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September 2014
Issue: April 1, 2006

COVER STORY: COMPETING WITH A CANDY GIANT

By: Ken McGorry

STAMFORD, CT — In a classic, ongoing battle between candy giants, Hershey’s is aiming a swift uppercut at Mars. Kissables, Hershey’s new mini-Kisses, are shaped like the original chocolate favorite, but given a colorful candy shell rather than the time-honored foil wrapping. As such, Hershey’s can better move its brand into outlets like convenience stores. (Where, for instance, drivers look for portable snacks that require only one hand to consume.) Which brings Kissables head to head with the venerable M&Ms. (M&Ms were government issue in WWII due, in part, to the fact that the candy “melts in your mouth, not in hand.”)

So how do you promote such a major launch? Hershey’s ad agency North Castle Partners, based here (www.northcastle.com), focused on the product’s own longstanding goodwill and mixed in a message of portability and energetic fun. North Castle creatives Steve Garbett and Steve Mark wrote trippingly fast and funny new words to “Largo al Factotum” from “The Barber of Seville.” The original Italian lyrics are replaced by a string of illustrative “-able” words that play on the Kissable product name: “lovable, laughable, shareable, treatable, in-able, out-able, day-able, night-able,” etc.

Focus group tests proved that riffing this way on the comically tongue-twisting Rossini favorite was just right for showing off how fun and easy to eat this new candy was. Animation was the decided vehicle — but what kind of animation? And, though the concept was obviously very fast and funny, how would the message be visualized? A raucous animatic from Duck (www.duckstudios.com), designed and directed by Roger Chouinard, won out. (Chouinard’s version even surpassed another competing Duck entry.)

“When we first started writing it, we were really nervous about whether we would be able to bring all those ‘-able’ words to life,” says Garbett. “We were like, ‘Wow, this is going really, really fast.’ But the folks at Duck blew us away with their ability to capture all those words in a fun way. ‘Here-able, there-able’ could have been anything but the way they were able to do it was just fantastic.”

What you see in the current spot (check out Duck’s or North Castle’s site to see the :30) is a cavalcade of hilariously colorful yet distinctively different animated people popping colorful Kissables into their mouths. Chouinard’s characters are boldly recognizable as people of all ages. He created them in Adobe Photoshop and they were animated in After Effects. They appear flat, and their actual movements are limited, almost like motion graphics, but their energetic consumption of the colorful candies — to the allegro beat of Rossini’s music — is so fast that the eye can hardly keep up at first.

“The whole idea behind this spot was ‘irrepressible positive energy,’” says North Castle producer Jack Blandford, “and how we could get across in a combination of the music, the lyrics and what [Duck] did in moving in and out of each of the [animated characters]. They delivered that in spades.”

“It was a lot easier for us to capture that energy in the song and in the words” says Garbett. “For these guys to be able to put it together digitally was fantastic — that’s when we knew we really had a winner.”

Blandford likes the fact that the spot moves so fast it doesn’t need to be fully animated. Referring to one vignette, he says, “there are really cute little things like the little kid, when the [animated Kissables] are coming to him, he just sort of shakes a little — there are just wonderful little pieces they put in there that really make it come to life.”

The frenetic pace allows for new discoveries each time you watch Kissables. “Even if you don’t catch every one, which you certainly don’t the first viewing, you still get the idea of what the brand is all about,” says Steve Mark. Adds Garbett, “Those guys did a great job of keeping it fresh no matter how many times you saw it.”

So, with all the characters on screen, is there enough sell time?

“We’re showing 30 seconds of it — if you look, there’s a Kissable in every frame,” says Mark, “We’re the client’s best friend in that way.” But North Castle believes they have not oversold the product. There are two rest stops in the :30 where the image reverts to 3D animated mini-Kisses being engulfed in “colorful candy shells” plus the spot’s ending that emphasizes how the candies appear in their retail packaging. This, the agency team felt, would have been enough to please any client, but Duck’s Chouinard went so far as to show the candy being enjoyed in every shot. And he gave every character’s face a Kissable nose.

Duck stretches out

North Castle’s route for Kissables was to go straight from the prevailing test animatic into production. Chouinard had created the original animatic himself so this was rather easy.
“I did it all in Photoshop,” says Chouinard, Duck’s president. “Sometimes, when you’re given a clean slate, you sometimes get your best effort that way.”

The characters’ motion, limited as it is, was accomplished by Duck’s Laura Sasso in After Effects, he says, adding, “with the nature of the spot — changing images so fast — you didn’t need a lot of full animation.” Chouinard approached Kissables in a way similar to his illustration work. “North Castle came up with this great idea and this great track and that’s a great way to work — you run with whatever you want to do. They had four or five key things they wanted to get across about the product — like the smaller scale of it, a lot of different people eating it. So I started out by trying to illustrate each lyric and how to, with that very upbeat tempo, get from one thing to the next without cuts if possible.”

At first Chouinard thought, “this is going to be really hard because it’s moving so fast.” He credits Laura Sasso with her help in the finishing and compositing stage in After Effects that brought the characters to life. “Basically the backgrounds were really simple and you could have them whip along like that. I would create several positions for arms and open and closed mouths and things were manipulated in After Effects. All the candy was done in 3D. They wanted the candy to look as idealized and ‘real’ as possible. Plus that way you can have it tumbling and doing all kinds of things including having the candy coating poured over the chocolate. Doing it in 3D can make it look really lush and really nice.”

Duck’s Sasso used Autodesk’s Alias Maya to create the moveable 3D candies and editor Melissa Timme cut the piece using Apple’s Final Cut Pro 5 .

“You can almost do all this stuff on a laptop now with these programs,” Chuinard says.
Duck producer Mark Medernach says the shop worked about six weeks on the :30, adding, “We had gotten a jump with the designs and already [did] an animatic.” Medernach sees at lot of “retro ‘50s” looks in design on TV these days, adding, “This is a little more dimensional than that; I think it really breaks through, and that song is such a good song.”

Medernach says that the democratization of laptop and desktop animation has brought more talent to the fore than more exclusive systems would allow. “We are a full service character animation studio,” he says, adding that Duck has many different animators and animation styles to offer clients, including motion graphics artists.

The demographic question was an easy one for North Castle, which normally specializes in reaching the teen and young adult market. “Kissables has such a wide target user base, that it’s kind of, ‘Who doesn’t like Hershey’s?’” says Blandford. “It’s literally eight to 80.” The creatives do allow that, the younger the viewer, the more images they are able to recognize on first viewing.

The marriage of the fast-paced images with the tumbling lyrics creates “pretty much the easiest sell in the world when it comes to approvals,” Garbett says. “It’s entertaining from a consumer point of view but very branded and focused from a client point of view.” And Duck’s Chouinard “got to do what he does best,” says Blandford, “create characters.”