IDEA: The most entertaining campaign airing now with an NBA endorser doesn't star LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade. It's Chris Paul's State Farm campaign—or more accurately, Chris and Cliff Paul's campaign.
The "Born to Assist" ads, by Translation in New York, are based on a delightful idea, wonderfully executed—that the Los Angeles Clippers star was separated at birth from a twin brother he never knew. Chris, of course, became a three-time NBA assists leader. But Cliff is masterful at assisting, too—as a State Farm agent.
It's a simple, almost perfect metaphor: that State Farm agents have assisting in their blood. And Paul, 28, a gifted actor, has quietly made it soar while playing himself and Cliff (in a mustache, glasses and ever-present argyle sweater).
The latest spot extends the family, as Paul's real-life son Chris Jr. plays both himself and Cliff Jr. "It continues to convey State Farm's commitment to service from one generation to the next, and to provide the best value in the business," said Tim Van Hoof, State Farm's assistant vp of marketing.
COPYWRITING: The new spot opens with Chris and Cliff using whiteboards to teach their sons the basics of assisting.
"Twins Cliff and Chris Paul made it their pursuit to pass selflessness on to the next generation. And their children proved to be true prodigies," says the male voiceover. (With almost no dialogue, the VO tells the story in all the spots.) The ad goes on to show Lil' Chris excelling on the court, and Lil' Cliff doing so off it—by insuring his friends' new tree house "from his own State Farm branch" (of the tree).
In the final scene, the Pauls, riding down an escalator, are shocked to see Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry and what appears to be his own State Farm twin riding up the other side. The VO concludes: "A lil' assist goes a long way. No matter who it comes from."
The writing is playful and faux mythic—a tone that's only becoming more assured over time. "At a certain point the voice leads, and I just follow," said Translation associate creative director James Cohen.
ART DIRECTION/FILMING: "Visually, we want the world to strike the balance between reality and fable," Cohen said. "We like to play on the identical twin story by composing shots and sets that evoke their symmetry. We try to keep it subtle and make it pop here and there."
The shots with Cliff and Chris are filmed twice and combined in post—"a logistical puzzle," Cohen admitted.
Cliff loves his argyle, but "we don't think of him as a nerd," Cohen added. "He's an insurance agent with swagger."
TALENT: The creatives chose Paul after seeing him on a talk show. "His charm is effortless," said Cohen. "He makes Cliff come to life and can turn the character on and off at whim."
Chris Jr. was a pro, too. "Lil' Chris only takes direction from his daddy. What a prima donna," Cohen joked. "His mom Jada is helpful too … bribing him with ice cream to get the job done."
Cool and calm, Curry was a great foil for Paul's cartoony look on the escalator. "Plus, he's had a ridiculous season, so we're happy about that too," Cohen added.
SOUND: The music is a stock track that has a "whimsical, storytelling quality," Cohen said. With no dialogue, sound design helps "punctuate the storytelling with sounds and flourishes," he added.
MEDIA: The campaign goes well beyond TV. Cliff has over 100,000 followers on Twitter and Instagram. Gamers can play NBA 2K14 as Cliff. And fans can buy Jordan CP3 iD shoes inspired by the twins that come in argyle and are "worn to assist."
The future of Paul's relationship with State Farm has been complicated, however, by the racist rants from Clippers owner Donald Sterling. While there is no indication that State Farm doesn't want to work with Paul, the company is "pausing" its sponsorship of the Clippers franchise itself following the scandal.
Also, Steve Stoute, founder and CEO of Translation, told ESPN that State Farm will no longer work with the team—and hopes a widespread boycott would force Sterling to sell the Clippers.
Client: State Farm
Spot: "Future of the Assist"
Founder, Chief Executive Officer: Steve Stoute
Group Creative Directors: Chris Valencius, Jonathan Graham
Creative Director: Emily Sander
Art Directors: Devin Sharkey, Danielle Thornton
Associate Creative Director, Copywriter: James Cohen
Director of Content Production: Miriam Franklin
Director of Business Management: Debra Horvath
Senior Vice President, Group Account Director: Ben Gladstone
Account Director: Susanna Swartley
Account Supervisor: Sara Daino
Account Executive: Verena Zannantoni
Assistant Account Executive: Stacia Andrews
Producer: Melissa Nagy
Production: Bob Industries
Executive Producers: T.K. Knowles, John O'Grady, Chuck Ryant
Unit Production Manager: Bart Lipton
Production Supervisor: Jackie Hamilton
Editing: Bikini Edit
Executive Producer: Gina Pagano
Producer: Brad Wood
Editor: Avi Oron
Assistant Editor: Gustavo Roman
Postproduction: Brickyard VFX
Executive Producer: Jeff Blodgett
Producer: Linda Jackson
Lead Visual Effects Artist: Mandy Sorenson
On-Set Visual Effects Supervisor: Kathy Siegel