Calling On the Third World

The Best Hill, Holliday Commercial You May Never See
BOSTON–Arguably the most memorable spot produced by Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos in 1998–and one that is sure to pop up on the awards show circuit this year–is a 90-second cinematic execution now airing in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
The African country is the first market targeted for entry by Adesemi Communications International, Cambridge, Mass. Founded in 1993 by Liberian-born Monique Maddy, Adesemi is looking to set up telephone networks in third-world markets in Africa and Asia where “whole segments have not had access to communications,” she said.
Fueled by private investment and a grant from the United Nations, Maddy was introduced to Hill, Holliday chairman Jack Connors by former Harvard Business School Dean John McArthur. John Battista, design director at the Boston-based agency, helped develop the Adesemi name (translated from the West African, it means “of royal lineage”) as well as the logo and sales collateral.
The assignment to introduce Adesemi’s services and products–the adesephone and adesecard, a prepaid phone card–fell to art director Chris Poulin, copywriter George Goetz, producer Tom Foley and account director Karen Levine.
“We were floored by the enormity of what we were being asked to do,” recalled Poulin. The spot needed to convey how Adesemi’s products work while positioning them as “cool, Western and affordable,” he said.
The commercial features a mysterious man moving along the streets of Berlin from pay phone to pay phone, listening to a series of instructions left for him on voicemail by an alluring female voice. “You don’t know me. But I want you. So meet me on the roof,” says the first message. On the roof, he is told to “come to the Hotel International,” where he receives another voicemail directing him to “get dressed and meet me on the boat.”
The pursuit ends in an empty mansion, where he opens a door to a room filled with people in blond wigs shouting, “Happy birthday.” A male voiceover concludes: “More and more people are using the adesephone to reach anyone, anywhere [sound effect: beep beep]. And now, you can too.”
Because the spot would have been too costly to produce in the United States, Hill, Holliday submitted storyboards to European directors and hired German-born Ralf Schmerberg to direct the spot.
It was a whole new world for Poulin, who had never been to Europe, much less worked with a director who took charge of the storyboard, telling the creative team, “It’s a nice idea but let me meditate on it. We’ll take it someplace else that’s more interesting.”
Radio and print ads were also developed, and an aggressive public relations campaign designed to educate consumers is under way.
According to Maddy, while consumers may not know what an adesephone is, “they remember the ad.” Next stop: Ghana.