‘It’s a Tide Ad’ director on crafting the perfect pastiche, David Harbour & Super Bowl deadlines
Directing the Super Bowl ad to satirise all Super Bowl ads took restraint in both scripting and shooting to guarantee maximum comic effect across the world. The talent behind the camera explains to The Drum how they made the blazing self-awareness of ‘It’s a Tide Ad’ work.
'It's a Tide Ad' by Saatchi & Saatchi New York
Traktor is a Scandinavian filmmaking collective that began collaborating on directorial projects in the 1990s. Since then they have always requested to be referenced under that name, regardless of who in the group did what on which project, much like Mother’s credit lists comprise just one staffer: Mother.
The mystery as to who Traktor really are may add a layer of allure for advertisers but proves frustrating for journalists, particularly those with a style guide of full name first, surname thereafter to adhere to. Nevertheless, The Drum interviewed one of Traktor’s directors – and we can’t say who – the day before it was announced that ‘It’s a Tide Ad’ had won a swathe of biggies at Cannes Lions, including the Grand Prix for Film and Gold for Titanium.
Tide’s Super Bowl campaign, which comprises several shorts that each spoof a sector-specific advertising stereotype, was a welcome return to comedy at a purpose-heavy Cannes. The premise from Saatchi & Saatchi New York was simple: get Stranger Things’ David Harbour to hijack the creative of other Super Bowl commercials, all of which could be spun as ads for the P&G laundry brand because all featured stain-free clothing.
Traktor had previously directed Tide’s 2017 Super Bowl ad and was directly invited to get behind the 2018 edition. Yet it wasn’t a repeat project the team took on reluctantly.
“It was a phenomenal idea,” said Traktor. “It was very brave, and very daring for such a big brand to say, ‘we’re going to hijack the Super Bowl’. It was one of those ideas that makes you leave everything else and commit to it.”
The core idea was strong enough to have formed pretty much entirely before it landed in Traktor’s inbox, although some scenes were changed and shifted throughout pre-production. As a number of scenes, or “programmes” as Traktor calls them, were played in separate commercial breaks the order they appeared in had to be perfect (P&G bought one 45-second spot and three 15-second spots). The pastiche of a smooth, sunset-lit auto ad was selected to lead, for instance, as it “was probably the easiest” stereotype for people to latch onto.
The fast-moving nature of the script meant each scene had to look entirely distinct in order to quickly convey satire. This was job handled by Dunkirk cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, who made sure the insurance ad spoof was ever-so-slightly overexposed, and the luxury jewellery parody softened within an inch of its life. He also made sure the soft beverage skit featured the saturated, handheld camera work reminiscent of Coca-Cola’s ‘Taste the Feeling’, and utilised the minimal, one-shot treatment to nail the quippy humour of home tech brands
“I think we tried to cover as many [stereotypes] as we possibly could,” said Traktor. “But when you really want to do something good you sometimes overshoot – I think you should just keep calm and protect the idea.” It helped that a number of the brand films parodied, such as those from Old Spice and Mr Clean, are P&G bedfellows, allowing Tide to lift certain footage verbatim.
But while the Super Bowl is now a global property, Traktor was briefed to ultimately focus on the US and the commercial parodies an American would understand best.
“I think we tried to stay clear of the obvious mishaps or pitfalls, meaning that if you reference something that’s happening so locally it might be over before the spot has aired, or you might have 40 or so people getting the reference but no-one else,” Traktor explained. “It had to work in America, during that time period, during the Super Bowl.
“Looking back on it, I don’t think it is too referential.”
Traktor, Saatchi and P&G essentially had to produce 15 mini films across four days. This meant all teams were required “to be light on their feet”, recalled Traktor, because “with the Super Bowl you can’t say, ‘oh we missed the deadline, we’ll just push it back a bit’.” A desire to tighten the script as far as possible meant Traktor and Saatchis were rewriting up until the shoot and even editing while the cameras were rolling.
The professionalism of David Harbour was also key to getting the spots ready in such a short space of time (the brief rolled in just before Christmas and the Super Bowl took place in February). The actor was selected for having just the right amount of exposure: his face is one that younger viewers will know, but it has yet to have been plastered across multiple advertising campaigns. Traktor remembered thinking he was “a genuine guy” in initial meetings.
“Even his Stranger Things character has comedic moments,” they said. “You could tell [from the show] that there’s a cheeky character down there – and there was. He played along really well.”
Traktor also headed to Cannes with another spoof campaign – ‘Worst Song in the World’ for French supermarket Monoprix. It may not have picked up the same amount of silverware (it picked up two accolades in Social & Influencer), but when billed alongside ‘It’s a Tide Ad’ the tribute to terrible 1980s glam rock surely cements Traktor as the kings (or queens) of pastiche. What’s their secret?
“You have to play with stereotype but make it better,” they said. “It all comes down to the idea – there’s nothing fun about stereotypes or clichés if you don’t have a spin on it. There’s no point of mimicking something for the sake of it.”
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