How Michel Gondry and BBDO Made Muscle Music for Gillette

An experiment in sound at a famed studio

IDEA: Listening to music is crucial to most people's workouts. But what if you could make music through exercise itself?

Gillette tries just that in an experimental two-minute video (which doubles as a deodorant ad) from BBDO, New York, and director Michel Gondry. They recruited NFL players and other high-caliber athletes, closely recorded their movements in a gym—actually, a recording studio outfitted like a gym—and built a musical track, beat by beat, layer upon layer, muscle upon muscle.

"Every guy listens to music to pump themselves up and make them train harder and better. That's where the idea was born," said BBDO creative director Brian Wiesenthal.

From there, it was mostly a matter of infinitely challenging sound design—a task made easier in the end by the inspiring setting, which held the echoes of countless legendary recordings.

COPYWRITING/SOUND: The video begins with the athletes filing in, starting up their exercise equipment and getting down to business. There is no dialogue. The sound starts off spare—e.g., the footsteps on a treadmill. Slowly, other athletes join in, and the sound grows— rowing machine, punching bag, speed bag, bench press, even a guy pounding a sledgehammer on a tire.

Sound engineers chose the "instruments" like they were scouting locations—testing different ones and sending sound bites to the creatives before the shoot. "It was a dream team of instruments," said BBDO creative director Jake Shaw. On set, the athletes listened to the others' rhythms through headphones and timed their own movements accordingly. The music reaches a crescendo before going silent.

Two lines appear on screen at the end—"Built to perform" and "Built for training"—along with a product shot of Gillette's Clear Gel deodorant.

FILMING/ART DIRECTION: Gondry, who rarely shoots ads, was drawn to the experimental nature of the project. He wanted to shoot in a recording studio, not a gym or a warehouse, and ended up filming for three days at Ocean Way Recording in Hollywood, where everyone from Frank Sinatra to the Beach Boys made records.

"It's just such an amazing, magical place. You feel it when you walk in," said Wiesenthal. "There were all these geeky things we discovered. If you look at where our sledgehammer guy is, literally Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson were standing there once upon a time singing 'We Are the World.'"

The wooden floors and vintage equipment set the tone for the video's visual aesthetic, too, which is much more muted, shadowy and refined than your typical sports ad. At the same time, Gondry wanted the guts of the recording process on display—that's why in the video, amplifiers, wires and microphones can be seen everywhere, and the recording engineers are seen adjusting them throughout.

"On one of the punching bags, we actually used Frank Sinatra's original microphone," said Shaw. "They kept calling it the priceless microphone."

TALENT: The NFL players featured in the ad are Champ Bailey and Kayvon Webster of the Denver Broncos, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard of the Cincinnati Bengals, and Mike Golic Jr. of the Pittsburgh Steelers. There were 16 athletes in all.

"Finding 16 guys who can keep time and work together as a team, that's a really big ask. A lot of the time was spent experimenting and training and practicing to get the perfect end result," said Shaw.

YouTube viewers have been raving about the speedbagger in the spot. "We were searching on YouTube and discovered a thing called punch drumming. And one of the best punch drummers in the world is this guy Matthew Santiago," said Wiesenthal. Added Shaw: "He had such a unique skill set that he became a big part of the team."

MEDIA: YouTube and Gillette's website. It is BBDO's last Gillette work currently running, as the account recently shifted to Grey.