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Anatomy of an Ad: Under Armour and Droga5 on creating the 'very unpolished' Gisele Bündchen film

Even supermodels aren’t spared the judgements women are subjected to every day, as highlighted by Under Armour in its empowering Cannes Lions-winning ‘I Will What I Want’ campaign. Minda Smiley finds out more about what inspired the ad and why a sports apparel brand and retailer chose a model to represent it.

Imagine being criticised by strangers while trying to get through a workout. That’s exactly what happens to supermodel Gisele Bündchen in Under Armour’s ‘I Will What I Want’ video that launched last autumn. As Bündchen kicks and punches a large bag, real life social media comments, posted in response to her signing with Under Armour just days earlier, are projected on the walls around her, saying things like ‘stick to modeling sweetie’ and ‘she’s old’.

Compared to Under Armour’s other athletic stars including ballerina Misty Copeland and soccer star Kelley O’Hara, Bündchen may seem an odd choice. But as the company aims to increase its appeal to women, Bündchen helps bring a fresh perspective to the brand as it branches out further into the health and fitness space in addition to sports.

Creative director of Under Armour’s women’s business Leanne Fremar says that although Bündchen was an outsider pick, the company was looking for an amazing group of women to represent the brand for the ‘I Will What I Want’ campaign. Each had to be distinctive in their own right. “I really believe Gisele adds an incredible dimension to our women’s brand and is also someone that was absolutely right to tell this story,” she says.

And to help tell her story, Droga5 went beyond just the usual spot. In addition to the video, the agency created a web experience called ‘Will Beats Noise’ that shows a film of Bündchen working out as realtime social commentary streams in.

“Internally, there was a lot of discussion around creating something that really was going to live in the digital and social sphere and not be a traditional television spot or follow the playbook for a traditional sports campaign,” says Fremar. When it came to executing the ad, the film ended up a direct illustration of the campaign strategy, which is all about encouraging women to go after what they want without waiting for permission, advice, or affirmation from others, according to Droga5’s Felix Richter.

“It was really all based on the fact that in culture, there’s this huge debate on how to be today as a woman and there are all these contradicting pressures and opinions,” the creative director says. “It’s very hard for women to just be without having to constantly feel like they are not doing right by someone else’s standards.”

To illustrate that point, the creative team decided to juxtapose throwaway online comments against an actual human being exerting herself while she ignores the commentary around her. They used her status as a celebrity to amplify the contradictory opinions that are cast upon women everywhere – whether it’s being called too skinny, too old or too built.

“Where these opinions exist for every woman, for Gisele they are very visible because every day there are thousands of people that say something about her and tell her how to live her life,” Richter says.

“Most people know her as the supermodel character but she does a lot of other things. She is super athletic and the workouts she does are super tough. In addition to that she is a mom and a top business woman, so as a person she stands for the idea of somebody who doesn’t ask for permission and lives life on their own terms.”

Production company Active Theory worked closely with Droga5 and VFX company The Mill to create the appearance of comments on the walls surrounding Bündchen. For the film, The Mill went on set to map out the space and recreate it in a 3D environment. Once the comments were added in, they were angled to interact with the 3D walls.

Based upon that, Active Theory created an algorithm that could take comments from different websites, pull them in, vet them, and project them in real-time onto the site.

The creatives at Droga5 wanted the film to have an honest, raw feel to it. The inspiration behind the film initially came from ‘Through the Night Softly’, a piece of performance art from the 1970s created by Chris Burden, where the artist bought commercial time on a local TV channel and aired a short clip showing him with his hands bound behind his back as he crawls over glass. There is no music or additional effects.

“We thought that this sort of very neutral and very objective approach could fit conceptually and also be emotionally very powerful,” Richter explains. Since the film was all about juxtaposing the negative comments on the walls with Bündchen’s positive energy, he says the creative team didn’t want it to be skewed in anyone’s favour, which led them to choose a neutral execution with no lighting, music, cuts, or make-up.

Creative director Alexander Nowak was surprised that both Bündchen and the brand were pleased with the unorthodox idea.

“We thought that it would be amazing but we were actually really positively surprised that both the client and Gisele were excited about it because it is very different. It’s very unpolished,” he says. According to Nowak, Bündchen understood exactly what they were trying to achieve from the start and was easy to work with compared to other high-profile celebrities.

“Gisele was really, really amazing throughout the whole thing. She was completely up for having these harsh things about her projected in the room. She really pushed herself as well.”

While the ad has been successful in marketing and advertising circles (it recently won the Cyber Grand Prix award at Cannes Lions) what’s most important to Under Armour is that consumers have responded positively to the campaign and it has helped drive sales. According to Fremar, unaided awareness for the brand is actually higher now among women than men for the first time in the brand’s history.

This feature was first published in the 22 July issue of The Drum.

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