On Nov. 6, just prior to the kickoff for a widely watched match between the U.K.'s most popular football teams, Manchester United and Chelsea, Sony Europe launched a few balls of its own. Filling the entire pregame commercial break, Sony aired a hypnotic two-and-a-half-minute spot that follows 250,000 brightly colored orbs as they leap en masse in a bouncing ballet through the hills of San Francisco, accompanied by a soothing folk tune.
Created out of Fallon/London, and directed by MJZ's Nicolai Fuglsig, the commercial, which shows no product until the end tag's image of Sony's new Bravia television, reads more like an art film rather than an advertisement, in line with a direction Sony had set for its brand and communications a year ago: "Like no other."
"Since then, we tried to develop ideas about what each product category could stand for, whether it be 'sound like no other,' or, with photography, 'shoot like no other,' " explains Fallon/London creative director Richard Flintham. "With the new Bravia television, the brief was about creating the perfect pixel from start to finish, so with this we decided that color would be the focus. We went through a lot of ideas to do something that felt like a celebration of color more than an illustration of it. We didn't want to do something that felt like an ad with a fleeting impression. We wanted to create something that would stay with you for a long time."
With that, art director/copywriter Juan Cabral walked into a presentation meeting last December with a simple premise: "Go to San Francisco, send a million colored balls down the street and film them. 'Color like no other.' "
That launched the agency into an arduous eight-month quest to make it happen. "We were sure that we wanted to do it for real," says Flintham. The agency turned to Fuglsig, who constructed a massive cannon device, similar to a multifunneled tennis ball shooter, to launch the balls. Originally, the intention was to use a million balls, but after tapping manufacturers all around the world, the agency discovered that amount couldn't be produced in time for the shoot. Instead, "We went to every fun fair dealer in the country and had to buy them," says Fuglsig. "Kids in America won't be finding bouncy balls for a while."
The shoot itself was a citywide event in July, which drew gawkers and inspired blogs featuring video footage and personal photos. Creatives and crew protected themselves with gear borrowed from the local riot police, and the cannons fired the balls in three massive drops throughout San Francisco. Fuglsig set up six cameras, including a high-speed Photosonic, and captured about seven hours of material, a large portion of which was shot documentary style.
Simultaneously, photographer Peter Funch set up several still cameras to capture images for the campaign's print component. Despite the fact that the undertaking left real casualties in the form of dented cars, broken windows and one bruised PA, it's hard to believe from the gorgeous visuals of the spot that everything was truly in-camera. Initially, even the parties involved weren't completely convinced it would happen, so the effects team from The Mill was on hand in case backup would be needed.
"That was quite hard for us to get used to because we were dead set on getting everything in-camera," explains Flintham. "Worst case scenario, they'd work from the plates we shot, so the balls would still be real. They came on the shoot, measured every shot and made a ridiculous amount of notes on the lighting in case they would need to match anything. But then, on the third day, when we started to get the rushes back, they said that it all looked great and they weren't going to touch it."
The soundtrack, Jose Gonzalez's cover of an old Swedish pop tune, "Heartbeat," is a low-key complement to the visuals. "I'd been listening to the artist's album, which was one of those records you like so much that you actually don't want to put it near advertising," notes Flintham. "But once you set it against the picture it seemed to lock up really nicely We wanted to keep that natural calm and not put anything too clever next to it."
The spot will also run in cinemas and on Imax screens in Europe and in Australia, and it has been adapted for outdoor as well as print. Sony has also launched a website, bravia-advert.com, which features the spots and a "making of" featurette, and joining the blogger fans of the event, Flintham says that Fallon and Sony plan to make all of their own rushes accessible on the web.