A & E Television Networks
A & E Television Networks
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT CAMPAIGN
In 2001 the Concept Farm, a boutique advertising agency based in New York, launched a promotional effort for History Channel International, part of A & E Television Networks, itself a joint venture of Hearst, ABC, Inc., and NBC. History Channel International was carried alongside its older cousin, the History Channel, on many U.S. cable and satellite television systems, but it faced different challenges in reaching its target audience, men in the age range of 24 to 54. Not only did the agency have to find a way to make familiar historical footage seem fresh, but the spots also had to work in any number of cultures around the world.
Modestly budgeted, the Concept Farm's second campaign for History Channel International, called "In Case You Missed It," attempted to meet those challenges through a humorous mix of stock and contrived footage. The unfortunate heroes of the campaign's three 30-second spots were well situated to witness some of the most important moments in history, only to be accidentally distracted and miss the climax. Each ad closed with the title card, "In case you missed it the first time," and the History Channel logo.
The campaign, which began in 2001, was successful with American audiences, winning several awards and improving the status of the Concept Farm. The humor was not as well received in other countries, however, causing some overseas broadcast partners not to run the spots. As a result, more serious-minded promotional campaigns followed.
The Concept Farm was founded by advertising veterans frustrated by working at big agencies. According to Anthony Vagnoni, writing for Print, "They started the company so that they could freely pursue ideas for new kinds of advertising and explore projects that would otherwise be abandoned." Griffin Stenger, one of the firm's cofounders and creative directors, told Vagnoni, "We've all seen too many ideas get killed by account people or marketing executives at big corporate clients." Like many boutiques, the Concept Farm looked for niche opportunities, in particular in the field of broadcast promotions (ads for TV channels and their programs).
As the number of television channels increased dramatically with the rise of cable television, so, too, did the need to promote them. Although the budgets were small and the deadlines tight, the Concept Farm was attracted to the freedom afforded by broadcast clients. Television marketing departments had fewer management layers than those of other companies, and this streamlined the approval process and allowed ad agencies a better chance of seeing their work on the screen unfiltered. As Gregg Wasiak, a cofounder of the Concept Farm, told Ann-Christine Diaz of Advertising Age's Creativity, "The speed at which everything has to happen really means broadcast clients have to make a lot of gut decisions. They understand their brand and they go with it." Time was not the only limited commodity. Promoting a TV channel required a great number of commercials, and so the budget for each spot was small. Wasiak put a positive spin on the problem, explaining, "It forces you to be simple and think creatively."
When the Concept Farm landed the job of promoting History Channel International, it faced hurdles beyond time and budgetary constraints. Because of language and cultural barriers related to the channel's global market, the shop had to focus on visuals. Given the limited budget, the firm knew that it would rely on stock film footage, but the task of making the overly familiar seem interesting again remained daunting. Wasiak told Diaz, "We wanted to serve up what's great about the History Channel, some of the most spectacular film you've ever seen about history, in a way you've never seen before."
The Concept Farm's first History Channel International campaign, "Go Back in Time," employed the simple technique of playing a tired film backward to make it fresh. One spot showed Jesse Owens landing in the pit on his gold-medal-winning long jump at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He was pulled back in the air and ran in reverse, accompanied by a voiceover: "Go back in time and see the leaps we've made." Another spot reversed the infamous summary execution of a prisoner during the Vietnam War. One ad in the campaign used footage of the Hindenburg disaster, showing the exploding dirigible returning to its original form. Wasiak elaborated on the effect of seeing the tragedy in reverse: "You understand that those were not 'moments in history' until that instant. We wanted to work backwards from that point and understand that that's when history was made."
For its second effort for History Channel International, the Concept Farm elected to continue exploiting stock material. It found another creative way to breathe life into tired footage in the "In Case You Missed It" campaign.
Like its cousin, the History Channel, History Channel International considered its target audience to be men between the ages of 24 and 54. Most viewers, however, tended to be closer to the upper end of that age range. The broadcaster was interested in lowering the average, but as Charlie Mayday, A & E's senior vice president of programming, explained to Michael Rose of Video Age International, "You have to accept that the subject appeals to an older audience." On the upside, continued Mayday, the audience existed all over the world, and "a good story" would transcend national boundaries.
In the realm of cable television, History Channel International's main rivals were the multitude of broadcasters—such as the Discovery Channel, ESPN, and other sports programmers—that targeted the same male demographic. In a larger sense, however, History Channel International was vying with every other advertiser for the attention of its coveted audience; thus, its competitors included deep-pocketed beer companies, automakers, and Hollywood film studios.
A LONG COUNT
One of the subjects in History Channel International's "In Case You Missed It" ads, German boxer Max Schmeling, became the unwilling tool of the Nazis following his defeat of African-American Joe Louis in 1936. Although portrayed as the "Aryan Superman" by Nazi propagandists, Schmeling hid a pair of Jewish boys in his apartment to spare them from a Nazi mob and reportedly helped some Jewish friends avoid the death camps. When Louis in later life fell upon hard times, Schmeling quietly provided him money. Looking back on the second fight with Louis in 1938, he said that he was almost happy he lost, "Just imagine if I would have come back to Germany with a victory. I had nothing to do with the Nazis, but they would have given me a medal. After the war I might have been considered a war criminal." In February 2005 Schmeling died at the age of 99, his only regret being that he did not live to see 100.
As was the case with the initial promotional campaign for History Channel International, the Concept Farm in its second effort had to contend with a small budget, a limited number of chances to speak to its target audience, and a crowded marketplace, while finding a way to achieve global appeal and to overcome language and cultural barriers. The new campaign, titled "In Case You Missed It," centered on spectators who were distracted and missed the key moment of an important historical event. Wasiak told Diaz that the inspiration came from his own life: "I remember when Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson, I was taking a pee. I missed the whole thing. When man first landed on the moon, there must have been somebody who was in the bathroom and missed all that."
The Concept Farm used the History Channel's film archives as well as two stock footage houses, Archive Films in New York and WPA in Chicago. Then the team created its own "lost footage," the shots of the commercials' protagonists. The newly filmed action, though humorous, was carefully matched in style to the real historical clips.
The three 30-second spots in the "In Case You Missed It" campaign were written by Wasiak and first appeared in the spring of 2001. The ad called "Boxing" concerned the first historic fight between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling in 1936. Intercut with actual footage of the fight were shots of a ringside photographer poised to take the climactic shot in the bout. By accident his flash went off, temporarily blinding him and causing him to miss Schmeling delivering the knockout punch to Louis. As would be the case with all the spots, a title card then faded in, reading "In case you missed it the first time," followed by the History Channel logo. The second spot, "Coronation," used footage from the coronation of England's Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Two members of the nobility quietly watched the solemn occasion, but just as the archbishop was about to place the crown on Elizabeth's head, one of them dropped his hat. In the course of bending over to retrieve it, he inadvertently hit his neighbor in the groin with his scepter. The victim doubled over in pain and missed the crowning. The spot closed with his valiant effort to share in his comrade's joy while suffering through the pain. The final ad, called "Moon Landing," depicted astronaut Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon. In Mission Control a NASA engineer looked on, watching the television screen and drinking coffee. He spilled the coffee on his lap and looked away just as Armstrong was about to hop onto the lunar surface. By the time he looked up again, Armstrong had already completed his historic moment. The engineer could do nothing but feign enthusiasm and mask his embarrassment.
The "In Case You Missed It" campaign garnered several awards for the Concept Farm. It won a Eurobest Award in 2001, the Gold Pencil in the Consumer Television Campaign (:30/:25) category at the One Show in 2002, an American Advertising Award (ADDY) in 2002, and an Andy Award from the Advertising Club of New York in 2003. The Concept Farm's Stenger told Millie Takaki, writing for Shoot, about the importance of winning the Gold Pencil: "We were up against many top production companies and ad agencies, and for us it validated our whole creative philosophy." After receiving that award the Concept Farm began getting requests from other agencies to direct their commercials. In response the agency created the Production Farm, an independently operated production company that used the directorial talent of the Concept Farm.
Although the Concept Farm's work was lauded by the firm's peers, History Channel International was not completely pleased with the campaign. As the number of countries it served grew significantly, the broadcaster became increasingly worried about offending local sensitivities. Humor, in particular, played differently from country to country. The Concept Farm developed two more promotional campaigns for History Channel International that took a more serious approach, the last one relying on montages of historical footage set to music, thus eliminating the need for graphics that would have had to have been translated dozens of times.
Diaz, Ann-Christine. "Ecce Promo: The Fertile Field of Broadcast Promotions." Advertising Age's Creativity, October 1, 2002.
―――――――. "Revisionism Reconsidered: New York's the Concept Farm Cultivates New Ideas from Old Events for the History Channel." Advertising Age's Creativity, September 1, 2001.
Diedrick, Brian. "BBDO N.Y., GSD&M Top TV ADDYs." Shoot, June 14, 2002, p. 1.
Kim, Hank. "The One Show." AdAgeGlobal, May 2002, p. 14.
Solman, Gregory. "New History Channel Ads Remember Things Past." Adweek, June 14, 2004, p. 15.
Takaki, Millie. "The Concept Farm Launches Product Farm." Shoot, September 19, 2003, p. 8.
Vagnoni, Anthony. "Look at Me." Print, January 2003, p. 48.
Wilcha, Kristin. "It's Hip to Be 'Square' at the ANDYs." Shoot, May 9, 2003, p. 1.
―――――――. "Short Route: BMW Tops One Show." Shoot, May 17, 2002, p. 1.
Zammit, Deanna. "Concept Farm Touts A & E Overseas." Adweek (eastern ed.), May 27, 2003.