Special Report: Real People/September 2006
Real folk are a source for barbecue pointers
Byline: David Fulmer
With so much reality-based TV on the electronic landscape nowadays, standing out with an ad campaign featuring real people is no easy
task. One recipe for success came with a four-spot campaign for KC Masterpiece Barbecue sauce via Young & Rubicam, San Francisco,
and directed by Jeremy Warshaw of New York-based Maysles Shorts.
Slopping sauce over animal flesh and cooking it to hell and back is one of those pastimes that a majority of Americans can relate to, so it
would seem custom-made for the real people treatment. Stephen Creet, executive VP/chief creative officer at Young & Rubicam, San
Francisco, says the KC campaign was a major tightrope act from the beginning.
Prior to this recent outing, the parent company, Clorox, had kept a strictly bleached-white style in its previous commercials for KC
Masterpiece. "We approached them from the point of view that there wouldn't be any progress if we don't try something different," Creet
says. The creative team on the account - copywriter Steven Anacker and art director Scott Carelli - came up with some new ideas, all of
which were nixed.
Back at the drawing board, the creative team came up with a different concept: Real people spots that would feature masters of the grill
discussing their technique for great barbecue, while at the same time endorsing KC Masterpiece. "Our pitch was, if you're going to do spots
about barbecue, let's use real people who are passionate about it," Creet recalls. The response was more
positive, though the client by no means jumped on the bandwagon. "Their attitude seemed to be, 'Why not use scripted spots?' They
wanted a safety net, so we agreed to do both real people and scripted [spots] with actors."
Hesitation notwithstanding, Creet credits the client with having the courage to go into uncharted waters. "Their first big leap was to go
impromptu; the second was to allow us to cast people who were not 'Clorox' personalities, which means bland."
Every weekend chef with a silly apron and a can of beer fancies himself King of the Grill, but Y&R wanted to go further than that - they
wanted barbecue masters. So the agency turned to casting director Gabrielle Schary of Venice, Calif.-based Gabrielle Schary Casting, to
scour barbecue competitions and find those who not only cooked great barbecue but had personalities. They came up with over 60
The next step was finding the right director. The agency turned to Warshaw, a real people director who at the time directed spots via New
York-based the Observatory, which he founded and managed. (He is now with Maysles Shorts for spots and maintains The Observatory
for longform projects.)
Warshaw, who worked on the agency side before becoming a director, refers to real people spots as anti-commercials. "They're not
commercials. They're not slick. They're not filmed in a way that's so stylized you forget the product." That doesn't mean, he adds, that
you just let anyone babble away. "Americans love cameras," he says, "and a lot of them are looking for a little moment of fame." He says
this has led to some fairly moronic TV. "Those 'man-in-the-street' spots are nothing but on-camera market research."
The key to making effective real people spots, Warshaw says, is finding the right real people and then bringing the right technique to the
shoot and, more critically, the edit. He achieves this by spending a maximum amount of effort in preproduction. "I think it's the most
challenging form of filmmaking because you can't really pre-produce it, except to get to know the talent," he says. "What I try to do is to
get people to reveal themselves. It's spending time with them so eventually they forget the camera is there and let you into their lives."
It's not voodoo, he says, but a very specific style of documentary filmmaking. "I go for bare bones, one-on-one," he says. "Everyone
except the cameraman is out of the line of vision. Even the soundman goes once he's rigged his microphone. I have an earpiece so the client
or the creative director can communicate with me from behind some kind of screen, but that's all."
Still, the KC Masterpiece Barbecue case was a stretch, even for a seasoned pro like Warshaw. "We only had two days to film the four
characters, which meant we had a half-day for each one," he says. "There wasn't any possibility of doing little documentaries of the lives of
these people and incidentally revealing that they liked barbecue. And we couldn't go with interesting people who just happened to
barbecue. These people had to be experts."
The 60 candidates found by Schary were turned over to Warshaw, who interviewed them one by one, paring the field down to those he
wanted for the four spots. Each spot was named after its respective real person - "Herman," "Gary," "Rib Doctor" and "James." "We got
the Rib Doctor, who was like the academic and spoke with a great deal of authority. Herman was a Christian man who was very sweet and
Then there was the man featured in "James." His secret for great barbecue is in talking to the meat - telling it that it has to cook up "nice
and good" for him. "Most clients would have looked at this guy and said 'Forget it,'" says Warshaw. "He was overweight, barely articulate
and was not a good advertisement for a healthy lifestyle. But he was so genuine. You cannot script the kind of things he said. He's the one
who proved to be everyone's favorite."
The director recalls how, without any prompting, James went into his barbecuing technique, including how he talked to his meat. "It
became this stream-of-consciousness rap. This was the only time since I started shooting spots that I was laughing during an interview. It's
a cardinal sin, but I couldn't help it. He was singing. I just got out of the way. We could have made a half-hour film or five spots. He was a
real people director's dream. When you get people like that, you have to use them."
Creet says the client's doubts over James and its willingness to forgo them and trust the creative team was a turning point. "There were
some reservations about James, because of his size and because he was very much a character, but we convinced them that they needed a
character if the spots were going to resonate."
These anti-commercials seem to require anti-technique at every turn. As real as his characters were, it wasn't enough to point the camera
and wait. "We had to make it interesting visually," Warshaw says. "We shot in Super 16 for that sort of letter-boxed Western tone. It gave
us a slightly de-saturated, almost Clint Eastwood look. And we shot some on Super 8 for a home-movie feel."
The end result was a radical departure for Clorox, Creet says, but they liked it. "I think the clients were enlightened to some extent. They
had done testimonials before, but those were very safe and studied. In these spots the people were allowed to be themselves, and that's
what makes the campaign work."
COPYRIGHT 2006 BPI Communications, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group