June 1st, 2015
The Making of “The Postcard”
How do you tell Vistaprint’s story inside the confines of a TV commercial? Our creative team decided that the best way for us to convey our story to consumers was to tell theirs. How did Vistaprint demonstrate that everything you create matters? With a postcard.
We interviewed the team behind one of our most creative and engaging outreach efforts to find out what it takes to tell the Vistaprint story. Meet Liam Shannon, Senior Creative Director.
Liam, what is your role at Vistaprint and in this campaign?
I’m the Senior Creative Director, responsible for creative globally. My largest roles are in brand and broadcast. I’ve been at Vistaprint for five years. About three years ago, we brought our direct response broadcast advertising in house. At first, when we thought of all that goes into creating a high-level brand spot, we thought we really should bring in a top-level international agency. So we reached out and worked with a number of agencies. But, in the end, the ideas our internal agency generated were more on target and won out, and we went with an idea that was totally conceived and created in house – a huge success for our internal agency, and not something that even Apple or Google could claim having done!
Tell me a bit about the process.
Strategy & Creative Direction
We spent a long time on the strategy – testing a broad range of possible directions and then refining and refining. All in all, it was an almost six-month process that leveraged the expertise of our whole agency team – from our leader, Bridget Obrien, to our brand strategists, to our broadcast creatives, to even the designers who create the design templates we offer on our web site. Everyone contributed to the final outcome. When it came to bringing all that strategy work to life in an actual commercial, Don, our CMO, wanted us to go big. He wanted a Super Bowl-level spot that would convey quality and passion, the real human benefit of our products, and also position us as what we clearly are, the industry leader. What’s more, while he wanted it to be emotionally powerful, he didn’t want to just create another ode to small business owners like American Express OPEN. He wanted a spot that was so essentially Vistaprint that no other company could put their name on the end. Oh yeah, and we wanted a spot that we could easily use globally with minimal changes. It was a big ask. And, in truth, getting to that final answer was not easy. In fact, even after wearing out the big external agencies, our internal team went through 13 concepts before we landed on the final one. But when we landed on it, we knew it was THE IDEA.
At our core, Vistaprint creates communication tools. Tools that, in effect, allow businesses to speak to their customers and their prospects – telling them who they are, where they are, what they stand for, about the big sale next week, etc., etc. In essence, Vistaprint is the voice of small business. With that in mind, my partner, Creative Director Kim DiVincenzo, and I thought, hey, what if we could use our actual products to drive and actually tell a story? No dialogue. No titles until the final summation. Just our products and people using them. That is really what became the idea. We plotted it out and approached it as a movie from a story arc point of view: Where do the characters change? Where is the drama? It was really challenging. But it was also wicked fun when it came to life. Originally, it started with a father and son fighting and the son storming off. That gave us the excuse to have them not speaking and only communicating through the business’s marketing materials. When we presented, everyone liked the idea of telling a story with our products, but not the fight at the beginning. So then we needed another idea and motivation for him to leave and come back. That wasn’t decided until two days before we left for South Africa.
Of course, having a great idea really only gets you half way to having a great spot. We needed a great director to bring it to life. So we literally scoured the world, looking for the best. And fortunately, we found just what we were looking for in South Africa in a director named Greg Grey. Cinematic in his style, the winner of several Cannes Lions, and also highly collaborative, Greg and his production company, Velocity Films, seemed to be the perfect partner for us. And as it turned out, he was. We have an interesting team dynamic. I’m a creative director, and Kim is a creative director. She reports to me, but in this case, we did this entire project as a team, all the writing and directing. Don was really easy to work with and was really open with us. He had points of view. He was involved. He gave us clear direction. And made decisions quickly. But he was never in the way. And I have to say it shows in the final product. It does not have too many handprints on it. It was done under budget. On time. And it is, I would say, the best piece I have ever been involved in.
What is different about this project vs. others you’ve done at Vistaprint?
Well, one thing I certainly hadn’t expected in the beginning was shooting and editing the spot in South Africa. Heck, I’d never even been to Africa. And Cape Town is literally on the very bottom of Africa. But because of our timing, the weather in Europe, and the costs of shooting there or in the US, it just turned out that taking the team there was significantly cheaper. Plus, it allowed us to shoot in their summer in a city that is architecturally indistinct and plays like an American or European setting. Oh yeah, and we got to ride an ostrich and go great white shark diving!
What was your favorite part of making the commercial? Or what surprised you? Or what did you learn?
Since we did the commercial during the Ebola scare, I learned a lot about geography and that Sierra Leone is actually about as far away from Cape Town as it is from Boston. I also learned that Cape Town and its people are beautiful and warm and welcoming. And that South Africa has a wonderful film industry. The most interesting aspect of this whole project was that we were really making a little movie, storytelling and directing and changing people’s moods. The most exciting moment for me was hiding the business cards, which is very rare in a commercial. Getting to do a long version, almost three minutes long, was great. I think that this long form of advertising is really the wave of the future. Television will get shorter and shorter. But thanks to the internet, brands can serve as their own networks in essence. And since we launched the commercial, over a million people have viewed the long form online. And that is pretty cool.
What did it mean to you to be a part of this and to see it come to life?
In all honesty, this spot was in many ways the culmination of my years at Vistaprint. Since I got here, we have been working to prove all that we and our internal agency are capable of. In this spot I think we rose to the occasion and we delivered. I got to see Kim, who only four years ago had done little broadcast, truly come into her own. I saw our young broadcast producer, Maura Larose, take on and nail a project that, in an agency, would only be handled by the most seasoned producer. And overall, I saw an in-house group create work that the most famous ad agencies in the world would be proud to put their name on. And for me personally, well, when the spot was shown to our board, one of our board members, an expert in marketing and advertising, said the spot was on par with one of the famous Coca-Cola commercials. And for me, well, as a Don Draper protégé, I guess there really isn’t any bigger accolade.
See even more insight into the commercial with a spotlight on the Barret and Son Bakery & Cafe, as well as interviews from the actors, director, writers, and producers: