French premium pay-TV channel Canal+ prides itself on its commitment to cinema. A priority for the broadcaster is offering customers diversity in movie genres, deciphering current and future trends, and conveying the passion of all those involved in making movies to anyone interested in watching them.
For Canal+, its communications are driven by a desire to remind audiences of its commitment to quality cinema. As part of this strategy the channel's ad agency, BETC Paris, produced an offbeat, witty TV commercial - 'The Bear' - in which a bearskin rug explains what it takes to become a great Hollywood director.
Through a combination of live action and CG 'The Bear', directed by Matthjis van Heijningen, shows the rug at work as a film director behind the scenes of his latest film, complete with mood swings and tantrums. The narrative wittily and succinctly brings to life Canal+'s claim that: 'The more you watch Canal+ the more you love cinema'.
'The Bear' was launched in October 2011 to wide-spread acclaim. It quickly generated more than 1.5 million views on YouTube and achieved the best impact score of any previous Canal+ ad and an awareness score 18 points higher than the average. The ad was quickly absorbed into French popular culture and has since won a number of industry awards.
As a result, more than a year since its launch, the ad is still used and continues on air in 2013.
Canal+ has worked with BETC Paris since 2001.
Each year the agency produces a significant volume of work for the channel. It produces campaigns to promote Canal+'s values and content strengths (notably cinema, and sport); campaigns to launch new series, films and sports events; campaigns to promote partnerships, festivals and special offers.
More than a year since its launch, the ad is still used and continues on air
"We know each other very well and have established a really appreciable relationship of trust," says Canal+ Communications Director Beatrice Roux.
"This and the successes we have shared definitely allow both of us to push our limits, take risks together and push creativity a little further forward each time. However this human relationship is also based on strategic discussion, briefs, de-briefs and sharing.
What makes a lasting client: agency relationship, she adds, "is to keep the agency in the loop from an early stage".
"We are in a very privileged relationship based on discussing and sharing," agrees BETC Chief Creative Officer Stéphane Xiberras. "We're closely sync-ed on the overall tone of the brand. Tests (of creative ideas) are fairly rare. We have a real relationship of trust - something that I think is pretty rare these days."
In late 2010, the agency was briefed to develop a new campaign to promote Canal+ movie offering.
Direct competition for Canal+ is growing, fast. "The number of non-pay channels is constantly increasing, on-demand services keep multiplying, and the internet is constantly offering access to richer and richer content," Roux explains.
"With movies still the number one reason people subscribe to Canal+, it was necessary for the channel to redefine the unique role it plays in France."
People subscribe to Canal+ for three things: cinema, sport and series but it had been a long time since Canal+ had communicated on cinema (the last cinema-focused spot was the acclaimed ad 'March of the Emperor' in 2006) and they wanted to show how important it is to them.
"Deep client culture knowledge is a huge advantage to develop great creative work. It is also very important that every piece of work remains consistent and faithful to this culture so it can resonate to people's perception of the brand.
Finally and more importantly, is building a single-minded message that enhances this client culture."
Guillaume Espinet, BETC Account Director
The team assembled to develop the campaign was already intimately familiar with the Canal+ brand and its tone of voice. The agency creatives, TV producer, director and client had worked together two years earlier on a highly successful TV ad for Canal+ called 'The Closet'.
In this ad, a screenwriter talks his way out of a compromising situation when discovered hiding in the wardrobe of his lover's bedroom by her husband. 'The Closet', with its "Never underestimate the power of a great story" end line, was entertaining, witty and distinctive in tone. It was the most awarded commercial in 2010 (The Gunn Report, 2010).
The starting point for the new campaign was to show how Canal+ could transfer its viewers into the world of cinema.
"We didn't want to do this in the way everyone does - showing someone that literally finds her or himself in the middle of a movie. We thought the ultimate achievement would be to make people want to become movie-makers themselves”
Jean-Christophe Royer, BETC Copywriter
A new strategic positioning was conceived: "The more you watch Canal+, the more you love cinema". The question was: how best to bring this to life in a way that would set Canal+ apart in a highly crowded, competitive pay-TV marketplace?
The bear idea arose from a suggestion that a bear rug on a living room floor would see more movies than any single human.
The agency evaluated the idea using two criteria: was it a good translation of Canal+'s strong link with quality cinema, and was it Canal+ enough
"Canal+ liked the idea, but they didn't want to see their customers represented as couch potatoes lying all day in front of the TV," says Art Director Eric Astorgue. "So we explored the idea further and presented more than ten scripts. But as we kept on working, it became obvious to all involved that the bear was THE idea."
The creative team turned the rug into a temperamental movie director called Paul Bearman. To make the filmmaker as convincing as possible, the ad would take the form of a behind the scenes expose of the master at work on his latest movie.
Xiberras adds: "The agency evaluated the idea using two criteria: was it a good translation of Canal+'s strong link with quality cinema, and was it Canal+ enough - in other words, did it bring to life Canal+'s distinctive tone of voice and sense of humour?"
'The Bear' was a bold idea, the success of which would depend on its execution.
"The main challenge was to find the right director - a director who could render personality to a bearskin rug and make it as real as possible," Astorgue says. "Because Canal+ produces big movies, the movie that the bear directed needed to be a Hollywood-like production."
Furthermore, high quality execution throughout was critical if the campaign was to convey Canal+'s quality cinema positioning. "Ensuring the vision hit the screen was the greatest challenge," Xiberras says.
"All advertising we produce for Canal+ needs to be like a sample of what you will see on the channel because if the TV commercials were average that would imply the entertainment you find on Canal+ is average, too. And BETC and Canal+ won't let that happen."
A critical decision was how to bring the bear skin rug to life: whether to use someone in a suit, an animatronic, or CG?
Styling him, hair by hair, getting his character out - neither too neat nor too scruffy, took time and patience.
It was decided that CG was the best way to make the bear realistic. However, for the three-day live action shoot in Prague - where a Game of Thrones-inspired epic set in a gothic castle was filmed - Van Heijningen advised that a real actor would be needed to ensure the bear was also a lively and credible character.
"I'm always scared of CG and animatronics that look really fake. The idea to use a real actor - who, in fact, was truly extraordinary - overcame that, and provided a very precise motion capture for the 3D animators to base their work on the actor's expressions, gestures and gait," Xiberras says.
Using a real actor for the live shoot then removing him digitally in post-production also ensured the bear became a real and believable character. "You can't direct an animatronic, an animatronic doesn't improvise on set and you can't ask it to play a director the Woody Allen or Martin Scorcese way," says Astorgue:
BETC TV Producer Isabelle Menard adds: "Beyond just bringing him to life, we had to give him an identity and soul of his own." However rendering the furry bear in post-production, which was done at effects house Mikros Image, proved one of the biggest challenges.
"Styling him, hair by hair, getting his character out - neither too neat nor too scruffy, took time and patience. The bear had to be perfectly realistic - the technical elements of the production had to be perfect in order to allow the story to speak for itself," she says.
'The Bear', which was first launched on YouTube on October 12 2011 then on TV four-days later, was an immediate success quickly generating more than 1.5 million views on YouTube.
It achieved the best impact score of any Canal+ ad and an awareness score 18 points higher than average. Its scores for originality and talk-ability (as "an ad I'd talk to my friends about") were 32 points and 24 points above average for Canal+ ads, respectively.
In a channel survey following the ad's first TV airing, 90% of respondents stated Canal+ "knows how to share its passion for cinema" and 85% believed Canal+ "is very different from other channels.”
"Canal+ makes 90% of its incomes on monthly subscriptions therefore the number one goal of any campaign is to recruit new subscribers," says Roux.
"For us, the key indicator is thus how a campaign boosts purchase intent. It's a criterion that is very difficult to move and for 'The Bear' it was seven points higher than the norm - a really satisfying figure."
'The Bear' has also won numerous awards - no less than nine Grand Prix, including the Grand Prix Film Craft at the 2012 Cannes Lions Advertising Festival, where it also won three Gold Lions and a Silver and the jurors praised how well the ad lived up to repeat viewing.
The Bear has also been awarded with four D&AD pencils, three Gold Clios, Gold and Silver at the One Show and is the world’s most awarded TV ad ever since the beginning of the Gunn Report.