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    Yes, you read that correctly: Adult Swim is making the rounds with a gigantic black-and-pink blow-up castle filled with (sponsored) attractions like a KFC-branded rotating mirror-tunnel, an Ice Breakers cage in which participants are required to sing for their freedom and sundry other extremely weird attractions.

    We saw this nonsense last summer at San Diego Comic Con, and it's a good time. I don't remember the Tippy Tunnel, but then again, I don't remember much about the experience generally, and have only a T-shirt to prove I was there. Yes, the T-shirts will be a feature of the revitalized Fun House, too.

    From February to May, the castle will tour colleges around the U.S., notably U.C. Riverside, Texas A&M, Auburn and some others—10 schools over 12 weeks, in all.

    It's an unorthodox ad buy, to put it mildly, but KFC and Hershey (which makes Ice Breakers) are getting spots on the network as part of their sponsorship of the various dizzy-making attractions. Those spots will also promote awareness of the Fun House on air, beginning Feb. 24 on Adult Swim.

    2013 was a great year for the network—it came in second among 18-34-year-old viewers in prime time (to sister net TBS), despite not actually airing between 8 and 9 p.m. That's set to change in March, and with new airtime coming up, it's important to make sure Adult Swim's core audience is aware of the new time schedule.

    Not that they have to take advice from me, but they're going to want to get something really big to promote that. Something that catches the eye.

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    Thanks to the country's anti-gay laws, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia have turned into a de facto platform for LGBT marketing. Earlier, we had the Canadian ad that said the two-man luge is "a little gay." Now, we have this crazy spot from Norwegian sports apparel retailer XXL.

    It's an over-the-top, absurd blockbuster of an ad, with overly slick visuals, overly cheesy music and a "twist" ending you could spot from Moscow. And yet … somehow you have to love it. Its heart is generally in the right place, even if it plays out like a male fantasy. (And no, they probably wouldn't do the same ad with two men at the end.)

    The ad premiered during Norway's broadcast of the Opening Ceremony last week.

    Client: XXL

    Agency: Schjærven Reklamebyrå
    Account Director: Ole Marius Simonsen
    Creatives: Jon Erik Skiælder, John Draleke
    Agency Producer: Gard Andreassen

    Production Company: Camp David, Stockholm
    Producer: Kalle Wessblad
    Directors: Bjørn Stein, Måns Mårlind

    Location: Lleida Airport, Spain
    Filming: Dec. 15-18, 2013
    Line Producer: Dominic Bolus, Widescope Productions
    Postproduction: The Chimney Pot, Stockholm

    Music: Tommy Tysper

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    It's Feb. 11. You know what that means? There are only three days left until Valentine's Day! Oh, and it also means you'd better have solid dinner plans for Friday night, because all the good reservations filled up months ago.

    But what if, between the Super Bowl and the Olympics and constantly shoveling snow, you forgot to make plans?

    Heineken has you covered, thanks to a new social-media campaign devised by Wieden + Kennedy in New York. All this week, you can tweet at @Heineken_US to request a #DateInABox—which is an actually red, glittery vault containing a certificate for a prearranged date for two. (Examples include "a jujitsu lesson for two, couples' tattoos and an improv class." That's what you get for not thinking ahead.) There's a catch, though: In order to get the code to unlock the vault, the guy in the relationship must publicly share a picture of the #DateInABox on Instagram.

    If that doesn't sound like much of a "catch," that's because you, dear reader, are probably a lady. According to Heineken, ladies are all about declaring their love on social media. (That is, if a heavily filtered photo of you and your significant other of two weeks with the caption "MY BF ILYSM" counts as a declaration of love.) Dudes, on the other hand, are loathe to share their romantic sides online for fear of letting their bros know that they are, in fact, total softies.

    So, forgetful men of the world, that leaves you with an important choice. Admit defeat and stay home alone on V-Day, or risk your social media cred by accepting Heineken's offer.

    If neither sounds appealing, you could always try to steal someone else's dinner reservation. There are probably a few John Smiths on the Cheesecake Factory waiting list, right?

    Client: Heineken
    Project: #DateInABox

    Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, New York
    Creative Directors: Eric Steele, Erik Norin
    Social Strategist/Creative: Jessica Abercrombie
    Brand Strategist: Kelly Lynn Wright
    Copywriter: Mike Vitiello
    Creative/Community Manager: Rocio Urena
    Head of Content Production: Lora Schulson
    Executive Producer: Nick Setounski
    Senior Broadcast Producer: Cheryl Warbrook
    Print Producer: Kristen Althoff
    Account Team: Patrick Cahill, Samantha Wagner, Kristen Herrington
    Business Affairs: Quentin Perry
    Design Director: Serifcan Ozcan
    Designer: Lorin Brown
    Project Manager: Sunjoo Ryou

    Production Company: Joint
    Executive Producer : Michelle Carman
    Photographer: Doug Zajaczkowski
    Producer: Jennifer Chen
    Editor: John Resner
    Motion Graphics Director: Yui Uchida

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    Cards Against Humanity's promotions are as bitingly sarcastic as the game itself—whether they're charging more for the game on Black Friday, experimenting with a "Pay what you want" model (which outright insulted anyone who chose to pay less than cost) or teaming with Netflix just this week for an already sold out House of Cards pack.

    But the card game's recent "12 Days of Holiday Bullshit" promotion was truly something special. In December, 100,000 people paid $12 for 12 gifts from CAH, with no idea what they'd get. They sold out in less than six hours. And then, incredibly, they really did give 100,000 people 12 gifts each (and then some).

    AdFreak caught up with Ben Hantoot, one of the founders of CAH and the design force behind Holiday Bullshit, for a postmortem.

    AdFreak: Start at the beginning. How did you come up with this bullshit?
    Ben Hantoot: As you may know, in 2012 we did a pay-what-you-want expansion pack for the holidays. We donated all the profit to Wikimedia—about $70,000—making us a "major benefactor," which made us feel important. We also got a very healthy press response, and the fans loved it. For 2013, we had to one-up ourselves. We'd thought about doing another pay-what-you-want pack, or some other similar gag, but ultimately we decided to do almost exactly the opposite—you pay us $12, and we won't even tell you what you're getting. We came up with the name "12 Days of Holiday Bullshit" very suddenly … no one even remembers how that happened, but it sounded great and we stuck with it.

    Did you expect it to sell out as fast as it did?
    Among the eight of us, everyone had their own opinions about how long it would take to sell out, but most people were predicting more like two to five days. Six hours was much faster than anyone thought. Watching the counter was kind of terrifying. We were amazed the website didn't crash.

    Would you have pulled it off without getting 100,000 people on board?
    Everything was already manufactured by the time we started selling the $12 slots, so if we ended up selling less than 100,000, we just would have lost even more money on this giant thing.

    Speaking of money, how much money did you make on Black Friday when you increased the price of your card game by $5?
    It worked so well! We had about the same jump in sales we had in 2012, normalized versus the previous Friday, but then if you look at Saturday to Monday, we did much, much better than 2012, thanks to silly publications like Adweek who posted all about it.

    Back to the Holiday Bullshit. What kind of feedback did you get from fans?
    Most of the feedback fell into one of two categories: "OMG THIS IS SO AMAZING AND WORTH MORE THAN $12" and "WTF MY ENVELOPES ARE LATE YOU SHOULD DIE."

    The "Tell Santa CAH what you want for Christmas" section that appeared after you paid your $12—what function did that serve?
    We also asked people the nicest and naughtiest things they did in 2013. Then we sorted through the responses and picked out the ones that were either really funny or really sweet, and actually sent people what they asked for.

    A very enthusiastic fan for whom you bought a Lord of the Rings card game contacted me personally on a crusade to get you some press in return for her gift. What else did people get?
    We sent one guy a few trillion Zimbabwe dollars, another some beef jerky, a few others a Roku or fresh socks or Space Jam on VHS. Some people who had good stories but stupid requests got books and DVDs by the artists we worked with on the comics page. It was a lot of fun.

    How far in advance did you start planning all the shenanigans?
    I started working on production in June. Concepting started way back in March and April. We had the 12 days idea nailed down a long time before we decided exactly what each day was going to be. A few discarded ideas for days: an envelope containing 10,000 Vietnamese dong; an essay ripping apart American holiday culture by Slavoj Žižek; a sachet of live crickets; loose, ambiguous white powder.

    What you ended up going with was interesting. Days 1, 3, 5, 7 (NSFW), 9 and 11 (NSFW) were additional cards to expand your CAH game, and each one came with a low-budget online video featuring online stars like ukulele nerd Molly Lewis, Song a Day guy Jonathan Mann and even comedy nerd-core band Paul and Storm. How did you get all of those Internet celebrities to buy into your bullshit? And how did you keep them quiet?
    We've made many friends over the years going to conventions and supporting other indie gaming businesses online and offline. Plus, we've built up a brand for ourselves over the years that is very no-B.S. and generally trustworthy. Basically, we just asked people to be part of this, and almost all of them said yes!

    Day 2 was a lump of coal. You mailed us a real, albeit minute, lump of coal, and made a ridiculous trailer for it. A lot of people got Day 2 as their first mailing and thought it was the only thing they were getting.
    We shipped out the coal as Day 2 basically to mess with people and upset them and make them feel like they wasted their $12. But it turns out USPS gives timing estimates that are so far off base as to be useless. And Canadian customs also didn't like the coal at all.

    How did you get all that coal into tiny baggies?
    We wrote a whole blog post about that, actually. Basically, we shopped around for a coal supplier that already offered tiny broken-up lumps. When we found it, we had a fulfillment center sort it all into 100,000 dime bags each containing three pieces of coal less than a quarter inch thick (any thicker than that and we'd have to mail it as a parcel, which would have cost five or six times as much). This took a whole team of people over a week to do. Sorting the coal was one of the most expensive and time-consuming parts of the whole process.

    Which brings us to Day 4, which was an entirely new self-contained card game called ClusterF*ck, where the objective is to give your friends chlamydia. You gave it to everyone in the promotion, but people can also download it for free.
    We made Clusterf*ck Day 4 to make up for the coal. We think Clusterf*ck was probably the best gift. Throughout the whole process, we had to keep in mind the restrictions of USPS's definition of a "letter"—no larger than 11.5 by 6.125 inches, no thicker than a quarter inch, no heavier than 3.3 ounces, and tightly packed within the envelope. If we messed up anywhere, we'd lose a ton of money on postage. It also directed a lot of the design of Clusterf*ck, which we think turned out super well. To meet the weight restrictions, we used mini cards instead of normal cards.

    To meet the thickness restrictions, we packed the cards into three small piles instead of one big one. And to make the whole thing reusable, we put the cards in a closeable plastic pouch within a sturdy card-stock folder that doubles as the instructions. We're super proud of having designed a whole game with over 40 cards that can be manufactured, shipped from China and then mailed to a person's house for less than $1.

    Day 6 was mini-posters of popular CAH cards created by The Post Family. Pretty self-explanatory. But each day also had artwork on the envelopes. Who was the artist there?
    This awesome dude named Mare Odomo. We just gave him the very basic direction to make some jokes based on the 12 Days of Christmas, and he killed it. "Two turtle doves" is probably my favorite.

    Day 8 was a zine of comics from some of the most popular and generally awesome Web comics online, including Hyperbole and a Half, Dinosaur Comics and many, many more. How did you pull that one off?
    The USPS's restrictions were also super important for some of the bigger days, like the posters and the funny pages. It meant the posters had to be smaller and thinner than they originally were, and it meant we had to cut the funny pages down to a totally custom newspaper size.

    For Day 10, CAH donated $100,000 to charity funding 299 public school projects on DonorsChoose.org. I thought the charity gift was inspired. Why did you pick DonorsChoose?
    DonorsChoose is an incredible charity. Your dollar really goes a long way, and you know the money isn't being wasted. We made a fun infographic outlining how many kids we were able to help for just $100,000.

    Finally, on Day 12, you gave everyone a CAH card with their name on it.
    Sorting the name cards was also a crazy process. Remember that each individual card had to be connected to a specific address. The mailing house wanted us to print a number on each card, but there was no way we were going to do that, so instead we came up with a convoluted system where the cards were divided into hundreds of smaller batches and each insertion of a card into an envelope was individually checked.

    To be honest, I'm slightly worried about including the card with my name on it when I play the game. Did you put your name card in with your deck?
    Oh, hell no. Terrifying!

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    Caribou Coffee, whose previous out-of-home ad stunts have included heated bus shelters in Minneapolis, is back with another special campaign—a giant, five-story-tall Pinterest board built (with help from ad agency Colle+McVoy) at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn.

    Caribou used pinned images from fans as inspiration for its new Real Inspiration Blend variety of coffee. That sounds like a stretch, but the giant Pinterest board is pretty impressive. It includes two large screens that feature inspirating photos from fans on Instagram and Twitter that are tagged with the hashtag #CaribouInspires.

    See more in the video below.

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    What's more difficult than making a commercial that's funny or sad? Making one that's earnestly romantic.

    As we're reminded each year in the weeks leading up to Valentine's Day, marketers are practically incapable of conveying love without falling into a handful of stereotyped scenarios and coating them in a thick lacquer of cloying cheese.

    For a refreshing alternative, check out this two-minute spot by BBDO Germany for European hair-coloring product Schwarzkopf Nectra Color.

    While the product connection in "You: A Declaration of Love" is tenuous, the spot's approach to romance is highly specific. The narrator explains in detail several of his partner's quirks and mannerisms, an approach that many ads attempt but fail at miserably because they're afraid to get too specific and risk alienating viewers.

    What the copywriters behind this ad seem to realize is that appealing to a wide range of women doesn't have to mean being vague (and likely reinforcing stereotypes in the process). Love is largely about learning and appreciating the details of the people we care about—something this spot demonstrates perfectly with the line about "your stubborn curl that you got from your dad and he got from his mom."

    There's a payoff, of course, which we won't spoil. To be sure, it's not the kind of ad that needs a big reveal, because its charm lies in its languid storytelling. But in addition to giving the spot a little more emotional oomph, the closing scene also adds some unexpected context and specificity to their relationship.

    Is it a great ad for hair dye? That's clearly debatable, since you'd be hard pressed to guess the product if writers like me weren't so quick to point it out. But is it a great ad? Most certainly.

    Client: Henkel Schwarzkopf
    Corporate Senior VP Hair/Innovation/Digital: Marie-Eve Schröder
    Marketing Director International: Catharina Christe
    Senior Brand Manager International: Sybille Silber

    Agency: BBDO Proximity Dusseldorf
    Creative: Sebastian Hardieck (Chief Creative Officer), Konstanze Bruhns (Creative Director)
    Account: Dirk Bittermann (General Manager), Geraldine Schell (Account Director)
    Producer: Anuschka Walle (Executive Producer)

    Film production: Tempomedia
    Director: Sandro Suppnig
    Post production: nhb Studios
    Music/ Composer: Studio Funk Düsseldorf


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    Hey, professional truth-benders. Here's a sweet mockumentary-style PSA about professional truth-bending. Extra bonus if you also happen to be a tree hugger.

    In addition to fairly broad swipes at snake oil salesmen (you must have known the advertising industry was a popular punching bag when you got into it), the spot—funded by organic businesses—is aimed at illustrating how the use of the word "natural" on food labels is pretty much meaningless. It makes its point well, if a bit repetitively—at four-and-a-half minutes long, the script manages to work in enough sharp moments and little twists to keep it interesting. And in case you're wondering, the gist of its argument is true.

    "From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is 'natural' because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth," says the FDA in its explanation of the subject, which goes on to declare what's more or less a nonposition.

    The spot includes industry easter eggs like an art director hovering over a designer, telling him to make the natural logo BIGGER. But the real treat is the performance of Josh Childs in the lead, who's something like a cross between Dr. Leo Spaceman and Michael Scott if they ran an ad agency.

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    It's flashback week for fans of 1990s hip-hop, with Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs and Snoop Dogg making advertising cameos that would have seemed inconceivable 15 years ago.

    Combs, known these days as Diddy, headlines a new 60-second spot from Fiat and ad agency Doner. In the ad, we see two men wandering the desert in a delirious haze, unsure if they're really being saved by a celebrity or just imagining a mirage.

    Meanwhile, Snoop, who has gone by Snoop Lion lately, has popped up in, of all places, a British auto insurance ad from agency Mother. He narrates the story of a dorky white guy named Phil who saved money by getting insurance from MoneySuperMarket and now feels "epic." Feeling epic, in this case, means driving an invisible car and hanging out at inner-city street parties.

    It's not exactly jarring to see these two iconic rappers in ads, since both have been frequent marketing mouthpieces in recent years. But it's still entertaining to imagine how they would have reacted to the words "Fiat" and "MoneySuperMarket" in 1997.

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    There's a lot going on in this 60-second Valentine's Day commercial, but it would probably spoil things to reveal either the product or the plot. Suffice it to say there are several surprises here, though it all adds up to quite a heartwarming commercial.

    "We felt this view of life was a story that was not being told with the authenticity and compassion it deserved," the company's CEO said in a statement. The spot will air on Bravo and E! in seven major U.S. markets.

    There was no ad agency involved. See the credits on the YouTube page.

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    Who Founding partners (from left) Jen Lucero, managing director, and executive creative directors Brien Holman and Jayson Whitmore
    What Design and production studio
    Where Los Angeles office

    With one small client, an angel investor and well-worn credit cards, Royale’s founders opened their studio nearly seven years ago. The upstart was given three weeks to create a 90-second video about fashion brand Diesel, off of which Royale’s reputation was launched. With an office in Los Angeles for animation and visual effects and another in Seattle focused on digital projects, Royale now works for big names like Nike, Hyundai, PNC Bank, Coke Zero and Vitaminwater, among others. But the studio stays true to its founding values in crafting memorable characters and storytelling. For Oreo last year, the big bad wolf, a vampire and great white sharks frolicked through the whimsical spot while falling under the cookie’s spell.

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    Fifteen months and 71 million YouTube views after its storied premiere, McCann Melbourne's "Dumb Ways to Die" train-safety campaign is back with this cute, grotesque little spot for Valentine's Day. Turns out the greedy little blue blob who sold both his kidneys on the Internet now has easy access to other vital organs through the stitched-up wounds. Despite his best intentions, death, naturally, ensues. "Be safe around Valentine's Day ... and trains," says the on-screen copy.

    This is just the second new "Dumb Ways" video released since the staggeringly successful original—following a 15-second promo made for the Melbourne International Film Festival last July. For those who have to sing it loud, though, there is also the official karaoke version of the original.

    Via Osocio.

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    In Cadillac's latest commercial from ad agency Rogue, airing during the Olympics, we take a tour of the souped-up American dream while our host (played by Neal McDonough) waxes poetic about the virtues of working hard and owning stuff—and manages to throw a few digs at other countries for living more leisurely lifestyles and being less industrious.

    "Other countries, they work. They stroll home. They stop by the cafe. They take August off. Off. Why aren't you like that? Why aren't we like that? Because we're crazy-driven, hard-working believers, that's why."

    He concludes: "As for all the stuff, that's the upside of only taking two weeks off in August. N'est-ce pas?"

    Outside of this guy being painfully annoying, here's a question: Does taking two fewer weeks of vacation guarantee upper-middle-class wealth? I bristle when I think about how many people toil all over the world—here and abroad—and don't enjoy the same opportunities as, you know, this guy.

    It's also a curious choice for the Olympics, which is supposed to be a celebration of different countries and cultures—not a repudiation of them. I certainly take no issue with owning things, and I think we should be lauding hard work, big dreams and supporting one's family, but even if this ad is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, it's still obnoxious and poorly timed.

    Unless it's completely awesome—which is the other view espoused by some YouTube commenters. In fact, the debate over there is pretty black and white. Point: "How insensitive, egocentric, and repulsive." Counterpoint: "Hey butthurt foreigners in the comments: instead of crying, take notes. This is why our country is the greatest in the world and yours isn't."

    I personally think the spot is visually lovely but could be seriously improved if they cut out the speaking parts and had the Space Jam theme song playing instead.

    Credits below.

    Client: Cadillac
    Agency: Rogue
    Chief Creative Officer: Lance Jensen
    Executive Creative Director: David Banta
    Group Creative Director: Kevin Daley
    Copywriters: Lance Jensen, David Banta
    Art Director: Kevin Daley
    Agency Producer: Paul Shannon (Executive Producer)
    Account Team: Clifford Stevens, Megan Wiggin, Emily Shahady, Kalyn Barnum
    Director of Project Management: Paul Pantzer
    Project Manager: Christy Costello
    Assistant Agency Producer: Tim Mollen
    Production Company: Interrogate
    Executive Producer: Jeff Miller
    Producer: George Meeker
    Director: Brennan Stasiewicz
    Cinematographer: Max Malkin
    Line Producer: Dave Bernstein
    Editing House: Bug Editorial
    Editor: Andre Betz
    Licensed Music: "You're Gonna Miss Your Candyman"
    Music Performed by: Terry Callier
    Sound Engineer: Mike Secher
    Visual Effects Company: Brickyard VFX

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    Ikea planted lots of LED lamps in the woods for this 60-second commercial for the U.K. and Ireland touting the home-furnishing company's commitment to sustainability.

    Created by Mother London and director Martin Krejci, the ad's surreal aura is enhanced by Menomena's pop-etheral "Wet and Rusting" on the soundtrack. Check out Mr. Squirrel's reaction as the lights blaze. Yeah, he's screwed—every predator can spot him now.

    "Forest" is part of Ikea's "Wonderful Everyday" campaign, which focuses on how small things can make a big difference. A voiceover notes that by 2016, Ikea will sell only energy-efficient LED lightbulbs. (Indeed, the European Union has been moving in this direction for some time.)

    The work provides "an opportunity to explain a little about who we are and what we stand for as a brand, and sustainability is a big part of this," says Ikea marketing manager Peter Wright.

    Some bright lights might point out that the ad displays enough timber to sustain hundreds of impossible-to-assemble dinette sets. (The company reportedly uses 1 percent of the world's wood supply each year.) But in fairness, Ikea has been working to meet ecologically prudent logging standards. So it's not like the company can't see the forest for the trees.

    Via The Inspiration Room.

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    Have you heard the one about the astronaut and the cosmonaut watching hockey together in the International Space Station during the Olympics?

    The American team scores against the Russian team, and the cosmonaut spills his Coca-Cola in zero gravity. But then he and the astronaut work together to slurp up all the free-floating droplets before they can wreck havoc on the vessel's electronics—because, cue fantasy, Coke brings everyone together. (The cosmonaut, amusingly enough, is the same actor from DirecTV's "Opulence, I has it" ad—seems the Russian oligarch bought his way to space.)

    This ad, from Wieden + Kennedy, is from the sugar-water school of international relations, consisting largely of Coke ads hitting you over the head with a happy hammer. Do you feel good? You'd better.

    A second new spot, also posted below, is from the sugar-water school of mini snowmen and romantic walks through winter wonderlands. There will be charming, twee songs like Kat Edmonton's "Lucky" playing in the background. "We don't even have to pretend we know what it is we're looking for," say the lyrics.

    Duh, we're looking for a Coke, of course.

    Client: Coca-Cola
    Spot: "ISS"

    Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.
    Creative Directors: Hal Curtis, Antony Goldstein, Jeff Gillette
    Copywriter: David Povill
    Art Director: Brad Trost
    Producers: Jennifer Fiske, Hayley Goggin
    Account Team: Brian Mead, Luke Purdy
    Executive Creative Directors: Joe Staples, Susan Hoffman
    Head of Production: Ben Grylewicz

    Production Company: Furlined
    Director: Adam Hashemi
    Executive Producer: Diane McArter
    Line Producer: Pete Vitale
    Director of Photography: John Lynch

    Editorial Company: Joint Editorial
    Editors: Kyle Valenta, Eric Hill
    Outside Editor: Mikkel EG Nielsen, Rock Paper Scissors
    Post Producer: Shelli Jury
    Post Executive Producer: Patty Brebner
    Sound Designer: Charlie Keating
    Assistant Editor: J.B. Jacobs

    Visual Effects Company: The Mill
    Visual Effects Supervisor, Flame Artist: Tim Davies
    Visual Effects Producer: Jordan Sharon
    Executive Producer: Sue Troyan
    Coordinator: Jillian Lynes
    Colorist: Adam Scott
    Telecine Producer: LaRue Anderson
    Producer: Megan Campbell
    3-D Lead Artist: Phill Mayer
    3-D Artists: Kenzie Chen, Yorie Kumalasari, Juan Zavala, Martin Rivera, Michael Lori, Jacob Bergman, Miguel Guerrero, Robert Chapman, Katie Yancey, David Hackett, George Liu, Ashraf Ghoniem, Meng Yang Lu
    2-D Lead Artist: Tim Davies
    2-D Artists: Steve Cokonis, Adam Lambert, Daniel Lang, Robert Murdock, Lisa Ryan, Dag Ivarsoy
    Matte Painting: Andy Wheater, Andy Romine
    Shoot Supervisors: Tim Davies, Nick Lines

    Music, Sound Company: Stimmung
    Composer: Robert Miller
    Song: Light Calvary (Franz Von Suppe, original composer)
    Producer: Megan Campbell
    Executive Producer: Ceinwyn Clark

    Mix Company: Eleven Sound
    Mixer, Sound Design: Jeff Payne
    Producer: Suzanne Hollingshead
    Audio Assistant: Ben Freer

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    It's just kind of weird helping your friend do something that you know could potentially lead to his death."

    So says videographer and climber Cedar Wright, as the camera pans over a graveyard in the Mexican town of El Portrero Chico. It's January 2014, and Wright is in Mexico to watch his friend, the famous climber Alex Honnold, attempt a free-solo ascent—i.e., climbing without a rope—of a terrifying 2,500-foot limestone wall known as El Sendero Luminoso.

    If all goes well, Honnold will have started the year by completing one of his most ambitious free-solo climbs to date. With Camp4 Collective on hand to document the ascent, it will also turn out to be a nice short film for The North Face.

    If it doesn't go well, you'll see it on the evening news.

    Free-soloing is insane, and Alex Honnold, a 28-year-old from Sacramento, Calif., is its premiere daredevil. (He's the one who's already had the 60 Minutes profile.) Frankly, the stuff is hard to watch, even if you don't have a fear of heights. (If you do, this spot certainly won't be for you.) Yet it is, of course, undeniably compelling. And it's a perfect fit for The North Face.

    The brand's very name evokes rock climbing, and its high-performance gear is used by top climbers. And while the risks for Honnold are obvious and very real, sponsoring one of the world's most daring humans doesn't really have much of a downside—aside from the obvious caveat that your endorser could expire at a moment's notice with one wrong move.

    "It felt pretty straightforward," Honnold told Outside magazine after the El Sendero Luminoso climb. "Once I started up, I was like, This is awesome. I didn't blow a single foot—like a ballerina."

    The guy has no fear. While he's still with us, that's worth celebrating.

    Client: The North Face
    Production Company: Camp4 Collective
    Director: Renan Ozturk
    Camera: Cedar Wright
    See the full credits at the end of the video

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    You have a weird, ineffable obsession with your cast-iron skillet. You carry it with you everywhere like a safety blanket. You believe like it could make you feel joy, but it does not, because something is missing.

    Velveeta appeals to the kitchenware creeper segment with a new pair of spots from Wieden + Kennedy for the brand's Cheesy Skillets dinner kits. It's a new twist on the agency's oddball approach to the product, with some of the dramatic flavor of Old Spice still in the voiceover and epic positioning, "It's liquid gold," but sight gags balancing it out.

    In some ways, it's the American cheese of advertising—comfort food that's pleasing at first but ultimately a little too processed to leave you feeling entirely good about having eaten it. If you can get past the slightly overdone copy, though, there's some pretty rich comedy in the dumb facial expressions of the actors.

    You might even call it gold.

    Credits below.

    Client: Velveeta
    Project: Velveeta Cheesy Skillets

    Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.
    Creative Directors: Karl Lieberman, Eric Baldwin
    Digital Director: Pierre Wendling
    Copywriters: Heather Ryder, Darcie Burrell
    Art Director: Matthew Carroll
    Interactive Producer: Ryan Adams
    Event Producer: Victoria Semarjian
    Account Team: Ken Smith, Rachel Parker, Danica Jones, Sarah Augustine
    Media Director: Alex Dobson
    Head of Broadcast: Ben Grylewicz
    Broadcast: Shelley Eisner, Nicole Kaptur, Yamaris Leon
    Art Production: Stacie Balzer, Eugenie Frerichs, Denise Hanggi, Rainier Goubault
    Project Manager: Megan Nugent
    Studio Manager: Anna Gatewood
    Studio Artists: Leslie Warra, Thomas Bradley
    Executive Creative Directors: Mark Fitzloff, Susan Hoffman
    Business Affairs: Amber Lavender, Anna Beth Nagel, Pam Atkinson
    Content Services: Zoe Hoetze, Anders Lund

    Production Company: Smith & Jones Films
    Director: Ulf Johansson
    Executive Producer: Philippa Smith
    Executive Assistant: Tori King
    Line Producer: Justine Madero
    Postproduction Company (Editorial): Spot Welders
    Editor: Haines Hall
    Producers: Carolina Wallace, Lisa English
    Visual Effects: A52
    Executive Producer: Megan Meloth
    Producer: Meredith Cherniack

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    If any unexpected flames of love start flickering in Paris for Valentine's Day today, the Cupid-shot lovesick fools will be ready. That's because the Flower Council of Holland (an industry group that helps florists build their businesses) has installed 1,500 cute little red boxes that are modeled after emergency boxes—but contain single red roses. "In case of love at first sight, break glass," the boxes say. It's a cute idea, and not as dangerous as it sounds. The "glass" is actually cellophane. Agency: Kingsday.

    Agency: Kingsday, Amsterdam
    Production Company: Chocolat Rouge Films Parijs
    Client: Flower Council of Holland

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    Until recently, your kid’s brain has been the best place to stage battles between Spider-Man and Skeletor. But technology has made this a brave new world, and digital architects have built a whole new arena. Gaming has come to toy town. 

    Photo: Vasava

    Good timing, too. The domestic toy industry flattened in 2012 and actively declined 1 percent in 2013 to $16.3 billion, according to market analysis firm the NPD Group. But one of the few categories growing—by a whopping 70 percent year over year, if you believe Activision—was the interactive toy market. These toys work directly with video games by way of a little plastic platform hooked into a game console that reads a chip in each toy’s base. Put Wash Buckler or Smolderdash on the Skylanders: Swap Force “portal” and suddenly your new toy shows up on-screen, able to summon a translucent blue pirate ship or set bad guys on fire. Buy the “playset” with the princesses from Frozen for Disney’s Infinity game, and you get a clear plate about the size of a poker chip that unlocks minigames themed to the figures.

    This is an idea, by the way, that has been tried several times before, often disastrously . It didn’t help the initial pitch that when Activision created the category with the first Skylanders game during the 2011 Christmas season, casual and family gaming was considered a waning trend. “The premier children’s console was the Nintendo Wii, which was on the decline, and most developers were running away from it at the time,” recalls Tim Ellis, CMO of Activision. “We essentially got into the toy business, which is not the core competency of the company. And we just had a lot of data at the time telling us that it was not a particularly smart idea.”

    But the possibility that Activision could create and then corner new markets in both toys and games was too good to pass up. This time, there were no technical flubs, no angry parents and none of the other roadblocks that had stymied past gaming-toy development. All told, Activision informed investors it generated more than $2 billion in sales from both toys and copies of the Skylanders games since launch.

    Disney has sold 3 million Infinity starter packs since the game went on sale in August, and for Disney Interactive, that success is a huge shift. The unit operated at a loss of $76 million in Q4 of 2012 but reported a profit of $16 million for Q4 of 2013. That’s not yet enough, frankly. The company spent $100 million to make the game over nearly four years, during which time Disney Interactive lost hundreds of millions of dollars—notably from social gaming unit Playdom, a company Disney bought for $563 million in 2010. (Playdom is reportedly slated for major layoffs.) Infinity represents an opportunity to turn the ship around. Revenue for 2013 more than doubled from the previous year to $396 million, according to the parent company’s SEC filings.

    John Blackburn, the Disney Interactive vp who oversees Infinity (and founded Avalanche, the studio that developed the game), says the game solves a problem that had grown more and more difficult over the years for IP rights holders: how to make tie-in games on a movie-release timeline that don’t bust budgets or play like junk. (Disney isn’t alone in dealing with this problem. Said one critic of the final Harry Potter movie tie-in game, “We can’t score it low enough.”)

    “With Frozen, we didn’t do a full game this time around,” Blackburn says—they did an Infinity playset and will do more for future movies. The game was originally for the Toy Story 3 tie-in that the programmers didn’t have time to implement fully. “When we actually saw the first cuts of the film, we thought, if we could make a game that is just about playing with your toys, we should do that for Toy Story 3,” he says. Instead, it was shelved, given a relaxed lead time, and code-named Project Toy Box.

    Interactive toys are also an acknowledgement that the overall model for the video game industry has changed—the single-purchase $60 game built from scratch is a less and less attractive proposition to publishers, as risky as making a big-budget movie that might not get its investment back. Downloadable content—extra levels, new play modes, different playable characters—with lower price points and lighter investment has been the norm for a while in the grown-up gaming world (think the $0.99-$14.99 bells and whistles that roll out every few weeks for Activision’s other juggernaut, Call of Duty).

    Skylanders and Infinity are an expression of that same ethos: spend less on development, publish more frequently, charge the consumer a smaller premium. Kids (and yes, some adults) get a physical doodad for $12, and it’s kind of cool. And within the games themselves, there are also levels and sections blocked off that can only be accessed with a toy from the toy store. Though Infinity and Skylanders aren’t terribly similar in terms of their play styles, both have one in-game feature in common. When you try to get into those sections with the wrong character, you’re treated to a fairly shameless video previewing all the fun you’re missing until you buy the toy that can open up that section.

    What’s alarming for the larger toy industry is that those doodads now represent a sizable chunk of the domestic market, which has seen gaming rocket into global popularity. Christmas was terrible for several toy makers. Q4 sales for Mattel were down $142.7 million against Q4 2012, and as of January the company remained locked in a bitter legal dispute over industrial espionage with rival MGA Entertainment (of the Bratz line of dolls—Marilyn to Barbie’s Jackie O). Hasbro isn’t in much better shape. In November, a court ruled it had shorted the inventor of the Super Soaker and Nerf guns by enough to award Johnson Research nearly $73 million. Sales of boys’ toys were down 16 percent in Q4. And now interactive toys are eating away at parts of the toy market. 

    Photo: Vasava

    Specifically, they’re taking a chunk out of the action figure sector. “If you look at the action figure business itself, it’s down big time,” notes Bobby Stewart, CEO of Canadian toy company Swappz, which is looking for a piece of the low to middle sections of the connected toy market with Power Rangers and The Smurfs toys that work with branded mobile apps. “The action figure business is not dead, it’s just moved—there’s a new way of doing it.” (Not everyone agrees. Russ Crupnick, svp, industry analysis for NPD, argues that some of the decline is just cyclical.)

    Stewart’s path to the toy industry is nontraditional, to say the least. Formerly a minor league hockey player, he got into the toy industry barely three years ago and rolled out Swappz last year with big-box retailers Walmart and Target already on board. “One of the complications we’ve obviously had [is] that we’ve grown so fast,” Stewart says. Meanwhile, the company is looking for more investors. “It takes big money to do these things, and we’re working on a very limited and tight budget,” he admits. Stewart has managed to nab some recognizable IP for Swappz—WWE and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (internationally only, at this point), among others.

    Stewart is certain that gaining an immediate toehold in the ballooning interactive toy market is vital for anybody looking to stay in that business. “It’s a $2 billion market that Skylanders started, but I don’t think it’s an $8 billion market,” he says. “The more people come along, the more it’s going to get sliced.” And it’s not just the newcomers that are going to try to siphon off some of that market growth. Hasbro’s recent acquisition of a coveted license to make toys for Rovio’s Angry Birds video game is now yielding fruit.

    Hasbro also holds the master license (the right to control virtually all of the toys stemming from a given property in exchange for a hefty advance and guarantees) for Star Wars—and Angry Birds’ most successful editions have been Star Wars-themed. So now, using tiny QR codes on the bases of its figures, kids can “teleport” toys they buy at retail into the game every time they need a boost—a Han Solo bird for this stunt, a Princess Leia bird for that one.

    The upshot is that toy-based games are going to derive a lot of their value from the intellectual property being licensed or created—much more than a simple movie-to-game cash in. As the first into the pool, Activision went the difficult route and created its own IP, but given that Disney spent $4 billion on Star Wars and another $4 billion on Marvel in a scant five years, it’s eager to realize as much return on that investment as it can. “Marvel and Star Wars are coming to Infinity,” says one licensing exec who asked not to be named. “You can charge a lot more for a physical thing than you can for a single item or character.” More companies than just Disney, he says, “are trying to revitalize their aging IP with the latest and the hippest technology,” and in this case it’s working extremely well.

    It’s also pushing these toys into a slightly older demographic, which is where they want to be. “Kids are growing up sooner,” says the exec. “They’re aging out of demographics much quicker than they used to. They’re gravitating more toward video games as brands are being shifted ever younger.” There’s been a recent trend to market age-appropriate versions of valuable properties like Batman and the Transformers to kids as young as possible in an effort to maximize the length of time each child is buying those branded toys—and that trend has backfired. Much of this has to do with the way kids behave socially. Once a child is old enough to worry about whether it’s cool to play with the same things as his little brother, he’s moving on. It’s one reason you won’t see as many licensed goods targeting the very young this year at Toy Fair. “If you can get it on your pajamas, it’s probably not something a 12-year-old wants,” says Crupnick.

    Technology has inherent age minimums (although toddlers love tablets and smartphones), so it’s going to be desirable to kids old enough to want to seem sophisticated. And more and more, games are simply seen as a better expression of the IP that’s been the cornerstone of the toy industry. “A Han Solo action figure can only have so many adventures before you discard it,” the exec says sadly. “Why would you want to buy a $10 action figure when you can buy an app that can keep you entertained for hours?”

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    McDonald's puts our minds to the test in this British campaign from Razorfish that features prankvertising and an online quiz.

    The premise is that people can't concentrate on anything else when the Big Mac is nearby. Unlike some recent hair-raising ad stunts, and the million-calorie sandwich itself, the prank element here is pretty benign.

    On a busy street, a young couple with a camera ask presumably unsuspecting passersby to take their picture. As they primp, a large portrait of a Big Mac is carried past by a different couple, who quickly switch places with the original pair just as the photo is about to be snapped. (It's cool how boyfriend No. 1 starts a sentence as the Big Mac obscures him from view, then boyfriend No. 2 appears and completes the sentence once the switch is made.)

    The subjects don't seem to notice that anything's amiss. Maybe a devil baby puking up special sauce would've gotten their attention? Just a thought.

    Anyway, the original couple from the clip also host a series of interactive "mind games" designed to demonstrate the Big Mac's distracting power. I thought the hypnotic properties of two all beef patties, yada yada, on a sesame seed bun had been irrefutably established long ago. Obviously, when one appears, so plump and juicy … I cannot turn away!

    Oddly, when McD's showed in detail how McNuggets were made, I couldn't make the screen go dark fast enough. Still, I'll have fries with that!

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    Isn't this the most romantic newspaper ad you've ever … oh, wait.

    This two-part classified ad appeared on Valentine's Day in Australia's Launceston Examiner newspaper. Hopefully Jodie has a sense of humor.

    Via The Blaze.


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