It was a shoot I didn’t go on. A sale I wasn’t part of. A strategy I didn’t write. But it’s still probably the single piece of work I’m proudest to have been involved with.
Against the odds, Fallon had pitched and won Sony’s consumer electronics business across Europe in 2004. Michael Wall had branded our pitch ‘Operation Golden Goose’: it would be our biggest client by far. (We almost blew it: another story.)
Unusually, we’d actually produced our pitch idea: You Make It A Sony. You won’t remember it..and most of Europe didn’t even understand it. Turns out it was a very British advertising thought: too clever by half, studded with dialogue.
Enter David Patton from PlayStation as our client..and an invitation to drink at advertising’s last chance saloon. Could we somehow wrangle ‘Like No Other’ – Sony’s new global tagline – into meaningful shape for the launch of the new Bravia TV?
I remember the all-agency briefing that ensued (I hated them; thought they reeked of panic). Remember also the dispiriting creative review that followed until we turned to Juan Cabral, recently hired from Mother and previously gnomic.
“If they want people to think their products are like no other, we must do advertising like no other. We bounce thousands of coloured balls down and a hill and film it. Colour. Like No Other.” A commercial lifeline in both senses of the word that we almost spoiled by insisting he write it up as a more orthodox script.
Juan’s response a week later? “We bounce thousands of coloured balls down a hill and film it. Colour. Like No Other.”
So that’s what we did, albeit after a year of ‘stakeholder’ dithering.
With Nikolai Fusilig in the director’s chair, we shot ‘Balls’ in San Francisco for the hills and the light. (A good shout: the only bit of post is the frog.). A superior rationale would have been its emerging status as the most wired city in the world. Shoot bystanders piled onto Flikr – the new-fangled photo-sharing website – within minutes of our balls being fired from hilltop water cannon, a deafening boom giving way to the steady peel of car alarms going off.
Cut to panicky calls from the shoot: the assets are out of control! In fact, of course, the campaign had already started, gone viral (an early example, and before that meant something else): a media model that we would use more deliberately to launch Cadbury’s ‘Gorilla’ a year later.
Edit and epic sound design complete, we launched ‘Balls’ with a two-and-a-half-minute director’s cut, previewed for the advertising village at Tate Britain, its airdate trailed hubristically in national newspapers long before that trick became a John Lewis Christmas campaign staple.
TV viewers watching on their old sets quickly concluded they wanted colour resolution like that (go figure) and we were obliged to take the ad off air while Sony hurriedly built a second European factory to meet demand.
While ‘Gorilla’ (also Fallon) would go to on to win the Cannes Film Grand Prix, ‘Balls’ missed out to Guinness’ NOITULOVE. I think it’s a better commercial than both. Discuss!
Laurence Green is an executive partner at MullenLowe London.