The Spot: Call of the Wild

Japanese agency builds a giant xylophone to pitch a cell phone

Headshot of Tim Nudd

GENESIS: This abstract and artful Japanese cell-phone spot, which will surely be among the most discussed and awarded ads of 2011, drew its inspiration from a single product feature: the wooden casing around the Touch Wood SH-08C handset.

Morihiro Harano, creative director at Drill Inc., wanted to emphasize the feature by evoking the tactile sensation of wood—to "awaken the common feeling everyone has that there is something good about wooden texture." But video isn't a tactile medium. So, Harano decided to magnify the sight and sound of wood in the ad, in the hope of making it feel almost touchable.

In thinking first about the sound of wood, "the xylophone came to mind instantly," he says. "I loved to play the toy when I was small." Then, to make it visually memorable, "I imagined a gigantic xylophone unlike any that's been seen before."

SOUND: Kenjiro Matsuo, of Invisible Designs Lab, and Mitsuo Tsuda, a wood engineer, were asked to build the instrument. Harano raised the degree of difficulty by deciding it should play itself—it would be tilted, and a wooden ball rolled down its length.

The biggest challenge, Matsuo says, was whittling the 413 wooden bars to achieve not just the right pitch but the right pacing for the ball to roll. "We tried many types of woods and shapes. We used a sanding machine and a tuner," Matsuo says. "Fortunately, it makes a very good sound. We didn't only work hard. We were lucky."

As the ball rolls, the xylophone plays Bach's Cantata 147 ("Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring"), chosen both because its notes are similar in length and because "it sounds divine," says Matsuo. (Also, the song wasn't copyrighted, which helped with the limited budget.)

At the shoot, a sound engineer held a gun-microphone and chased the ball. All the sounds in the spot are real. "The only thing we did was level the water sound from the mountain stream, which was a bit loud," Harano says.

ART DIRECTION: The scenic setting in a forest offered the splendor of nature as a backdrop. The beauty of the xylophone was rendered largely through its framing. The instrument is almost 50 yards long and was tilted at 12 degrees ("the magic number" for it to play properly, says Harano). Filmed from all angles and in sweeping panning shots, the xylophone ends up seeming even bigger. Everything in the spot was lit by natural light.

FILMING: The agency and the director, Seiichi Hishikawa, scouted 64 locations before finding a hilly spot outside Kama City where the xylophone fit perfectly. It took three days to set up the instrument up at the site and six hours to film—one single shooting day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

COPYWRITING: The spot is largely wordless, although onscreen copy at the end reveals a charitable element to the product and the campaign. It says NTT DoCoMo created the Touch Wood phone in part to help the Japanese forestry industry, which is struggling due to a drop in demand for timber.

TALENT: The director, sound engineer and other crew members appear on camera, but only while setting up the instrument. Once the action begins, the stars of the spot are the echoing forest and the xylophone—nature and humanity. Their interplay is a thing of beauty, though in the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami of March 11, the ad hums with added resonance.

"Nature often claims a lot from us, but also gives us a lot," Harano says. "Those who watched this ad must have felt comfort after the disaster, but both—comfort and disaster—are part of the power of nature."

MEDIA: The spot was intended originally to run only online, but the client fell in love with it, says Harano, and is planning to air a 120-second version on TV sometime this spring.


Full credits and behind-the-scenes video after the jump.


Client: NTT DoCoMo

Spot: "Xylophone"

Agency: Drill Inc.

Creative Director: Morihiro Harano

Copywriter: Noriko Yamada

Art Director: Jun Nishida

Director: Seiichi Hishikawa, Drawing and Manual

Sound Design: Kenjiro Matsuo, Invisible Designs Lab

Wood Engineer: Mitsuo Tsuda

Cinematographer: Eitaro Yamamoto, Shadow-dan

Editor: Hitoshi Kimura

Producer: Toshifumi Oiso, Engine PLUS

Producer: Hideyuki Chihara, Engine PLUS

Agency Producer: Ayako Yoshinoya, Dentsu Inc.

Special thanks to Kama City 


@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.