Project Re:Brief – Fascinating Proof That The Message is The Message

Imagine if the characters for MAD MEN were transported to the present and charged with devising versions of their advertisements in the digital world.  I’m not suggesting some lame movie with the mechanic of dropping characters from another time, I’m suggesting you check out Google’s Project Re:Brief. It is an absolutely fascinating series where they take four commercials that stand the test of time as being some of the best ever – Coke’s “Hilltop (Teach the world)” spot, Volvo’s “Drive it like you hate it”, Alka-Seltzer’s “I can’t believe I ae the whole thing” and Avis’ “We try harder” – and bring their creators to New York to work on the renewed version for this century. Besides the cool complexities of messing with the originals, it is brilliant to see how these retired Ad execs relate to technology and the new ways of connecting with people.  Oh, and it is also a brilliant way for Google to show off some innovative formats… At the end of the Volvo “making of” film, Amil Gargano recounts that Marshall Mcluhan said the Medium is the message yet Gargano and the Google staff proves that the Message is the Message.

They have only completed two of the four recreations and the first two set a high bar for the other two to reach. The Coke piece with Harvey Gabor is breathtaking as you see a man dealing with technologies that he has very little interaction with and collaborating successfully with a huge, young team to make the project work. Anybody who doesn’t understand the complexities of executing innovative digital campaigns should be forced to watch this.  Gabor’s exercising his own humility is what helps it succeed and the wonder and joy in his face as the complex campaign comes to life is worth the price of admission alone.  I bet you can’t go through the piece and the capture of the program without having a smile on your face – if not a Coke in your hand.

The Volvo piece is equally engaging as Gargano is blunt about his lack of consideration for technology, but very clear and in control about story and leading a group to go beyond technology to make the successful campaign.  I thought one of the most interesting things about this one was that they didn’t just creat a digital extension of the original commercial, they embodied the core of it – the humanity.  It was technical in its own way and showed features that online advertising can accomplish where other mediums can’t, but it didn’t get gimmicky.

The “old-school” legends do a great job of harnessing the team to focus on story rather than the gimmicks.  Too often, these days, there is such a push for advancing the medium without regard for the message.  Companies are constantly getting an influx of money for technologies that are cool, yet don’t really do anything.  Or, create ads that are pretty or cool with a great soundtrack but give the viewer nothing to hold on to. The melding of technology and storytelling in these examples are great.

It will be interesting to see what the other two campaigns present in the series, but so far, this is looking to be a fantastic study that all marketing students – and professionals – should be required to watch. If they don’t watch it online as the segments are released, there will be many more chances as Doug Pray is directing the entire film about Re-imagining advertising. Ultimately, I do believe that whether it is a half century or many centuries, the core tenet will remain the same – that the message is the message.

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