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'I originally had Nike in mind': Meet the student behind that powerful Adidas ad that's courting attention from WPP and Droga5

Over the weekend a German film student was propelled to adland fame when an imaginary campaign he created for Adidas as part of a class project went viral.

Eugen Merher, who studies at Baden-Württemberg Film Academy, has racked up 8.6m views on YouTube and counting with his powerful film, 'Break Free', which tells the story of an elderly athlete who rediscovers his passion for running.

The campaign builds to an emotional John Lewis-esque ending which has captured the hearts of people across the world. And while Adidas has yet to publicly comment, Merher has revealed to The Drum that several of the brand's marketing team have contacted him individually.

The ad has also not gone unnoticed by some of the world's best and brightest creative agencies, with the student saying that networks like WPP have reached out to him after watching the spot.

The Drum caught up with the 25-year-old to find out more about the inspiration for the ad, his whirlwind week and what he has planned for the future.

Can you give me a bit of background into the project, why did you choose to make an ad for Adidas?

At first I had Nike in my mind. Well, technically first I had the story of an old man breaking out of a retirement home and I was looking for a shoe brand that would fit, so I checked out some forums online and dug into which brands represented marathon and Olympic runners.

I wanted it to be based in the 70s and I found that Nike didn’t have the real marathon outfits back then, also Adidas is more of a traditional German brand and they were also involved in the Olympics at the time too so they were the best fit out of all the shoe brands.

How did you come up with the theme and the ‘Break Free’ strapline?

The inspiration came from a distant relative who passed away last year but he was 80-years-old and still so young at heart. I remember when I was a kid I would take photos of him because he had such a cool smile – it sounds cheesy but he really did. I used him as inspiration another one of my class projects, a Nivea commercial where a grandfather gives a spaceship to his kid.

I also did an interview at a nursing home when I was still studying at my old university so it all came together that way.

Some people have said that it’s a rip off of this German movie which basically covers the exact same plot. It’s a feature film so it’s already a different format but I hadn’t seen the film before making the commercial. It wasn’t even an inspiration because I hadn’t a clue this film existed. Some guy that was producing our ad told us about it but we just kept going and didn’t watch it until production so we didn’t subconsciously copy it or anything.

Were there any delays in getting the ad live?

So basically, we finished the ad last year but we changed up the music in December. The [original] music we had on it was good but different. Then we got a tip from a production company from Munich, from a man who told us: ‘Hey guys, change up the music and the spot is going to be much better and much more emotional.’

Then I sat down with my composer, Alex David, and we composed it again putting an entirely different catch on it to make it more emotive.

When did you realise it had caught fire online?

I posted it three weeks ago and nothing much happened – a few German magazines wrote about it and I didn’t expect much more. Then about one week ago when I was on my way to my cousin’s wedding I saw that Ads of the World posted it online and then suddenly I found on Facebook that lots of French pages had uploaded it as an official Adidas ad – it received 50,000 views and hundreds of comments and shares and I was like: ‘What’s going on? What the hell?'

After that I wrote to them to explain it was a student ad and it was not really for Adidas, then I got an email from the Huffington Post about five days ago and they were asking me about why Adidas rejected it and I told them I had sent it to them but they weren’t really interested.

For me it was a big deal because we do these fake commercials here all the time so you don’t really expect them to be sold – you just do them for your showreel, but then it suddenly blew up.

After Huffington Post covered it received millions and millions of views and all the major newspapers were sending me emails about interviews.

What was the initial response from Adidas when you sent them the ad?

Well before we made it we sent its team the concept and asked whether they would support us through sponsorship because it was still extremely low budget. We just thought it would be cool if we could get a couple of thousand from Adidas to pay for hotels and stuff for the actors but we had to pay it ourselves in the end. They rejected it because they said they get so emails like that and they already have agencies who take care of their creative content.

When we were finished we sent it to the team again and they reacted in a similar manner.

Have they been in touch since the spot has gone viral?

I’ve still got to reply… but I have received a bunch of emails from Adidas. They’re all from different departments, rather than it being a unified type of way. I just have to check them out and reply.

What about creative agencies, have you had job offers from them?

Most of the mail I’ve received has been from production companies and talent management – especially from the US.

I also got some mail from agencies, from Adam&Eve in the UK, Droga5 from New York, VML and WPP also, but it’s more offers to get to know each other which is pretty cool.

And what do you see yourself doing in the future, do you want to continue making ads?

I definitely want to make a feature film but if I’m not experienced enough that’s going to be too risky so I want to get better at film making in general. So I want to keep making commercials because I think it helps you find your style, but I’m not into a specific brand or anything I just want to make good film. For me that’s the main goal.

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