The Spot: Sony’s Inner Child

How McCann's new global Xperia ad, directed by Wes Anderson, sprang from the mind of an 8-year-old

IDEA: To relaunch Sony Ericsson globally as Sony Mobile, McCann Worldgroup chose the theme "Made of Imagination." The point was to emphasize that Sony Xperia phones are designed imaginatively and allow their users to be imaginative, too. The agency knew it had to walk the walk where the new brand promise was concerned. "If we're going to stand for imagination in terms of the products, we have to make sure the advertising is just as imaginative," said Tom Murphy, executive creative director at McCann. For the launch spot, copywriter Ryan Montanti and art director Richard Kluver had the fanciful idea of commissioning scripts from the most imaginative people of all—children. The agency hired Wes Anderson, one of Hollywood's most visually inventive directors (and whose best-loved film, Rushmore, happens to be about a precocious child), to bring one delightful script to life for the 60-second launch spot.

COPYWRITING/TALENT: At interview sessions in New York, Los Angeles and London, Anderson asked more than 75 kids what they thought goes on inside Xperia phones and recorded their answers. One boy, an 8-year-old actor from Long Island named Jake Ryan, gave a particularly magical response. "Maybe there's three little robots—tiny, tiny little robots," he begins. "Their job is to make the phone work." Jake goes on to offer a surprisingly moving vision of how these robots deliver music, photos and videos to the device's screen. "Mostly they like doing it, 'cause they never actually saw what it was like in the human life," he says. "Just like how we don't know what's inside that device." McCann pitched the idea to the client with hypothetical scripts of what kids might say, but Jake's words had that ineffable mix of innocence and tilted logic that springs from the mind of a child. "Some of it sounds almost too perfect to be unscripted, but it is," said Murphy. "I love his line at the end, as the robot turns out the light, about never knowing what goes on in the device. It's a poignant thought." McCann executive producer Greg Lotus called Jake "a really incredible kid. … He has a way of thinking that's kind of advanced. He's obsessed with robots, I can tell you that."

ART DIRECTION/FILMING: Anderson built a visual world around Jake's audio track. The agency wanted something animated—it's more childlike. Anderson suggested stop-motion over CGI to make it more tactile and enchanting. First, he created an animatic of drawings, which became a blueprint for the whole process. Animation company LAIKA/House brought everything to life. The visuals are rich in detail. Many of the phone's interior structures look more analog than digital, with cogs and levers—as a child might imagine it. The sets were small but not tiny; the robots were about three inches tall. The ad uses nine custom sets and 37 handcrafted models, and took over 10,000 man-hours to produce. At the end, the robots are seen relaxing in a cross-section of little rooms (recalling HBO's "Voyeur" work from 2007). Anderson kept tweaking the scenes in the windows. One robot couple was eating dinner; he changed them to playing cards. "Wes has such a unique style, and you want that," said Lotus. "All those little details contribute to the depth of it."

SOUND: Anderson recorded Jake's story with a microphone in an open conference room, not a recording studio. "His idea was that you would hear the tone of the room and feel the reality that it was unscripted," said Murphy. Tinkly, fairy-tale-like music by Jónsi Birgisson, the frontman of Icelandic band Sigur Rós, plays underneath.