Close Call

business suits lying around on the set of Nextel’s latest TV spot. And it needed them, as many were ruined during the shoot by the sticky lacquer that serves as the spot’s punch line.

In the spot, John, an executive hosting a meeting, gets a voicemail from Bob, who has been trying to deliver an important message. “What ever you do, avoid the boardroom,” he says, explaining that the newly lacquered table needs 24 hours to dry. Too late—John looks up, dumbstruck, to see the arms and briefcases of the confused attendees stuck to the table.

(The suits were mostly ruined when a character sits on the table and gets stuck, a shot that ended up getting cut.)

“Bad things happen when you don’t get through” appears on the screen to promote Nextel’s Direct Connect, which uses a two-way radio to allow callers to reach people without leaving a message.

Customer frustration with late messages is the theme for the $30 million national TV and print campaign, crafted by Mullen. The spot broke late last month and is running primarily during NFL and NHL broadcasts on ESPN and CBS.

The concept arose, says Mullen chief creative officer Edward Boches, from a desire to show not what great things can happen when one uses Nextel, but what can go wrong when one doesn’t. As a result, the product is not featured in the narratives.

Two additional spots are slated to break by year’s end. One features an architect who rips his work to shreds and has an emotional meltdown, unaware that his clients do indeed like his work. The other shows a secretary visiting her boss in the hospital to let him know—far too late—that the elevator in their building is broken.

To create the wacky scenes, Mul len tapped veteran commercial director Kinka Usher (Taco Bell, the “Got milk?” campaign,, Pepsi, Mountain Dew), who also directed the comedy Mystery Men. Mullen had worked with Usher on the recent Lending Tree TV spots.

The Mullen team liked Usher’s ability to ground the exaggerated humor in reality and his way of working collaboratively with actors and agencies. “As soon as we started working with him, we all shared ideas,” copywriter Brian Hayes says of the shoot. “He was open to discussion with every idea, right up until we began shooting.”

The shoot took place over two days at the end of summer in Los Angeles. Since the John character doesn’t say a word, the production team looked for actors who could convey John’s experience through facial expressions. They auditioned about 20 actors before selecting Kim Robillard for his serious, executive-like appearance.

Scenes depicting a host of objects getting stuck—newspapers, calculators, jackets and the unfortunate person who sits on the table—were shot, but they did not fit in the 30-second final version.

The campaign includes print ads that are running in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today. The first features graphics of the product and copy that reads, “Two-way radios so advanced they have digital, Internet-ready cell phones built right in.” Others will appear later this year.