This ode to a dung beetle is an ode to small agencies

Film from Alto is a fine example of COVID-era craft

Published On
Aug 06, 2020

Editor's Pick

At Ad Age’s annual Small Agency Awards, it’s become tradition for the outgoing Small Agency of the Year winner to give parting words of advice to the new honoree. This year, Chicago Agency Highdive earned the top nod, virtually receiving the trophy from the former co-founders of last year’s winner JohnxHannes, Hannes Ciatti and John McKelvey. Ciatti’s new agency Alto expressed its congratulations with an endearing filmic metaphor that likened the plight of small shops to that of a dung beetle, while McKelvey did the final hand-off in a video revisiting techniques from his agency's new brand campaign for Klarna. 

The former was a cleverly produced film that almost appears as if it’s stop-motion animation. It centers on the plight of a lowly dung beetle, absorbed in the Sisyphean task of rolling his turd ball up a hill. And when it seems he’s finally reached his destination—drats—his finely crafted poo orb gets punctured by the sharp point of a broken twig. 

A charming folk track and V.O. narrate his plight, which turns out to be strikingly similar to those faced by small agencies every day—made even more exhausting by pandemic hurdles. 

Rolling the dung up a hill, rolling the dung up a hill
Pushing my dung up a hill, every single day. 
Hop on the deck, roll the dung. 
Zooom with the client, roll the dung.
Agency drinks, roll the dung.
Roll it up the hill.
Hey a new project! Roll the dung. 
This will win Cannes! Roll the dung.
Let’s go produce it! 
Roll the. .. Pandemic! 
Ah shit.
O ok ok think think think think think.
Think think think. We can do this. We can do this.
Rollig the dun up a hil rolig the d ung up a hill
Pushing my dung up a hill, every single day.
Keep on rolling. 

Congratulations, Dung Beetle.
Your shit was glorious this year.
Love, fellow Dung Beetle. 

The film is a fine piece of COVID-era craftsmanship. It’s not stop motion but rather cleverly cut bits of stock footage. “The craft was in the edit,” Ciatti explains. “We used Travis Moore [at Exile Edit], an incredibly talented comedy editor and finding the right footage was the magic.” Some artful color correction also added to the “animated” feel. 

The creative team from Alto worked with the talents at music company We Are Walker to create the film’s song. 

“At a time when creativity is struggling, it’s the great small creative shops that are producing some of the most beautiful shit,” says Ciatti. “It's not easy as a small shop. You get only so many shots a year—focused on one project at a time, a great idea, you sell it in, add craft with the best people you can find. Then, for some inexplicable reason the whole thing gets stuck, just as you were ready to roll it out proudly. But us dung beetles don't give up easily, we spend our time and energy focused on the best creative solution because we love what we do. Recalibrate and dig even harder, until the unwieldy dung is a perfect sphere, perched atop the hill for the world to see.”

Meanwhile, 2020 Small Agency of the Year Winner Highdive made a star-studded acceptance video, starring familiar faces from its Super Bowl spots for Rocket Mortgage and Jeep. Spoiler alert: That would be Jason Momoa and Bill Murray


Aug 06, 2020
Agency :
Music :
We Are Walker
Editorial Company :
Exile Editorial

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