Picking Up the Pieces

After nine years, Reese’s makes a splashy return to TV with a stop-motion kids spot from DDB

Picture a land where old computer parts form cityscapes, billboards break apart and spew candy, and blue sharks swim in a peanut-butter sea. It may sound like a scene from “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” but these are images from a new TV spot for Reese’s Pieces, the Hershey Foods Corp. brand’s first in nine years.

DDB in New York wanted to create an ad that would “run as wild as a kid’s imagination,” says ecd John Staffen. In it, one Reese’s Piece remains in the center of the screen while a stop-motion universe springs to life around it from doodles in a notebook. The candy becomes the top of a car, a wrecking ball and an astronaut’s helmet, and gets gobbled by a shark. The nearly indecipherable (to adults) tagline “RU N2 PB?” ends the spot.

The decision to revive advertising for the candy stems from a relatively new marketing team at Hershey. CEO Rick Lenny joined in 2001, and he hired Andy England, Reese’s marketing director, in January 2002. Says England of the decision to focus on Reese’s: “A lot of it boiled down to: This business has done fine with absolutely no marketing support. It was like, imagine if we tried.”

England’s team met with longtime agency DDB, which had created the last advertising for Reese’s Pieces, in 1994. That work, targeting adults, carried the tag “You’ll love ’em to pieces” and showed quick shots of everyday objects labeled as “pieces”—neckpieces, timepieces, centerpieces and so on. This time around, Hershey wanted to target the candy’s main fans, kids 6-14. Reese’s Pieces is “kids’ entry point to the Reese’s franchise,” England says.

The 30-second spot, which broke April 12, will run only on Nickelodeon. Reese’s will sponsor some promotions on the network as well.

After Hershey chose DDB’s animation concept, the agency team selected Bent Image Lab in Portland, Ore., to bring the idea to life. Bent had leeway to contribute images of its own to the concept, and did so from a kid’s point of view, says co-director Chel White. The team conjured an animated man getting flattened by a Reese’s Piece after it falls from a billboard and a shark spitting up the candy. “That kind of stuff is irreverent,” says White. “We didn’t want to lose sight of what a 13-year-old would enjoy.”

Creating the stop-motion action was a three-month process done mainly by hand, with a few digital touch-ups. Most of the materials in the spot are found objects: Pencils serve as the shark’s teeth, and a person is made of a toothbrush, a cassette tape and a pink eraser. “The handmade feel was important to us,” says co-director David Daniels. “This had to be done stop-motion with real objects and real conditions.”

Keeping an object in the center of the screen as the animation swirled around it proved a logistical challenge. It was solved via a wide-angle lenses and a lot of patience. All sets had to be built on a large scale to accommodate the lenses. The peanut-butter sea—made with real peanut butter—was eight feet long. The city made of computer parts was 15-20 feet wide. Each aspect of a scene—buildings, characters, sky—had to be shot separately and the pieces were reassembled in postproduction.

The Reese’s spot is the first significant effort from the animation/live action production house, launched by its three principals last fall. Daniels had worked for Vinton Studios in Portland, where his credits included spots for Pepsi and Levi’s, as well as Pee Wee’s Playhouse. White, who has created spots for clients including Honda and Coke as well as animated Saturday Night Live segments, was previously at Curious Pictures in New York. Executive producer Ray di Carlo has produced ads for Reebok and Cellular One.

“The guys brought a lot of different capabilities,” says Staffen.

The untraditional tagline, “RU N2 PB?” raised eyebrows among both client executives and agency higher-ups. Hershey took pause at first, but England says, “For kids, it’s cool and fun.”

“These days kids are text messaging and instant messaging, and using all other shorthand symbols” Staffen says. “The first time [DDB New York president and CEO] Bob Kuperman saw it, he didn’t know what it was. To me, this says it’s working. If a 60-year-old advertising professional doesn’t get it but kids do—that’s what it’s supposed to do.”