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Telling the small but powerful story of a Starbucks table | #BehindTheIdea

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Iris recently launched its latest integrated brand campaign for Starbucks UK. “Every Table Has a Story” aims to reinstate Starbucks as an inclusive and inspiring ‘Third Place’ where all are welcome to work, reset, connect and further their passions.

As the nation embraces newfound flexibility, there has been a renaissance in working from coffee shops. For younger generations whose career prospects have been hit the hardest in the wake of the pandemic, providing space for them to forge their own path is particularly important. Born of a pioneering spirit, Starbucks wanted to celebrate the journeys of enterprising individuals who were already furthering their passions at Starbucks.

The campaign, which brings to a close the 5-year partnership between Iris and Starbucks UK, centres around a hero film, shot on 16mm film in the same ‘world’ as Starbucks’ previous award-winning campaign, “What’s Your Name?” It shows a year in the life of Kay - an inspiring creative entrepreneur as she weathers the lows and highs of making it on her own, all from the same table at Starbucks.

To discuss how Starbucks and Iris worked together to inspire and nurture the human spirit, one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time, we caught up with Eli Vasiliou, Group Creative Director at Iris.

What was the brief?

During lockdown, coffee shops became ghost towns. Once the pandemic-fog lifted, we wanted to reinstate Starbucks as an inclusive and inspiring ‘Third Place’ where everyone can come to work, chill out and connect with people.

How did the initial pitch/brainstorming phase go?

We knew this had to be a very individual story. We wanted to create something in the same ‘world’ as our previous ad, ‘What’s Your Name?’, so our starting point was diving in to find a truth about the way people genuinely use Starbucks as a safe and inspiring space.

What was the process behind ideating the concept?

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Coming out of lockdown, our creative team Hector & Isabel were themselves spending time working from their local Starbucks. Naturally, that involves a lot of people-watching and they noticed some of the same characters sitting at the same tables, day after day.

Curious about these people, they came to the realisation that although each one of them had their own life story, as onlookers they only ever caught snippets of it. What if you could observe that person at that table day after day, month after month? That was the genesis of the idea.

What was the production process like?

We knew that we wanted to work with director Nick Davies and Sweetshop early doors, so we had the luxury of a decent amount of time before the shoot for collaboration.  The ad’s success relied on a strong and authentic performance from our lead, so casting was a big deal. We didn’t necessarily want an actor.

We wanted to find someone who could bring some of themselves to the part, and that can take time. Then we got a message from Nick – “I’ve found her”. We knew who he meant from the first seconds of her tape. Once we had Kay on board as our hero, she was so exciting and charming, we built the story around her.

She’s an artist and creative in real life, so we worked with her to bring elements of her background and work to the production, like her jewellery designs and her artwork. The whole process was a big happy team effort and we honestly loved every minute of it.

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

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The most demanding element of production may have been capturing twelve months of weather, lighting and wardrobe in a two day shoot. Props go to the props and wardrobe team, and to the DOP and crew for transforming the store from spring through to Red Cup Season and back again.

In the extended version of the ad, Kay goes through 18 outfit changes in 90 seconds, each one carefully curated to reflect the stage in her journey, and her emotional state. It’s this attention to detail which makes all the difference.

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

We wanted a cinematic feel to the ad, so it was shot on 16mm. This comes with its own challenges – and costs! – but I believe it freed up the creative process on-set. Because we agency and client people hanging around the set’s periphery don’t get the same level of monitoring and playback as we would shooting digitally, there’s less opportunity for us to fiddle with things like framing every shot exactly as we’d like it.

You put your trust in the director and let them get on with it. Funnily enough, that’s a good thing to do. 

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

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We had some unusual and ‘over-enthusiastic’ performances from one or two of the background artists. Luckily our eagle-eyed team viewing remotely spotted it and we were able to tweak them out of the scene before we ran through too many feet of film. Made for some interesting out-takes that remain exclusive to our WhatsApp production group.

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

What I love about this project is that it’s a big story, gently told. Our approach – cinematic, and using the brand as a backdrop, rather than the hero – is resonating with our target audience. We’ve got 60 seconds of their attention, max. Let’s use it to them feel a little something.

How long did it take from inception to delivery?

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From end to end, the ad was around four months in the making. The rest of the campaign – which includes video ‘portraits’ of real life Starbucks entrepreneurs – took us a little longer to get in the can.

Launching in a couple of weeks, they give the campaign extra realism and depth, as they tell the true stories of people using their local Starbucks as a launchpad for business success – from barista Ibby’s second life as a logo designer to the stars, to activist Kate’s journey from recluse to dance-school hero.  They’re sweet and real and they add so much to the brand story.

What do you hope it achieves for the brand?

Starbucks has always been a warm and inclusive ‘third place’ for its customers. At Iris, we’ve always aimed to put authenticity and emotion at the heart of this message. As our last campaign for Starbucks, we hope ‘Every Table’ lets us go out on a high, leaving behind brand-transforming work as our legacy.

Credit list for the work?

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Client: Starbucks UK

Advertising Agency: Iris

Group Creative Director: Eli Vasiliou

Creatives: Isabel Albarran, Hector Ojea Pereiro

Strategy Director: Florence Evans

Group Account Director: Charlotte Coombes

Senior Account Manager: Laura Wills

Executive Producer: Michael Hanney

Agency Producer: James Plaxton

Integrated Producer: Rosie Nolan

Production Company: Sweetshop Films

Director: Nick Davies

Editor: Billy Mead

Post prod Producer: Barny Wright

Post-production: No.8

Audio post-production: No.8 / Sam Robson

Grade: Time Based Arts / Simone Grattarola

Media Company: Havas Media

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