The campaign was to support the “Back to School” effort for HP laptops. Everyone on the project agreed that the webseries for the HP brand shouldn't (and wouldn't!) be a weird QVC/Billy Mays type of thing. (RIP Billy. I miss your beard.) Brad Cohn from McCann SF came up with the show idea of Shaun and an X-Games version of Entourage. (But with WAY less Jeremy Piven. WAY LESS.) And from that, the webseries was born!
Shaun "Animal" White & Jason Farrand on set
Brad and Jason came up with about 20 statements of simple advice for kids going back to school like, “Always play to your strengths,” and “You can’t choose your own nickname.” (Shaun really can attest to that one...) With those themes, the episodes revolved around Shaun and his newly formed “entourage”-- a cast of comedy actors who played his friends, such as: the hot chick (of course), the adoring yet geeky super-fan, the wallflower, and the mooch (which is a staple in all entourages).
Like the TV show, Curb Your Enthusiasm or Jason’s series Head Case, a lot of the dialogue was improvised, but the story followed an outline so that the plot points wouldn't get lost amidst a sea of tangents. (Note to self: Sea of Tangents would be a great name of my next album… if I had a first album… dammit.) The team at McCann-SF and Jason gave each actor a very clear set of guidelines for their character as well as notes on their character's tonal angle. So together, as a group, they organically built each characters' relationship with Shaun.
Fact: This process might make a client who’s used to scripts and storyboards a tad bit nervous! But HP trusted Jason and their agency partners at McCann and away they went! With only a day and a half to shoot, they came away with 13 episodes between 90 seconds and 3 minutes apiece. (Had the website not needed to launch 3 weeks after the shoot, there would have been more… but a baker’s dozen isn’t so bad.)
Everything was shot on the RED CAM since Jason believes it catches “the funny” better than any other camera. Shooting with multiple RED CAMs per scene (super duper cheaper than traditional film cameras) allowed them to get an amazing amount of coverage. They didn’t have to pause to change film mags in the middle of brilliant takes, and being able to capture multiple angles at one time is key. It’s not so much fun to repeat a perfectly improvised line 14 times. It tends to lose its magic a bit. (Ask any politician, they'll back me up.) And it helps that the RED makes things look good, too.
The HP website that hosted the series was skinned with simple navigation to the HP laptops that were on sale and targeting for this audience. The videos themselves didn’t have to do any heavy lifting in the sales department. Nobody wanted the viewer to walk away doing their best Ralphie impersonation from A Christmas Story as he sat next to the toilet with his Orphan Annie decoder pin, “A crummy commercial?!” Its hard to walk that line between entertainment and commercials… and sometimes you just need to dive head first into the entertainment and trust that will bring the buyers to the site, and the commerce bit can work on its own just being a click away. And not to toot our own horn but TOOT TOOT--it worked out for HP as they had record sales from visitors to this site.
An added bonus to this story is that the webisodes also were posted on YouTube, and 400,000 people viewed the first posting of spots in the first few days! They made a little history by being the first HD BROADCAST of a video on YouTube by an advertising client...and the first time an advertiser had taken the home page of YouTube to display content. This is now common practice but it was cool to be the first to implement this practice. (I’d say, “Neener neener!” but that’s not terribly professional.)
In support of Shaun’s road to the Olympics, Aero is bringing you these videos back by popular demand! Click here to watch the first quick installment! And check back as we roll out new episodes every other day until the opening ceremony in Vancouver!