Shattered Your Laptop Screen? Corning Feels Your Pain in Brilliant ‘Brokeface’ Ads

Paging Dr. Unverlicht

IDEA: When you break the screen of your smartphone, tablet or laptop, a part of you breaks, too. "Our technology and our sense of self—they're both very fragile, and they're increasingly intertwined," said Doremus copywriter Martin Sargent. "When we shatter our technology, we sort of shatter our psyches as well."

That idea was the inspiration for "Brokeface," the agency's weird, wonderful new campaign for Corning's Gorilla Glass NBT—a heavy-duty screen now available for notebook PCs. Brokeface is the facial contortion and underlying anguish you feel when you break your device's cover glass. It's a familiar condition these days, and it's diagnosed in three exceedingly quirky patients by Dr. Unverlicht, a Freudian psychologist, in a trio of three-minute spots, all of them brilliantly written, art directed, filmed and acted.

Doremus wants "Brokeface" to become part of the vernacular, and for you to demand Gorilla Glass by name from retailers, who would then demand it from manufacturers. And that could save you hours on the therapist's couch.

COPYWRITING: Creative director Michael Litchfield had the idea for "Brokeface" and took it to art director Georgi Belev, who envisioned print ads with tightly cropped portraits of people in pain. From there, Sargent took it into the therapist's office with three scripts.

In each, a tormented patient describes to the white-bearded, German-accented therapist the source of his or her pain. One man had an Internet romance fizzle; another missed a crucial day trade; a woman fell apart when he father died and her cat left her. But in fact, each protagonist has also broken a laptop screen—which Unverlicht assures them, to their surprise, is the real reason they're depressed.

The dialogue is seductively sad. "We were two people with 2 million things in common," says the lovelorn patient, Ford. "Everything I said made her laugh. No one ever thinks I'm funny. At least, not the things I say." The woman, Morris, describes her laptop accident: "There was the most awful noise. It was the glass shattering. But to me, it was the screaming of my demons escaping through the hole in the broken screen." "I should have eaten the shards, doc!" the day trader, Hillman, moans disconsolately. Unverlicht explains "Brokeface" to each of them, and prescribes Gorilla Glass as a remedy, leaving the patients aghast. (Ford ends up in the fetal position.)

It's dark material, but was originally meant to be even darker. "We're having a lot of fun calling on each of our troubled childhoods," Litchfield said with a chuckle.

The spots end with a left turn—goofy vignettes of Unverlicht outside the office, playing sports and guitar, as some explanatory copy and the URL appear.

ART DIRECTION/FILMING: Aero's Jason Farrand shot the ads in two days on sets built in Los Angeles.

The office scenes are dark and muted. The flashback scenes, though, are filled with vibrant color. "That's before the device was shattered, before the self was shattered," said Sargent. "There's richness … before their lives are hurtled into this dark place."

Only parts of the patients' faces are seen in the early frames. "We reveal their faces at the moment they say why they have a Brokeface," said Belev.

TALENT/SOUND: "We knew this whole thing would be carried on the quality of the casting," said Litchfield. "We were looking for people who were almost caricatures of themselves without even being necessarily aware of it."

Indeed, the actors—all found in L.A.—play perfectly in the surreal atmosphere. "We needed very malleable faces—Plasticine faces that could go from one extreme facial gesture to another," said Sargent. "All these guys were able to do that, and they had the acting chops to back it up."

A lilting piano score lends a feeling of unease, and sound design punctuates the action—particularly the horror of the screens breaking.

MEDIA: Banners and a pre-roll trailer point to the videos, which are on YouTube and Corning's website.