It was one of those moments when everyone was talking about “that” video. You’ve almost certainly seen it: the rock band OK Go performing their song “Upside Down and Inside Out” in zero gravity. No special effects – the band actually did everything you see on the screen, thanks to a very special aeroplane and S7 Airlines.
Because that’s another thing about the video: it’s also a piece of branded content, made possible by the Siberian airline and the Russian agency TutkovBudkov in Volgograd. Agency creative and co-founder Dmitry Tutkov (known to all as Dima) recounts the tale.
“S7 Airlines is one of the largest Russian airlines, and their attitude to advertising and marketing has always been rooted in a creative approach,” he says. “They celebrate human spirit and optimism; in fact their tagline is ‘Chase Happiness’.”
The agency had been working with S7 in print and digital for three years, but Dima was yearning to make a great film for the brand. “Last year they told us, ‘You’ll have your chance if you can come up with something really astonishing.’ The brief was to show how S7 encourages people to chase their dream and reach new heights.”
Dima proposed a music video shot inside a plane. The client rejected it. “They told us we were thinking along the right lines, but they wanted more of a ‘wow’ factor.’
OK Go came into the picture because a previous film by the band “inspired” Apple’s video for its iPhone 6 launch. OK Go weren’t too happy about it, especially since Apple had declined to work with them on the original project, but it showed that their work had commercial possibilities.
“We were already fans of the band, so we literally just sent them an email asking if they’d be interested in shooting a video on a plane. They replied saying, ‘This could work – we’ve been thinking of doing something in zero gravity.’ They thought it was the perfect fit for an airline.”
Later, the band's lead singer Damian Kulash admitted he was sceptical when he first saw the agency's mail.
The deal was sealed when S7 met Damian at the Cannes Lions festival in June 2015, where he was giving a talk about branded content. Damian co-directs the band’s painstakingly choreographed videos alongside his sister, Trish Sie.
After that, the plan came together. “We took on the role of executive producer,” says Dima. “In Russia there is a space agency called Roscosmos, which is more or less the equivalent of NASA. Through our connections with them we were able to negotiate a one-of-a-kind commercial project.”
The agency’s Ilyushin 11-76 “reduced gravity aircraft”, which uses a parabolic flight path to create zero gravity for cosmonaut training, is typically used only ten times a year. For the video, it would be used 21 times over three weeks. The first week was reserved for training, but by the second week the band had begun to plan out the choreography of the video and the objects they would use. They were also accompanied by a pair of acrobats dressed as S7 cabin crew.
Each flight took 45 minutes, with eight periods of zero gravity lasting 27 seconds. So the band broke their song down into segments, returning to a seated position every time gravity kicked in. Then they edited the zero gravity scenes together to create a seamless video. They were determined to shoot the video in a single take – in other words, on a single flight. They finally got a take they were happy with on their last, 21st flight.
Dima accompanied the band on an early flight and ensured that the plane sported the right S7 branding.
“It occurred to me that the plane’s interior should look like the latest S7 design. We were shooting in October 2015, and at that point the rebranding had not been completed, but we knew that when the video came out, in February, it should depict the 2016 cabin design. So we added a lot of nuances, like the green circles on the seats.”
Another subtle reference was the S7 inflight magazine read by bassist Tim Nordwind. The cover was shot during rehearsals and later became the actual cover of the magazine’s February issue. It also became a social media star as readers wanted to pose with it.
A RISKY BUSINESS
Despite the fluid look of the video, the shoot was not problem-free. Almost everyone was sick at some point. Kulash passed out on one occasion. Most clients would have baulked at such a risky project, but not S7.
“They’re crazy Russians,” Dima jokes. “Plus, they’re from Siberia. Born out of snows and wind. They were brave to take on this challenge, because despite the risks we had no way of knowing if it would turn out to be great. But they never tried to influence the creative direction of the film. Even then, we only got the perfect take on the 21st flight – it happened because the 20th flight was abandoned for technical reasons, and we wanted to ensure we had enough footage.”
Once the video was ready, the agency and the band chose to release it on Facebook first. “Logically we should have released it on YouTube, because that’s what everyone does,” says Dima. “But we needed to make it viral. The solution was Facebook, because on YouTube you can’t share very easily – you have to copy a link. On Facebook, you just click ‘share’. So the Facebook model is ideal for viral videos. From this experience we realised that videos get traction much more quickly on social media than on a video hosting website.”
Having been teased on the Rolling Stone and Nerdist sites, the video garnered 25 million views in the first 24 hours after its launch. The video also premiered on Good Morning America – the first of more than 500 media outlets to covert the story. Thanks to Facebook, a behind-the-scenes report was placed on Instagram.
As the case film suggests, the video was as effective as it was spectacular. Since spring last year, when the video was released, S7’s passenger numbers have increased by 50%. Despite the fact that, on a scheduled S7 flight, gravity remains fully operational.
By Mark Tungate, editorial director, Epica