Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What Kind of Commercial is This, Anyway?

Welcome back, dear readers, for another installment of Take Nora to Work Day. I was going to do a legitimate and public walk-through of my fabulous adventure in the worlds of academia and marketing, but instead I've chosen to go deep undercover once again. The events of the day were too newsworthy to not report in great detail but are too incendiary to make public.

Our friend Slippy allowed me to shadow her yesterday. As the a public relations executive for a small religious college, she is involved in all facets of the school's marketing and media. She spends most of her time in meetings, on the phone and on her computer, but yesterday they were filming a commercial and she invited me to come along.

We arrived at the shoot at two o'clock. Turning leaves, green grass and gleaming new dorms created the quintessential liberal arts college feel, and groups of students milled about. Instead of hiring actors, the department always aims to entice student volunteers. I mean, do you know how much SAG-card-wielding actors cost? These kids were psyched to be receiving gift cards to The Retail Outlet I Have Boycotted Because They Sell Prostitot Gear. They school upped the ante this year and gave each participant a $50 card. This brought student volunteers in record numbers. Where media campaigns are usually difficult to populate with student volunteers, word got out this time, and all fifty of the students were used as actors and extras.

Slippy distributed the release forms to the students, the make-up artists beautified a handful of students,and the small crew staged the scene. A camera, a monitor, a boom, a spotlight and various reflective or light-absorbing panels, along with the made-up students were positioned. According to Slippy, the concept of the thirty-second spot is to display this expensive private school as a community-oriented, active place filled with the kind of people you want to go to school with, or where you want your kids and hard-earned dollars to go. This scene was simply an attractive autumn tableau demonstrating how chock full of lively students the campus is while an attractive girl spoke a line while in the midst of friendly conversation with her wholesome cohorts.

The first girl to speak was made for television. Tall with a sheet of silky blonde hair, a huge smile and the air of a television anchor, she delivered the line like a pro. After about seven or eight takes, the director, a David Duchovny look-alike (who shall henceforth in this article be called David) who made some time to schmooze with us, voiced his concerns to Slippy that she was too perfect. The group consisted of three pretty girls of vastly different appeal and one cute looking dude who just had to stand there looking shaggy.

The second girl delivered the line, but for some reason could not find it deep within herself to emphasize the correct syllable. She struggled valiantly to do so, but alas, after two or three takes, David kiboshed her. As the littlest girl, a fresh-faced, tiny doll with the whiskey voice of a forty year old barkeep, stepped into the center position, the second girl, who knew she flubbed her line, whispered, "bitch." Obviously she was joking. But she clearly knew she blew her big break into stardom.

As Tiny took over, she, too struggled to say the line just so. She didn't have that "born-for-a-thirty-second-local-university-aired-on-cable-spot" thing that the first girl had.

That part was all very interesting. Take after take, minor alterations in inflection and tone. Waiting for clouds to pass because it jacked with the sunlight, wielding reflectors and such, the make-up girls busting in to make small fixes, peering through the monitor. All very technical. But there was an element of "hurry up and wait" because of staging changes, waiting for the sun to come back, oops, we shorted out, do we have the generator? All that stuff.

It led me to the question: Who the hell are all these people? Who do you call if you're a university looking to increase enrollment and you need a new thirty second spot? Or hell, you need a whole new image. You call This Company. According to Slippy, This Company is a "full-fledged communication marketing company. We use them for our branding campaign and the commercial is only one facet along with a new design look, slogan and eventually launch of a logo that we use them for."

When Slippy calls him for a job, they discuss the parameters, the concept and then David's company writes the storyboards and script. He sends them to Slippy for approval. Meanwhile, she sets up the locations, casting calls and otherwise produces the materials and services needed on her end to make the commercial happen. He hires a specific crew from one state and has them come to location, and hires the make-up artists and flies them in from another state. These shoots usually happen twice a year and, according to Slippy, they've got it down by now.

With pre-production out of the way, two days were dedicated to shooting enough footage of each of the storyboards to complete the concept. When the production aspect ends, it's time for the agency to engage in post-production, also known as whittling down twenty hours of footage into a thirty second spot, which may or may not include splicing old footage into the mix. But for Slippy, after three days of sweat-inducing pre-production and two days of shooting, the hard part is over for her. Within a few weeks, our local cable company will be launching the commercial right on time to pique the interest of students thinking about enrolling for the second semester.

Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing which girl they pick for the commercial. As a lay-person who watches a LOT of television, I would say stick with the "too perfect" one. But I lost a bet to David yesterday--I told him I was sure her daddy was a dentist, because who the hell else would have teeth like that? We bet on it, and he trotted right on over there to ask her. I lost. The guy might just know his shit.

Speaking of shit, a funny side story emerged from this whole adventure. Today, while talking to Slippy, she told me the make-up artists came to her and David with the information that well over half of the student volunteers they made up for the shoot had active herpes lesions on their faces. Now, in addition to wrapping up the commercial project, Slippy gets to send a letter to the student health services about addressing the good old Beginning of the School Year Herpes Outbreak. Well, you know what they say: there's no such thing as bad publicity. Right?

Author's Note: I went on the wrong day. Today the on-campus improv club filmed a pie-eating contest scene. Damn the luck. I would have worked for free.


Slippy said...

Glad you had such a fun time. Not as fun as the letter I had to send to the health center, but a fun afternoon all the same.

Nora said...

I would like to see a copy of that letter. Any chance we could post it here? Anonymously, of course?

Slippy said...

Actually, it was just a short email. I wanted to play stupid.

Dear XXX,

While we were filming an XXX commercial around campus, our two make-up artists noticed that over 75% of the kids they did make-up on had some type of active herpes. After talking with XXX, we decided that we should share this information with someone, if the make-up artists felt important enough to bring this to our attention.

Anonymous said...

Curious, what is the name of the retail outlet you are boycotting? 75% had active herpes, that is crazy.

Anonymous said...

Aren't cold sores a form of herpes?

Could it be alot of kids were just partying and because their resistances were low got some cold sores.

Either way I will need those girls numbers you worked with to make sure they understand the value of good morales. :)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, cold sores is a nice way of saying you got herpes on your face.

Slippy said...

Yes, technically it is just cold sores, but you have to wonder on a small campus what is going on with that many people having the various stages going on...

Side note, Nora mentioned to me her cousin said that Beer Pong was a way that Herpes was running rampant. So, everyone bring your own clean cups to that beer pong tournament. Ewww!

Nora said...

Cold sores are totally herpes! And yes, Cakes passed on the info that the dramatic spike in collegiate oral herpes is due to the popularity of beer pong. So BYOBPCs, everybody.

Mike, the retail outlet in question is Target. I ranted about them last summer on the blog. It's a long one!

Nora said...

Well, I should say the spike is due in part to beer pong. The other part is all the oral sex.