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Giving Optimus Prime a day off from saving the universe | #BehindTheIdea

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While the later, Mark Whalberg fronted Michael Bay films might have started to sour the public’s relationship with the Transformers, their lasting widespread appeal can’t be denied, particularly among the millennials who grew up with them. So, any new TV spot featuring the roots in disguise is always going to be met with enthusiasm, particularly when the iconic Autobot’s leader Optimus Prime is involved.

The latest spot for Direct Line by Saatchi & Saatchi is a very on-brand lighthearted piece that gives Optimus some time off from saving the universe. The venerable leader of the Autobots arrives at the scene of a car accident to help, only to find that Direct Line already has the situation covered. He’s reluctant to stand down from his duties, but once he realises Direct Line has it covered better than he ever could, he takes some time off to enjoy beach volleyball, sightseeing, and a spa treatment. 

This is the fourth film in the ‘We’re On It’ brand platform, which sees legendary characters from popular culture turn up to save the day, only to find that Direct Line is already in charge. To go deeper on the spot and the campaign behind it we spoke to Mia Silverman, Senior Creative at Saatchi & Saatchi UK.

What was the brief?

The launch of the creative platform ‘We’re On It’ did an excellent job of demonstrating that no one beats Direct Line – not even super heroes. Our brief was to evolve the campaign and tell the next part of the story, whilst ensuring we kept the brand message and role of Direct Line at the heart of the spot.

How did the initial pitch/brainstorming phase go?

Now we had established these heroes aren’t needed when it comes to insurance problems, it kind of left them with a lot of free time. After all, what are they to do when they aren’t saving the world? This was really fun for us, as it allowed us to explore taking these characters outside their usual environment and think about what they would do with some well-deserved time off.

What was the process behind ideating the concept?

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Optimus Prime not only is a legendary hero, but he can become a truck. So once we had our ‘time off’ concept, it felt natural to me to take him on a road trip. To bring warmth and humour, I wanted to give him a friend, so along came his hitchhiker companion…luckily they hit it off.

What was the production process like?

It was a real joy from start to finish. The director of the spot, Finn Keenan through Riff Raff, brought so much fun and humour to the script, and we worked closely with our partners at HASBRO to ensure we kept the spirit of Optimus Prime’s character. And a special shout out to our EP Sam Robinson, who was brilliant as always.

What was the biggest challenge during production? How did you overcome it?

For me, it was difficult at times to imagine what a 28ft Autobot would look like in the scenes when we were filming, as essentially what we had on set was a ball on a giant stick! But thankfully we had the incredible team at the Mill working closely with Finn and the DOP Jess Hall throughout, and the big ball finally turned into our epic movie star.

What kit/tools/software were used to create the project?

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Fabian Franks and Alex Lovejoy at The Mill had an AR app with them on set, which projected a pre-vis of Optimus Prime into our scenes. We also had a stand in truck, which could be modelled off for the final CGI. This was so helpful as it enabled us to envisage and understand the scale of the character in relation to us tiny humans. Our partners at Strings and Tins also did an insane job on the SFX, which really helped make Optimus Prime sound properly epic.

What is one funny or notable thing that happened during production?

Our actor who played the hitchhiker, Paul F Taylor is a stand-up comedian, so we did a lot of improv on set which led to us creating extra content that wasn’t scripted, from sketches about Optimus Prime being buried in sand, to gags about giant dressing gowns. It was fun. Oh, and we don’t actually know where Optimus Prime left his mittens.

What’s the main message of this project and why does it matter?

We want our audience to know that whatever happens, you can be assured Direct Line have you covered. Without that assurance… maybe you would still need a Cybertronian to save the day.

How long did it take from inception to delivery?

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We landed on the ‘time off’ concept in the summer, but continued to explore lots of characters and stories within that platform for a few more months. Once we secured the plane tickets for Optimus Prime, the production process took around 3 months.

What do you hope it achieves for the brand?

Craft and creativity have always been central to effectiveness for Direct Line, so it’s important to us that our work continues to perform well, whilst creating entertaining blockbuster ads everyone can enjoy. And of course, I hope it lands our ‘No one solves problems like Direct Line’ platform bigger and better than ever before!

Credit list for the work?

CAMPAIGN TITLE: We’re On It

CLIENT: Direct Line

ADVERTISING AGENCY: Saatchi & Saatchi

CSO: Richard Huntington

CCO: Guillermo Vega

EXECUTIVE CREATIVE DIRECTOR: Franki Goodwin

SENIOR CREATIVE: Mia Silverman

DESIGNER: Natalie Alves

PLANNER: Rui Ferreira / James Mitchell

BUSINESS LEAD: Alice Flanagan

ACCOUNT DIRECTOR: Isaac Hickinbottom

ACCOUNT MANAGER: Rebecca Snaith 

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: Sam Robinson 

PRODUCTION COMPANY: Riff Raff Films 

DIRECTOR: Finn Keenan 

PRODUCER: Jane Tredget 

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: Matthew Clyde 

DOP: Jess Hall

1st AD: Julian Richards

EDITOR: Sam Bould @ Final Cut 

POST-PRODUCTION COMPANY: The Mill 

POST PRODUCTION VFX LEADS: Fabian Frank & Alex Lovejoy 

PRODUCTION COMPANY PRODUCER: Ryan Hancocks 

AUDIO POST-PRODUCTION COMPANY: Adam Smyth @ String & Tins 

LICENSING: Born Licensing

MEDIA AGENCY: Mediacom

MEDIA PLANNER: Robbie Coakley & Emily Rodie

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