Bigger. Faster. More. You know you have strong product benefits when they can be boiled down to simple value propositions even kids can appreciate. Children, and simplicity, are at the core of BBDO's classic-in-the-making "It's not complicated" campaign for AT&T, touting the size and speed of the carrier's network and other benefits. Prompted, and in many ways wrangled, by actor and comedian Beck Bennett, children answer the simplest of (unbranded) questions in a dozen ads and counting. What's better: Bigger or smaller? Faster or slower? More or less? The kids answer oddly, sweetly, hilariously—turning out charming, comic spots from what was always something of a gamble. "We knew there was a bit of wild card in talking to kids," said BBDO Atlanta creative director Stephen McMennamy. "But that's what we loved about it—taking time to get inside their heads and hear them talk so wonderfully about these really simple notions."
The agency prefers non-actor kids but has worked with actors, too. It looked beyond New York and Los Angeles, to places like Chicago and San Francisco, to widen the net. The children must have a certain dynamic and energy, but even that's not always reliable. "You can get a kid who does some great, random, wild stuff in casting, but on set the dynamic can be different," said McMennamy. "Is it the time of day? Did they get in a fight with their sibling? It's anybody's guess."
The agency films five groups of four kids per day, each group for two hours. Often they get nothing; occasionally they strike gold. In the middle of it all is Bennett, who first chatted with kids for AT&T in BBDO New York's more limited "Brackets by Six-Year-Olds" digital program a year ago. "It's amazing how good he is with them," said McMennamy. "I think of him as a traffic cop. Kids are just chaos. But he's very aware of what we need from a production standpoint. And by that I mean, 'You need to put your hands down, away from your mouth,' 'You need to stop fidgeting.' There's a lot of him helping us out."
Bennett's lead-in lines are scripted. From there, it's improvised, unless the kids are struggling, in which case Bennett will throw in another scripted idea the kids can riff off. An example is "Candy Island," in which a girl says saving money is better than not saving money because then you can buy an island made of candy. She was prompted to say that, "but then suddenly they're all sparking to this idea," said McMennamy. "What we ended up with was nothing like what we had on paper. And look at 'Werewolf' [a spot in which a girl acts possessed]. There's no way you could come up with anything that wonderful. That's Diana going nuts in her own head."
Once they have something solid, Bennett plays around with reaction lines the agency can use before the cut to the pitch. One thing that was crucial to the client: that the kids not be shills. "We don't want them talking about us or the wireless industry," said AT&T Mobility CMO David Christopher. "We just want them to express, in their own fun way, these simple, universal truths."
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