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Emergency phones must have been ringing off the hook when this viral hit the internet. A lone graffiti artist jumps the fence of Andrews Air Force Base—apparently, the Secret Service was on a donut break—and unleashes his paint can all over the President's 747 to spell out the mysterious tag "Still Free." The grainy video, which pointed viewers to the website stillfree.com, got bloggers and press from ABC News to Wonkette abuzz about whether or not the White House was being Punk'd—earning scads of media time for urban clothier Marc Ecko, the assumed culprit behind the defacing. The viral turned out to be the first public project out of Droga5, in partnership with production company Smuggler and director Randy Krallman. The Ecko-promoting effort brilliantly leveraged word of mouth power and socially lubricated avenues of internet portals and blogs, earning awards galore, including the Cyber Grand Prix, Silver and Bronze Media Lions at Cannes—and a Creativity Award from our judges.
Q&A with Droga5 executive creative director Duncan Marshall
How did you come up with the idea for the viral?
Duncan Marshall: We knew we wanted to create a pop culture moment. We had a very brave client, but we didn't have a huge budget. We were doing our first Droga5 project and wanted it to have some bite. We were also lucky enough to be working with Smuggler from the outset, and having Randy Krallman, Brian Beletic, and Patrick Milling Smith in the room with us from the outset meant we couldn't go far wrong. We figured we should try and show the ultimate in graffiti somehow. And convince people it was real. We kicked about the idea of having The White House tagged, but it seemed too predictable, and anyway, no one would believe it for a second. Air Force One was a bit more of an unknown, and visually more interesting. (I said Air Force One first, by the way, although the others may contest this).
What were the biggest challenges on the project? How did you overcome them?
Marshall: We thought the challenge was going to be Ecko buying it—but he was up for it. In fact he wanted a bit more action than we felt would be believable, and we had to pull him back. Unsurprisingly, the biggest challenge was getting a 747 that we could turn into Air Force One without anyone asking too many questions. And doing it in two weeks. One was found one in Mexico, but the owner wanted it to be left as Air Force One after the shoot, and it all seemed a bit sketchy. Then we found one in Arizona, but it turned out to belong in some way or other to the C.I.A. So we tiptoed away. We also knew we had to get genuine graffiti artists from the outset, otherwise people would have called us on it immediately. Luckily, someone got hold of three guys who knew what they were doing. Randy did an amazing job directing—again, it was crucial to make it look like the taggers had just shot it on the fly—and to show clues that bloggers would pick up on while making it look like the camera was the last thing they were thinking about.