Behind the Work: Cellular South Y'All Vs Us

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Charged with promoting Cellular South's "Discover Center" web channel, Y&R New York blew the sides out of the typical integrated campaign box and made a major content play based around a regional obsession: high school football.

The agency saw the Cellular South web section as a platform for original content and proceeded to create "Y'All Vs Us," a campaign that included producing five Mississippi high school games to pro football standards, animated web films, mobile apps, a 10-episode doc series based around local team rivalries and more. Campaign architects Kerry Keenan and Nathy Aviram break it down for us here.

Tell me about the brief you got from the client.

Nathy Aviram: It was an interactive assignment to design and drive traffic to a section of the Cellular South website dedicated to user-generated content and community programs called the "discover center."

What inspired the breadth of the project? Was it the client's intention to do something so expansive in terms of the platforms and production?

Kerry Keenan: It was not the client's intention to do something so expansive. As a privately owned company in Mississippi, they are already heavily invested in their footprint and merely wanted to showcase the programs and advertising they have created. We saw the "discover center" as an opportunity to become a distribution platform for original content that is meaningful to Cell South customers. So we came up with "Y'all vs Us."

Why did you decide on high school football as the focal point of the campaign?

NA: Like Texans, Mississippians are religious about Friday Nights under the lights. In fact, Mississippi has produced more NFL players per capita than any other state in the US. And high school is where it all begins. There is nothing Mississippians are as passionate about. It creates the social fabric of both family and community. And the football rivalries are long-standing and legendary.

Can you please describe all the components of the project—film, digital, etc. Also, can you describe the rollout schedule?

KK: We're producing 5 pro-football quality live game broadcasts of the biggest high school football rival games. And with those, pre-game, half-time and post game shows. We've created print, radio and outdoor campaigns promoting each game, social network media, five animated viral shorts for each rival game, phone apps and merchandise for the Y'All vs. Us program. We also created and are producing a 10-episode documentary series, "Wayne County vs. West Jones Head to Head," that is following the lives of two rival head coaches and their teams in rural Mississippi as they progress through the season. The series is running on 16 affiliate stations in key markets in Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama, including Fox, NBC and ABC. It is being promoted with outdoor and television trailers, as well as pages on the major online social networks. And, of course, we created Cellular South's "discover center," where most of the content can also be found.

Given the breadth of the job, you must have had some major production and logistical hurdles. Can you take us step by step through the production process- What was your timeline, overall and for each of the elements—the documentary, web, app and live events.

KK: Major hurdles. We began by hiring Moxie. Then we tackled the website design and fan pages. Then cast for "Head to Head." Then simultaneously began working on all elements.

We rented a house in Laurel, Mississippi and moved an editorial facility for two editors and three assistants down from New York. One creative and producer began going from rival school to rival school interviewing people and researching stories for the live games.

Myself, Nathy, a second creative, and an intern began shooting "Head to Head" with two small crews from Moxie. (In fact I shot for 12 hours today, am writing this, listening to a final mix on episode 6 from New York and have a 7 am call time tomorrow). Actual shooting started August 3, after casting and dealing with the Mississippi activities association to get access to schools the previous month.

We had a few weeks to prep the job and have not stopped shooting since. Everything happens simultaneously. We are constantly looking at scripts, shooting, editing and finishing. Cellular South is developing the apps we created; an animator in New York is creating the virals. The first show went to finish at the end of August and the final live game broadcast is November 6th. The final episode of "Head to Head" will run the following week—unless we decide to shoot through playoffs.

What was behind your decision to go with Moxie, and what did they bring to the process?

NA: We have worked with Moxie for years and felt that they would be the best partner—their varied roster and experience has always gone outside of the scope of traditional advertising. Robbie Fernandez has an Oscar for producing Fog of War.

Tell me about LDM—they were your partner on the live events? What did they bring to that aspect?

NA: We wanted to bring pro-football caliber production to high school football so Moxie found us a company that produces hundreds of live events a year—from SEC football to the US Open tennis tournament. We brought in trucks with eight cameras and stadium lighting, professional announcers and sideline reporters and a jumbotron.

What were your biggest challenges overall, and with each component of the effort?

KK: The biggest challenges were trying to get everything done at the same time. With regard to "Head to Head," shooting over 60 hours of film a week, editing and finishing a half hour show in one week, every week, has been especially challenging. But our post-production coordinator has done an amazing job pulling it all together at the bitter end each week.

Can you describe the client's involvement throughout?

NA: The client is a sponsor of both the live games and the series. The series has no product placement or mention of Cellular South, though, save a sponsorship billboard during commercial break. Cellular South has been much more involved at the Live games as an active sponsor of the events—their sports marketing program arranged for a lot of "extras" like flyovers, skydivers and fireworks displays during the games. They also sponsor a scholar athlete of the game award at each of the five games.

Tell us about the technology involved in this effort—any big challenges on that end? Who did you work with as your tech partners?

KK: Our digital arm, VML/Y&R in New York implemented our web design and Cell South is handling the creation of the apps we created.

What sorts of lessons did you learn from doing this project? If you were to do again, what would you do differently?

KK: More time more money—what else is new!

What kind of results have you seen from this campaign so far?

KK: The games are drawing between 10-15,000 fans each week. The games are pre-empting three hours of prime time network programming on five separate dates in key markets. Ratings are excellent. For example, the second game (10/2) generated a 5.4 rating on the Memphis NBC affiliate. That was only 0.4pts behind CBS for first place. After the first 19 days, web traffic was up 175%.

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