene. "This guy started telling me this amazing story about how he'd seen his ex-girlfriend from eighth grade on the street, and he'd always told himself that someday he'd tell her how much she'd hurt his feelings," recalls Thomson. "So I was like, `Here, take this camera, go.' " The cuckolded adolescent came back to BBH with 90 seconds of tape. The spot shows only the beginning of the scene; the big picture reveals the heretofore placid ex-girlfriend standing up angrily and asking, "So what do you want me to do about it!?" and shoving the camera out of her face. "I would've liked to just make a 90-second spot, the whole thing was so great," laughs Thomson ruefully.

Other spots required more legwork on the part of the creative team. When a sweatshop labor activist explained his beliefs to the BBH crew, they wanted to film him in action. The spot shows him walking into a mall clothing store and stripping down while he yells about the evils of sweatshops. The stunned store employees snicker, then a security man steps in, shouting to turn the camera off. The action looks as real and unscripted as any of the other spots, but Thomson explains that for legal and logistical reasons they had to pre-arrange some of the elements while maintaining the spontaneous vibe. Their solution: create a kind of Candid Camera reality, where only the guy with the camera knows what's going to happen. The BBH team pointed the young activist toward a store and told him to go to it. The store employees were paid extras; the security guard was hired by BBH and told that his job was to maintain order on the set. The crew had already paid to shoot at the store. When the star began to strip, the extras were legitimately taken aback. The security guard thought the kid was disrupting the filming, and frantically began trying to regain decorum. The kid had no idea that these people were hired actors. Similarly, in the "Smell" spot, the pranking kids were unaware that BBH had a shooting permit. "Right before we did the filming, we told the kids that we hadn't been able to get the permits but we wanted to shoot anyway. We told them to do the moviehouse and then go across the street to the Beefy King and do that, and then to get the hell out of there," remembers Thomson. The resulting spots looks frantic, giddy, and very authentic.

In order to maintain an unpolished feel, the BBH team did not use a director. In most cases, the subjects had relatives or friends hold the camera; in others, like the "Smell" spot, the creatives did the camerawork. "We thought it was important to show the rapport between the friend or mother behind the camera and the actor," says Thomson.

For the next round of the campaign, teens will send in tapes of their own; Thomson will edit them and post them on the Bolt site, with members to vote on the best spots. The current spots, viewable on the site, already have members buzzing in the chat room. Of the tongue-piercing shots, for example Bolt member Monkeyrose scoffs, "Tongue piercing? Why is that so interesting to watch. I mean I got both my nipples pierced today."

"The cool thing about this campaign is how when you see an ad on TV that you like, you might say `cool ad,' but here, it's a direct reaction to your peers," explains Thomson. The campaign might not fly with adults, but it conveys an unmistakably adolescent energy, complete with angst and awkwardness. "When we were doing this, I just kept saying, `It doesn't matter if we like it,' " says Thomson. "We just need to provoke some kind of genuine reaction."

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