Adweek Names GEICO "Unskippable" Ad of the Year

December 13, 2015

How the Best Ad Campaign of 2015 Hacked the Lowly Preroll Ad

Inside The Martin Agency's 'Unskippable' work for GEICO

By Tim Nudd

December 13, 201

Everything was in place to shoot something special.

Geico CMO Ted Ward liked the idea so much, he had approved it immediately. ("We didn't pass this one by anybody," he would later tell Adweek.) The directing duo Terri Timely had loved the scripts and signed on. And The Martin Agency creatives couldn't wait to get on set and film a campaign they'd dreamed up that would make fun, innovative use of that most moribund of marketing channels—YouTube preroll, where ads go to die.

There was just one small problem. The dog.

"I expressed serious concerns about getting the idea filmed in one take with two adults, two kids, a dog and a setting out of a Norman Rockwell painting," Steve Bassett, group creative director at Martin, admits of the now-famous "Unskippable" ad with the dog loudly devouring his family's spaghetti as they sit, frozen, through an increasingly hilarious dinner-table disaster.

Ward, for the record, had been more optimistic. "We've had better luck with dogs than cats," he says of Geico's beast-friendly oeuvre. "Of course, we've decided to animate lizards and pigs."

In the end, the canine—a Saint Bernard mix named Bolt—was the perfect slapstick actor, knocking over a salad bowl and a glass of milk while slurp-slurp-slurping his way to Internet fame. (The spot has more than 8 million views, of which full plays were "way higher" than the norm, Ward says.)

"All I have to say is, it's a good thing creative teams don't listen to their creative directors," Bassett jokes now.

It's a good thing Martin's particular writer/art director team of Neel Williams and Mauricio Mazzariol didn't blindly accept preroll's limitations. YouTube viewers hate preroll, they knew, not just because it's an interruption but because it's a mindless one, with so many unaltered TV spots not even offering the courtesy of adapting to the space in a relevant, entertaining way.

With "Unskippable," Adweek's choice for the best ad campaign of 2015, Martin and Geico thus did viewers a favor by purposely hooking them with something fun before the skip button appeared. Inverting the typical ad, they ran the end at the beginning, finishing the pitch in a few seconds—"You can't skip this ad, because it's already over," says the voiceover—and then letting the cameras roll, capturing hilariously awkward bonus footage in which the actors pretend to be frozen as the world continues around them.

The resulting spots, which are still running, are simple, clever, funny and innovative. They're disarming at just the right moment, self-aware enough to be loved by ad people (for whom being skippable is the ultimate fear) and pure entertainment for everyone else, who happily submit to a sales pitch along the way (Geico's logo is front and center on screen the entire time) before watching their next cat video.

"We had the research. We knew the skip rate after five seconds was 96 percent, so we collectively challenged ourselves to find a workaround," says Martin group account director Brad Higdon. "If we're going to interrupt someone on their way to watch something they actually sought out, and want to watch, we better make it worth their while."

The "Unskippable" idea was simple—perhaps too simple, the agency thought at first.

"When we first reviewed the idea, naturally we all got a good laugh, but then we all kind of looked at each other and said, 'Has no one done this before?' " Higdon says. "That's really the beauty of the idea: its simplicity. The fact that preroll is universally loathed and yet no one ever did anything about it. So we cycled through several scripts, all with the same construct, and picked our favorites. We then did a little bit of fine tuning to make sure the scenarios and humor were all on brand for Geico—beyond the 'You can't skip this ad' joke alone."

The idea was brilliant, but the execution is what really brought the ads home. Park Pictures directors Terri Timely—aka, Ian Kibbey and Corey Creasey—shot four ads over two days, changing only a few things in the scripts. They moved one spot from a living room to a poolside barbecue, and conjured up the crazy vacuum cleaner in the office spot.

"Everything freezes a few seconds in, so they art directed each scene like a still life, from tiny little props to the symmetry to overall color tone," says Williams, Martin's creative director. "It would have been easy to just do the Wes Anderson thing here and go a little overboard on the crafty side. But they embraced the campiness of the scripts and went more 'stock photo chic,' which gave everything just the right personality."

"We just let the camera roll," says Bassett. "The actors were encouraged to stay frozen but use subtle eye movements and other cues to let the viewers know that the actors knew what was going on but they weren't allowed to break character."

Creasey and Kibbey say they contributed mostly to the art direction and casting. "We felt the spots were best told in one shot, so we really had to create scenes that read quickly but had enough depth and detail that could hold up to repeat viewings," Creasey says.

"That actually required a bit of restraint," Kibbey adds. "Whenever we had the impulse to push one element or another, we had to ask ourselves if it would enhance the bizarre suspended moment we are seeing unfold or detract from it."

The dog spot is the most famous, and no wonder. It's where everything came together—the great idea, the inspired direction and some wonderfully comic animal acting.

"We had an extensive conversation about what food was the funniest, from sausages and corn dogs to chicken casserole," says Mazzariol, Martin's associate creative director. "We finally decided the messy nature of the squiggly spaghetti would make it a great choice. And who would've thought—apparently dogs love spaghetti."

"We got a lot of good takes where Bolt just ate off the dad's plate," adds Creasey. "The trainer told us he thought Bolt was probably getting full and wouldn't do much more, so we probably only had one take left. We just told him to see if Bolt would jump on the table and see what happened. Apparently Bolt has two stomachs because he went to town. I think he would have kept eating if we let him."

"During that last take with Bolt, I couldn't believe that he was able to keep eating," says Kibbey. "I was so excited that I took out my phone and snapped a couple pictures off the monitor. I didn't realize that anyone witnessed my less than professional behavior until I saw this video that Mauricio posted online."

Check out Mazzariol's video here:

Both agency and client are reluctant to call the work groundbreaking. (It wasn't like we came up with 'Unskippable' and were like, 'Pencils down, we just invented electricity!' " Williams jokes.) But it did use creativity and humor to sidestep a seemingly intractable problem in a heavily used medium—picking up lots of industry awards along the way, including a Film Grand Prix at Cannes and two gold Clio Awards in the Digital and Innovative categories.

"You always need to reinvent," says Martin group creative director Wade Alger. "That is how you stay current and top of mind. That is key. If you don't, you become irrelevant, simple as that."

"We had a blast making these, and it's so wonderful that they were so well received," adds broadcast producer Liza Miller.

Not coincidentally, it also drove sales. Ward said Geico's digital business is booming, with mobile volumes running at record levels. "This was a big piece of that," he says, adding that Martin is now working on a follow-up "that's maybe almost as innovative."

"They've earned the right to throw some really crazy stuff at us," Ward says with a chuckle. "And we've earned the right to approve it, evidently."

This story first appeared in the Dec. 14 issue of Adweek magazine.

Continue to Adweek.

Posted By: The Martin Agency

Richmond Times-Dispatch Gets to Know Joshua Poteat

November 27, 2015

Getting To Know: Joshua Poteat

Title: copy editor/proofreader/occasional copywriter at The Martin Agency; poet/pug wrangler at home (won Library of Virginia’s 2015 Carole Weinstein Prize in Poetry, which includes a $10,000 award)

Born: Hampstead, N.C.

Education: University of North Carolina at Wilmington, bachelor of fine arts, 1994; Virginia Commonwealth University, master of fine arts, 1997

Career: Response Marketing Group/Brann RMG, 1999-2001; Aquent/Capital One, 2002-07; The Martin Agency, 2007-present. (poetry-writer career, 2004-present, including visiting writer at VCU, 2009-10; Donaldson Writer in Residence at the College of William and Mary, 2011-12; most recent publication “The Regret Histories,” 2015

In which part of town do you live:Church Hill

Best business decision: “Becoming a poet. It taught me to value language beyond monetary worth. That is, if being a poet can even be considered a business decision.”

Worst business decision: “Becoming a poet. Since poetry cannot be commodified, there is very little money involved.”

Mistake you learned the most from: “I always think of James Joyce when someone asks me about mistakes: ‘Mistakes are the portals of discovery.’ “

What is the biggest challenge/opportunity in the next two to five years:“Attempt to finish my fourth book and not screw up anything at work.”

First job after college: “Worked as an adjunct writing instructor at VCU and Virginia Union University. Couldn’t afford to live on such a salary, so I tricked my way into a proofreading job at TS Publications, a company that produced several magazines, one of them being Beans!, a Beanie Baby-themed magazine. Not one of my proudest moments.”

If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently: “Not let depression/anxiety control my life as much as it has.”

Author who inspired you the most: “The poet Larry Levis. His meditative narratives, so full of depth and clarity of vision, fused the landscape with the self. For me, there is no one finer.”

Favorite/least favorite subject in school: Least favorite: math. “I stopped understanding math when the alphabet decided to get involved.”

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Posted By: The Martin Agency

Walmart "Boyfriend" Voted Drum US Ad of the Week

November 25, 2015

Comedian and singer Craig Robinson surprises a Walmart shopper with a piano tune and some shopping advice in one of the company’s holiday commercials.

The 15-second ad, which has been voted by Holiday Creative Work readers as Ad of the Week, sees Robinson replacing the lyrics of ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ when he sees a woman browsing through a clothing rack at Walmart.

“Have yourself a merry little wish list, your boyfriend can’t read your mind,” he sings. The ad encourages viewers to download Walmart’s app so they can share what they want for Christmas this year on Facebook or over email.

Created by The Martin Agency, the video is one of many the brand is rolling out this holiday seasoning starring Robinson.

Continue to The Drum.

Posted By: The Martin Agency

Why Trusted Collaboration and Agile Teams Ensure Business Success

November 23, 2015


As part of the special event PSFK co-hosted for Mondelēz and Oreo, PSFK’s Director of Research & Strategy, Scott Lachut, moderated a group panel with the trusted partners who Mondelēz collaborated with when bringing their new Oreo Colorfilled Campaign to life. The diverse group of panelists gathered to discuss a vision of the new consumer and the highly customizable market.

Shalini Agrawal from 360i, in charge of overseeing and implementing the Colorfilled Campaign’s media strategy, said:

“Because of our mobile phones, people expect more personal experiences. Walking around with a personal computer every day makes you expect your news to be personalized to your interests, you expect to log on to Facebook and you expect the stories to be relevant to you, so it really makes sense that brands start taking that lead and making personalized experiences for people as well.“

Since large companies traditionally do much of the innovation internally, Oreo’s Colorfilled process—to bring in and welcome partners with various competencies—is unique. John Gibson of The Martin Agency and Vice President and Planning Director for Oreo explained leveraging the company’s unifying mission to unite divided and autonomous team members:

“One thing that’s important is we have a really pointed and powerful creative mission for the brand which is to let wonder loose in the world. That intent has always been there and we’ve always talked about the possibilities of how it can affect every different touchpoint, from packaging to product—now, actually seeing it happening, is super exciting.”

The panel discussion also touched upon the difficulty of taking an idea off of the drawing board and implementing it in the real world, as well as the lessons that panelists will take with them into their next collaboration. Doris Brown-McNally from HP stated: “What I learned is that you have to challenge the talent within your organization to take on new roles, spread their wings and try on new things. From that state of discomfort and newness, ideas and innovations come.”

Mondelēz and partners collaborated in creating the Oreo Colorfilled experience that lets snack-hungry cookie fans customize their Oreo packaging to include speciality illustrations and personalized messages in a variety of colors and have Oreos delivered to their doorstep.

Continue to PSFK.

Posted By: The Martin Agency

The 10 Most Artistic Mid-Sized Cities in America

November 17, 2015

gogobot, by Shelby

We’ve all heard the story of a dreamer packing up and moving to the big city to become an artist. It’s easy to believe that you have to go to a metropolis like New York City or Los Angeles to find a decent art scene, but that simply isn’t true. These days there are plenty of mid-sized towns that have vibrant art scenes. We set out to find out which ones were the most artistic.

  1. Richmond, VA
  2. Boise, ID
  3. Ann Arbor, MI
  4. Dayton, OH
  5. Pasadena, CA
  6. Santa Rosa, CA
  7. Ventura, CA
  8. Tacoma, WA
  9. Burbank, CA
  10. Berkeley, CA

1. Richmond, VA.

The people of Richmond aren’t just passionate patrons of the arts, their love is both deep and wide. Richmond topped our list in terms of museums and performance venues, making it an excellent destination for both live and static art. If you appreciate seeing original works by master painters, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is a must-see. The spacious museum has a collection of over 22,000 pieces from artists like Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, and Andy Warhol.

If you prefer to watch artists perform, you can catch shows at a variety of Richmond venues. At the beautiful and spacious Carpenter Theatre, you can watch a ballet troupe or symphony. For a more intimate experience, the Gottwald Playhouse allows you to observe the look in an actor’s eyes as they play their part.

Continue to gogobot to read about the other nine cities.

Posted By: The Martin Agency

A Grumpy Tree Ornament Reconnects With Wonder in Oreo's Holiday Spot

November 16, 2015

Editor's Pick, Creativity, By Alexandra Jardine

Oreo continues its Wonderfilled campaign through The Martin Agency with a cute, and funny, holiday spot featuring a decidedly jaded tree decoration. As the cross-looking elf lies around waiting to be put on the tree, his fellow ornaments whimiscally "wonder what's inside the holidays," but he's grumpy, asking "why's December always dark" and "what's in all those presents anyways?" However, it takes an Oreo cookie to bring the magic of Christmas back and get his holiday spirit started. Grinches, take note.

Continue to Creativity.

Posted By: The Martin Agency