Moto Magic? How Creative Differences Came Between an Agency and Client

NEW YORK It’s not often that the work of a renowned film director causes a rift between an agency and client, but it seems as if Cutwater’s hiring of Michel Gondry for a Motorola TV spot may have done just that.

The San Francisco shop, headed by former TBWA cd Chuck McBride and Cole & Weber co-president Brad Harrington, hired Gondry last spring to create a 60-second spot to kick off the global campaign promoting the Razr2. The shoot was in May, post-production began in June and in September a Razr2 spot aired—just not the one from Cutwater.

This has left Cutwater more or less “in limbo” with Motorola, according to a source at the agency, with several projects pending and communication with the client at a minimum. A Motorola rep says the company does not comment on its agency relationships.

Cutwater, one of several agencies working with the company, had already created several campaigns for Motorola, including a global effort for the Krazr. For the Gondry spot, “Experience”—which cost an estimated $800,000 to produce—the client had been sold on the idea and the director, whose feature films include The Science of Sleep and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The spot’s goal was to highlight the phone’s features through a visualization of the user experience.

The original storyboards called for a guy to physically carry various walls around in order to change the sets. In Gondry’s spot, a woman kicks over a building made to look like a phone, and the scene then morphs into a forest with trees filled with e-mails (represented by paper envelopes); a fun house-like studio where pictures are being taken; a nightclub, where music is played; and a pool party, where a giant, robotic-looking hand swoops in.

Gondry produced the scenes by forgoing animation for moving sets, rigs and pulleys. The spot’s complexity, from the number of transitions to the off-the-wall touches, such as a robot drummer, proved too artistic for the client. (Gondry could not be reached for comment.)

“At the end of the day Motorola had a hard time giving control over to an artist,” says a source who worked on the project.

“Michel generally wants to see a kernel of a unique idea and from there he [makes it his own],” explains Sheila Stepanek, exeuctive producer at Partizan, which reps the director.

It was during editing that the creative differences became evident. While the agency wanted to keep Gondry’s vision intact, the client wanted to streamline it and take out some of the more fanciful elements. After production had been completed in June, an agency meeting with Motorola CEO Ed Zander made it clear that in Asia—where Motorola is handled by Ogilvy & Mather in Beijing—focusing on the slimness of the phone was gaining favor. The client asked Cutwater to incorporate that strategy into the print executions, but the results were ads that one source called “Frankensteinish.”

According to Harrington, there was “an inordinate amount of tension between the agency and Motorola. Their team was under a great deal of pressure with the Razr2 launch and we felt for them. I don’t believe that pressure was dealt with in the most constructive way by either party.”

In the end, a commercial emphasizing the phone’s slimness began running globally from Ogilvy. It features a couple dueling on a subway platform with their phones.

“It felt more and more obvious that [Gondry’s spot] was something that wouldn’t be most effectively applied in mass media, particularly for a TV audience,” explains Elena Panizza, worldwide cd at Motorola. “I don’t think it would fit nicely with an advertising block with a Burger King ad. It’s far more sophisticated.”

“Moving the Razr brand past the idea of thin and into the idea of experience is still something that I believe in,” says McBride. “When a product changes every year, you have to live beyond the design. We felt it had to become a brand experience so that when people will buy into the phone, they [also] buy into the Moto experience.”

Motorola posted “Experience” on its Web site, and as of press time it had received over 28,000 hits on YouTube in one week.

“It’s being seen,” says Jennifer Golub, executive producer at Cutwater, who described the piece as “one of the most beautiful” she’s ever worked on.

“It’s an interesting commercial that should have been on the air. They felt different,” says McBride. “We’re all very disappointed.”