Dow Chemical’s “Human Element” spot, BtoB’s choice for the best TV spot of the year, is a testament to the power of advertising. As a manufacturer of chemical products that have caused controversies over the years, the company has to tread carefully when presenting itself as an entity whose mission is to help humankind. This forward-looking, 90-second TV spot, however, makes the case successfully by creating an emotional connection with viewers.
Created by FCB, the spot features powerful images of the natural world, the elements that compose it and, ultimately, the people that inhabit it. The people—a blacksmith in Mexico, children at an orphanage in Namibia, an artist in his studio in Prague—aren’t actors; they’re real people who were cast on location on four continents.
The copywriting in this spot is particularly moving, presenting a verbal contemplation on how each of us comes to see life unfold as a series of chemical elements interacting. Dazzled by the wonders of science, it tells us, it’s easy enough to overlook the missing element on the periodic chart—the human element, which changes the equation by adding intangibles like potential and desire and, in the end, allows chemistry to benefit humanity.
FCB’s creative team was very deliberate in balancing visuals and copywriting. “The words were so strong and so important that we wanted to make sure that whatever we did visually didn’t overpower those words,” said Kurt Fries senior VP-executive group creative director at FCB. “So often you see TV commercials where both things are trying so hard to be in the forefront.”
Providing the ideal complement for the visuals and voice-over is Susan Voelz’s “New Harmony Waltz,” a simple but poignant piece for violin. John Claxton, senior VP-executive group creative director at FCB, said the fact that the music is a waltz makes it a bit unusual—and therefore, interesting—for a broadcast spot. “It’s also a little bit unpolished, which we really liked,” he said. “It’s not very formal and perfectly executed, and those imperfections are what make it charming.”
Branding campaigns that attempt to convey corporate good will walk a fine line; many an advertiser has attempted it and blasted the airwaves with tired, world-from-above images, grandiloquent copywriting and musical treacle to no avail. But Dow’s “Human Element” TV spot strikes the right balance with strong creative choices that convince us that despite any controversies in the company’s past, its future will improve human lives.