Creative Awards: Snap to Attention

Internet portal captures Emmy’s heart
Out is in.
The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences awarded its third Emmy for outstanding commercial to a spot, the dark horse in the five-nominee group. It wasn’t created by an advertising agency, and it relies on sentimentality, rather than humor, to relay its message. Being different, the emotional ad suggests, is its own reward.
Created by NBC’s on-air promotions department, the 60-second spot follows the story of two students on their morning bus ride to school. A boy notices that while the rest of his friends chatter, a deaf student sits alone. He decides to use to find sign-language sites. The next morning, he introduces himself to his classmate.
As partial owner of, NBC previously enlisted its promotions department to produce call-to-action spots for the Internet portal. It seemed natural to hire them for an all-out branding effort, says Bertina Ceccarelli, vice president of brand development and research for
Moreover, NBC’s Los Angeles-based in-house team was happy to alter their routine, says Vince Manze, executive vice president of advertising and promotions for NBC, who acted as creative director for the campaign, which includes two other ads.
Unlike other award-winning campaigns in a category that often utilizes offbeat humor, tugs at the heart. “We collected
dot-com campaigns from everyone, and after a while, you have no idea which is which. I think we stood out,” Manze says.
Of course, the media run was a key factor in the campaign’s creative direction. Since the spot would only air on NBC, it needed to appeal to the network’s mainstream audience, says Manze, who describes it as “upscale, heavily female, and a little smarter” than the audience targeted by many comedic dot-com ads.
“We sold Providence last year with emotion–on a Friday night,” says Manze. “It never fails. If I can make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, I’ve reached you.”
The goal of the Emmy-winning commercial was to show the success of an online search. “There’s an emotional attachment at the end,” says Manze, citing his own personal experience of surfing for online health information when his daughter was ill. “If you find it, you feel good,” he says.
Manze chose Ray Dillman of Gartner, Santa Monica, Calif., to direct. “I thought he had the right touch with actors,” he says. “It was essential in ‘New Friend’ that you not think the boys are actors.”
To avoid making “badvertising” (how the director describes cloying ads), Dillman made sure the boys’ interaction would be fresh.
Will Rothhaar, who played the hearing student, didn’t learn sign language until the day of the shoot. “His role was to look awkward trying to sign, so why give him a signing coach and have him be really good at it?” asks Dillman.
The authenticity and poignancy of the spot proved effective enough to sway the Emmy judges–and consumers. “Every time we run it, we get inundated with e-mails,” admits Ceccarelli, adding that searches on sign language rise as well.
The NBC team is planning to follow up its Emmy win with additional heartwarming spots that will appear in the next six months, including a holiday e-commerce effort.
The other Emmy nominees . . .
Dances with Dog
Miller Lite, Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis
A great dane teaches his owner a new trick. In exchange for fetching the man a Miller, the dog gets a slow dance with him.
Fox, Cliff Freeman and Partners, New York
A man demonstrates how he’s learned to do everyday tasks with his feet. It turns out his hands are busy on the Fox Web site.
Volkswagen, Arnold Communications, Boston
When a couple pops a CD into their car, all the movements on the street follow the same rhythm.
Tow Truck
Discover Brokerage, Black Rocket, San Francisco
To pass the time, a man asks his tow truck driver if he plays the market. A bit. With Discover’s help, he bought an island.

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