The Spot: AT&T’s Techno Thriller

BBDO weaves the client's products into a multi-part series spun off from Fox's 'Touch'

IDEA: AT&T had an idea two years ago to create some kind of long-form content that would embody, not just relate, its commitment to innovation and highlight plenty of AT&T products and technologies—all wrapped in a compelling video series and fully immersive experience online. The client turned to BBDO, which came up with Daybreak, an episodic online techno thriller that would stand on its own as entertainment but weave in the AT&T products and brand at every turn. BBDO found Tim Kring (creator of NBC's Heroes and Fox's Touch) and Jon Cassar (the Emmy-winning director of Fox's 24). Together they hatched a plan: Daybreak would spin off from the final episode of Touch, and its five videos (running almost an hour in all) and countless other online pieces would script a new era for branded content. (Six Degrees creator Raven Metzner is officially credited for the screenplay.) "With BMW Films, Hollywood people helped execute an idea," said David Lubars, BBDO's creative chief, who masterminded the BMW project a decade ago at Fallon. "The other way is product placement in Hollywood. This would be a whole new thing where, if we did it right, one plus one equals three. Tim's story and our story leapfrog each other. It's a parallel path with two ways of entertaining you and telling you about products that lift each other."

COPYWRITING: A mystical dodecahedron (a 12-sided object) from Touch plays a key role in Daybreak, symbolizing the power of the AT&T network. In the Web series, Ryan Eggold stars as Ben Wilkins, who becomes enmeshed in a global conspiracy and uses AT&T products (including the HTC One X, AT&T Translator, Air Graffiti and Image Recognition) to save himself. Lubars, Kring and other writers on the project spent time at AT&T Labs learning about current and future apps and devices. "Where the average person may think, 'Oh, that's a cool way for me to turn off my lights when I'm out of the house,' I started thinking about them as story ideas," said Kring. "It was baked into the DNA of the idea instead of placed over it like a shell." After creating three or four drafts of the main script and many prototypes for digital interaction, they took the story to Esther Lee, AT&T's svp of marketing and advertising. "Our technology does help make things happen in people's lives. This demonstrates that in a dramatic way," she said. "Whether the main character needs to get a clue from one of his friends or needs to download something to be able to unlock some kind of code, the technology is very organically integrated."

FILMING/ART DIRECTION: Cassar filmed the five episodes, each about 10 minutes long, in two-and-a-half weeks in and around Los Angeles. The visual look is gritty and cold, with plenty of fast-paced action. Each episode is clearly marked "AT&T Presents" at the beginning. "There's no hiding or making it seem like something it isn't," said Lubars. "The premise is, yeah, we're AT&T and we're giving this to you, and it's going to have products and stuff in it. But it's great and you'll love it. It's completely transparent."

TALENT: Eggold and co-star Sarah Roemer are emerging, not established stars. "AT&T is about the future and forwardness," said Lubars. "These people are on their way up. It's nice for us to help introduce them."

MEDIA: Measurement was key to AT&T. "It's not just a brand play or a feel-good play. It's a way to do business," said Lee. Kring said show runners will have to embrace multiplatform sooner rather than later. "Once you get that bug, where you realize the story doesn't just exist on a two-dimensional plane but actually is three-dimensional—you can tell the story up there, and down there, and behind you—it becomes kind of addictive," he said.