When Creative Director at Special NZ, David Shirley, presented a script for a TVC to Kathmandu that included a mer-man, pillow marshmallows, and a half-fox half-human, the marketing team said, “great let’s do it!”
In preparation for the global outdoor gear and clothing brand’s release of a new line of clothing that features SUN-Stopper technology, Kathmandu came to creative agency partner Special to make its dream a reality.
Wanting to change perceptions of the brand from being a brand known for its winter clothing, to a brand that has versatile options for summer too, David and the team at Special NZ set out to bring the retailer’s slogan ‘We’re Out There’ to life.
“I have been doing this for a while now, but I still get excited about that new brief,” he says. “What can I do with it, where is it going to lead?”
His creative process at the beginning is “very old school” and usually begins in a crowded public space.
“It’s literally two people with a pad and pen each, going to, in my case, a busy place where there are snippets of conversation going on around me. The overflow of humanity around you is a good place to channel ideas.”
After a few days of “batting ideas back and forward,” wrestling with them, improving them, and being brutally honest, an outline emerges.
In this case, it was the concept for the Summer Never Sleeps campaign which is based on the idea that there shouldn’t be any barriers to enjoying the great outdoors.
“A lot of the other outdoorsy brands take themselves a bit too seriously,” says David. “This was more about having fun and remembering that the outdoors is for everyone and is good for us.
“We got to this idea of Summer Never Sleeps, which was based on a couple of things. We were trying to speak to a younger group who are a bit more spontaneous in summer, who want to go out and enjoy themselves.”
The SUN-Stopper range is also quite fashionable and designed so wearers can be ‘out there’ all day and layer them for the night as well.
“It turned into this idea that if you are out all day and all night, there is no need to sleep this summer.”
He then began to play with the symbolism of sleep by adding ideas such as counting sheep, pillows, and dream like characters.
A touch of spontaneity was also added as the story flows from one occasion to another and from day
David also wanted to play with the idea of the tent and what it represents. “When you crawl into the tent it normally feels like the end of the day but in this case, it is a tunnel to somewhere else. We were kind of messing with people because you feel like the story is concluding and then it carries on.”
This kooky tale is backed by the catchy track ‘Jimmy, Renda-Se’ by Tom Zé – a Brazilian composer.
“It was a song I heard years ago on a movie soundtrack, and it really stuck with me,” David says. “I loved the song. I tracked it down to find out who the writer was and tucked it away in the back of my head like a lot of creatives do. We are human Pinterest boards.
“When I was writing the script for this it came back to mind because it had that wonderful feeling of fun and goofiness. It was quite beneficial that the song is largely in gibberish, so it feels accessible to anyone.”
With Kathmandu looking to move more into the European market this was ideal, and the song evolved into the dialogue of the ad.
“They are all lip syncing and talking to each other in this made-up language and it felt like it was their own little secret language they share,” says David.
As with any project, there were some challenges, and for this one it was around shooting a summer campaign in the middle of a New Zealand winter. To overcome this, the production company Scoundrel suggested filming it in Slovenia and Italy.
“The initial search began with finding a place that looks and feels familiar to a New Zealand and Australian audience but has a summer feel and is not pissing with rain.”
The chosen locations turned out to be “a pretty good switch out for New Zealand” according to David, with “beautiful untouched nature and pristine lakes that felt like home”.
It also turned out that although the geography was a challenge, it became the making of the campaign because it was “such a perfect location”.
Wanting to embrace the fluidity and spontaneity of the film, it was decided that dancers would be cast to play the main characters instead of actors.
“We cast the net quite wide across Europe and found dancers from Spain, Britain, Germany, all over the place and then brought them to Slovenia to shoot with us.”
Getting to the production location early meant David was able to be there for parts of the production that he wouldn’t normally get to see.
“I got to sit through all the dance rehearsals for a couple of days and workshop with Daniel Warwick, the director, about how these scenes would play out and how they move which was really fruitful. Daniel is such a great director and so accommodating too.”
Michaela Clark, Kathmandu’s Head of Global Brand Campaigns, was also on the shoots which she says was an “unforgettable” experience.
“Being on set was so exciting and full of energy,” she says. “We were in these amazing locations shooting this fun and energetic story of friends exploring the outdoors and it was impossible not to get caught up in the excitement!
“Everyone was so passionate about creating a truly memorable piece of work, so it was a joy to be on set and then later when the campaign was launched, share in the success with that same team.”
Although David agrees this was “quite an odd script to read to a client” Kathmandu was all in.
“There was no challenge about whether it was the right thing to do, they saw the potential and did everything in their power to help us bring it to life. They have been incredible partners for years.”
Michaela says her first impression of the script was that “it was definitely ‘out there’” but “the faith to ‘jump’ together and trust the process was an easy one because Special understand Kathmandu so well.”
And it wasn’t just Kathmandu that appreciated the campaign’s creativity. Vimeo recognised the film as ‘Best of the Year’ in its annual list for 2022.
Tony Bradbourne, Special CEO & CCO says the campaign attracted a “huge amount” of attention from all over the globe.
“To be handpicked from the millions of films created each year says a lot about how unique, standout and beautifully crafted the idea is. Oh and a killer soundtrack helps.”
David believes it captured the audience’s attention because as a concept it is “incredibly brave”.
“This really stands out in that category. It’s a tribute to everyone who has worked on it.”
This article was originally published in the March/April 2023 issue of NZ Marketing. Click here to subscribe.