James Gebler: Head Writer for Global Accounts — CLM BBDO
In a few words, tell us about your role in the creation of "Faint 2: A Very Yellow Sequel"
I am the Writer, I came up with the concept and wrote the script along with my Art Director Ben Davidson.
What was the original brief for this campaign?
To come up with replacement for the long running (21 years!) ‘Faint’ Christmas ad. The original was filmed in NTSC 4:3 so it wasn’t ideal for modern digital broadcasting anymore.
What inspired you to approach the campaign this way?
The original ‘Faint’ is one of the most perfect M&Ms 15sec spots ever made. It has just the right mix of pacing, humour and twist, all in that tiny, efficient package. But when we were watching it again we suddenly realised that it is the only the start of a story. It’s Christmas Eve, Santa is unconscious, so is Red and the only person who knows is… Yellow. It was one of those “How did no one notice that?!” moments. That premise inspired a lot of ideas around what could happen if the only person who could save Christmas was Yellow so we followed it from there.
How difficult was it to sell the idea to M&M's?
Selling the idea? Not difficult at all. Selling the scale at which we wanted to do it? Much harder. When we explained that the original ‘Faint’ was an unfinished story and we wanted to show the rest of that night, our client, Wendie Rosing, instantly lit up. You could see the realisation in her face ‘Oh yeah!’ and we got the same reactions from each level in the hierarchy. But our brief was just to come up with a new 15 or 20 sec spot which meant the first budget wouldn’t allow for such a big story. So, to their credit, the client loved the idea so much that they raided every couch cushion, begged each local marketing team across the world and eventually got a coalition of countries together to contribute and make it happen. It was very gratifying to see such a group effort from so many of the M&M offices to try to make it happen.
What was the biggest challenge you faced during the process?
Christmas is so different around the world! Did you know that people in France don’t know who Rudolph is? That blew my mind. I’m Australian so we have a very English/American view of Christmas. There is so many Christmas tropes and traditions that you assume some things are universal. We were making an ad for every nation that contributed so we had to make sure it worked across all cultures. We also had to get a script that could have been a feature film and scale it down to a realistic time and budget.
What did you learn from the experience?
I can do a killer impression of ‘Yellow’. We performed the scripts so many times for different stakeholders and for different drafts that I’m fairly sure I can take over if J.K. Simmons ever wants to give up the role… My Red impression on the other hand, sounds like Gilbert Gottfried on helium.
What’s a “behind the scenes” story that only you know about?
Santa can’t do situps. For the scene where Santa wakes up, we really wanted him to ‘pop’ up into frame. The wonderful Ray Gardner (Yes that Ray Gardner from the classic Blackcurrant Tango ad (C’mon Sebastian!)) allowed me to lie underneath him and ‘bench press’ him into position over and again until we got it right. Ray also has a black belt in martial arts, so one day I can tell my kids that I bench pressed Santa and that they’d better behave because Santa knows Kung Fu.
What do you think the advertising industry's New Year’s resolution should be?
Ads are an emotional journey not a logical one. Let’s stop trying to explain things and focus on trying to feel things.
What is your favorite holiday campaign of all time?
That John Lewis Penguin gets me every time. But ‘The Long Wait’ has perhaps the best payoff of any Christmas ad ever made.