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Making Commercials: Episodic Advertising

 By Michael Fickes

“Daybreak” is an entirely new approach to brand advertising. At key moments in the episodes, or “webisodes,” an AT&T product helps a character move the plot forward.

“Daybreak” is a five-episode commercial for AT&T. Each episode averages 10 minutes, making the entire commercial 50 minutes long. Created by BBDO of New York and Tim Kring, a television producer whose credits include Heroes, Crossing Jordan and the recent Fox hit Touch, the commercial is an action-adventure thriller that never mentions AT&T.

The characters use AT&T products to get information, scramble and unscramble messages, find messages hidden at certain locations, and translate foreign languages. In the series, Ben Wilkins searches for a dodecahedron (dō-ˌde-kə-ˈhē-drən), an energy source that supports life. His goal is to return it to its rightful place. Murderous thieves are after the dodecahedron, too. For action-adventure fans, it is a great story told with great production values.

See the series at www.daybreak2012.com or YouTube, where the program has a dedicated channel that had attracted nearly 300,000 hits as of mid-July.

AT&T bought teaser spots on the last three episodes of Touch to drive viewers to the “Daybreak” website. The teasers connect the dodecahedron theme that appears in the Touch episodes to “Daybreak.”

“Where Touch’s first season ends, ‘Daybreak’s’ begins,” says Roy Elvove, executive vice president and director, worldwide communications for BBDO. “The five-episodes of ‘Daybreak’ dovetail into season two of Touch.”

Television Plus Commercial Production

The production and post-production teams include professionals from the television and commercial worlds. “David Carter, a senior creative director with BBDO, created the concept,” says David Henegar, co-founder of BUTCHER Editorial in Santa Monica, Calif.

Carter envisioned a television pilot that used AT&T technology, not as product placements but as part of the plot, continues Henegar, a commercial editor who co-edited “Daybreak.” When BBDO brought Tim Kring on board as producer, he arranged for Raven Metzner, an experienced television writer and producer, to work with Carter on the screenplay.

Kring also brought in RSA Films with Touch Cinematographer Curtis Wehr and 24 Director Jon Cassar. “It was a fast 14-day shoot, very different from advertising and feature shoots,” says Henegar. “Commercial and feature scenes need many takes, but television only has time for a few. The crews are very efficient.”

Henegar and Ray Daniels, who was between seasons of Person of Interest (CBS), shared the editing. Henegar edited the trailer, the teasers and episodes 2 and 4, while Daniels took care of episodes 1, 3, and 5. They reviewed each other’s work to make sure the styles matched.

Henegar enjoyed the break from 30-second commercials. “It was freeing to hold on shots and to draw out the tension,” he says.
BUTCHER also composited screen replacements on the phones and tablets using Smoke, and handled the final conform and clean up. Zoic Studios (Los Angeles and Vancouver) created graphical opening titles, blood squibs exploding on shirts, and three-dimensional effects.

“Daybreak” is an entirely new approach to brand advertising. At key moments in the episodes, or “webisodes,” an AT&T product helps a character move the plot forward.

“The big effects involved scenes where Ben holds the dodecahedron, which causes him to see visions of different possible futures,” says Simon Mowbray, Zoic’s creative director.

In the show, viewers see the alternate reality on screen. To let us know it isn’t yet real, fast flash cuts in the vision show Ben holding the dodecahedron. “We applied a color palette and sweeping lights that are made of spinning dodecahedrons in those scenes with Ben,” Mowbray says. “A theme in the show is that dodecahedron is a fundamental, natural shape. We used the shape in our work to support the theme.”
You can see the effect most clearly in the final scene when the dodecahedron explodes into the sky. “We animated the explosion with dodecahedron shapes and particle gas effects,” says Mowbray.

For years, marketers have experimented with Internet advertising. This is the latest idea: television drama with a commercial message communicated as part of the drama. It’s a compelling idea. If it catches on, it could grow into a new category of work for the commercial post-production world.

October 27, 2012