The athletes gathering next month in Rio may be dazzling spectacles of human achievement, but getting there took a lot of ugliness.
A new Olympic ad from Gillette tackles a familiar angle on sports-themed marketing—the grueling road to greatness. But the three-minute spot, "Perfect Isn't Pretty," created by Grey New York, breathes new life into the trope with "Unstoppable," an original song from pop singer and songwriter Sia, featuring a rapped verse from Pusha T of Clipse and percussion from Olodum, the iconic samba-reggae group from Brazil.
On screen, sports monsters from a range of disciplines—soccer player Neymar Jr. from Brazil; swimmer Ning Zetao from China; cyclist Andy Tennant from the U.K.; and decathlete Ashton Eaton from the U.S.—all push through their brutal training regimens. The basic sacrifices are perhaps predictable, complete with early alarm clocks, frustrated spouses, less time with their kids, exacting coaches and absurd media hype.
But as the commercial progresses, the obstacles take on surreal proportions, as a snarling wolf chases Easton through the fog, and the goal on the field where Neymar is practicing burns in full blaze. The physical travails get worse as the ad crescendoes, with ice baths, and vomiting, and cartoon spills over the front of handle bars—with the obligatory shots of shaving sprinkled throughout (because, as chores go, everyone can agree, that's one of the worst).
The spot also features stunning shots of various landscapes, effectively illustrating the point that this marketing, and the Olympics, are truly global affairs, as well as the point that these competitors are practicing every day, wherever they are.
But the work is most notable for the interplay between the visuals and the music, which are perfectly paced to maximize contrast and emotional punch. Sia wails about being invincible, and powerful, while Ning nearly collapses from exhaustion, and yaks into a toilet, encapsulating the ad's message—the audience doesn't really see all the suffering that goes into getting to the top of the game.
That message is perhaps a little obvious—implicit in the celebration of star athletes is a recognition that succeeding in sports is hard, and requires an amount of work most people aren't necessarily willing or able to undertake. By the time Pusha T makes his entrance on the soundtrack, the story arc is in its defiant stage, as the Olympians rise, fighting, from the depths of their struggles.
That the lyrics consist largely of motivational clichés is a little disappointing, but not inappropriate to the material—this is broad pop music, for an advertisement around a mass sporting event, so a certain amount of cashing in on the lowest common denominator is to be expected. It is, though, a notable contrast to Under Armour and Droga5's similarly themed Michael Phelps spot, which put a pre-existing song, "The Last Goodbye" by the Kills, to pretty spectacular effect—leveraging a a more personal, specific scenario, namely Phelps's final Olympics, to elevate a broader point, clearly distilled by that ad's only copy: "It's what you do in the dark that puts in you in the light."
In the Gillette ad's climax, as Easton literally soars through the air mid-jump, the marketer's less mystical rendition kicks in: "The best a man can get isn't always pretty, but [is] always worth the chase." In other words, the razor brand can't do much to help its endorsers win—they're on their own, there. But it will help them look a little better, even when they're doubled over in pain along the way.
Spot Title: Perfect Isn't Pretty
First Air Date: 07/13/16
Agency: Grey New York
Chief Creative Officer:
Andreas Dahlqvist, Chief Creative Officer, Grey NY
Jeff Stamp, Executive Creative Director, Grey NY
Leonard Savage, Executive Creative Director, Grey NY
Senior Creative Director:
Asan Aslam, Senior Creative Director, Grey NY
Noah Will, Senior Creative Director, Grey NY
Hank Romero, Project Director, Grey NY
Kelsey Longo, Project Manager, Grey NY
Bennett McCarroll, EVP, Director of Broadcast, Grey NY
James McPherson, SVP, Head of Integrated Production, Grey NY
Katy Hill, VP Producer, Grey NY
Agency Music Producer:
Zachary Pollakoff, Music Supervisor, Grey NY
Production Company: Caviar Content, Los Angeles, CA
Director: Karim Huu Do, Director, Caviar Content
Director of Photography: Daniel Bouquet, Director of Photography, Caviar Content
Editor: Cut & Run
Gary Knight, Editor, Cut & Run
Stacy Peterson, Editor, Cut & Run
Post Production: The Mill NY
Phil Loeb, Sound Engineer, Heard City
Josh Kessler, Executive Producer, Heavy Duty Projects
Sia, Singer, Composer
Pusha T, Rapper
Ariel Rechtshaid, Producer
Olodum, Percussion Accompaniment
Brian Weston, EVP, Account Director, Grey NY
Elizabeth Gilchrist, SVP, Account Director, Grey NY
Irina Gilbertson, VP, Account Director, Grey NY
Katie Stirn, Account Supervisor, Grey NY
Suzi Jump, Account Supervisor, Grey NY
John Nelson, Senior Account Executive, Grey NY
Wesley Roman, Assistant Account Executive, Grey NY