These Incredible Play-Doh Ads Took 948 Pots to Make, and They’re for Grownups as Much as Kids

A message in the medium

Headshot of Angela Natividad

One of the unfortunate side-effects of getting older is that life starts to retract. With time, age and the cinching-down of careers and financial responsibilities, doors slam shut. The consequences of our actions resound louder. Adulthood is one long series of problems to solve, and fires to put out, and it’s easy to look at things from a macro perspective and constrict even more.

We resign ourselves to dividing problems into two piles—immediate things that need solving now, and things that will simply never be solved. Like world peace. (That’s why beauty pageants are so hilarious, isn’t it?)

But childhood is a different place, where you don’t yet recognize the limitations life will place on you. So, for its 60th birthday, and with help from DDB Paris, Play-Doh has released “In the World of Play-Doh,” a print and poster campaign that is not only creatively impressive but emotionally resonant, using actual Play-Doh to slide deep inside our hermit shells and snap them back open.

The final result—whose texture brings to mind both the smell and sensation of the toy clay crumbing in our inept hands—plays on the horizonless imaginations of children while addressing Big Kid topics like race relations, environmental disaster and technological innovation.

Click the ads to enlarge. 

“The world of Play-Doh is an idea that we’ve had in our heads for a long time,” DDB Paris senior copywriter Jean-François Bouchet tells AdFreak.

Each piece of creative is headed with a message that speaks both to children and their parents.

“I had written a series of headlines that each described one aspect of this world that is governed by the imagination and positive values,” Bouchet goes on. “And with [senior art director Emmanuel Corteau], we thought it would be wonderful to actually hand-make the ads and be 100 percent in the DNA of the brand. We also wanted to speak both to parents and adults, who could each discover a multitude of details in each print and experience the excitement of a child in front of a Christmas shop window.”

The ads were first sketched and colored over thousands of iterations, then a series of “grown-up kids” gathered ’round to take actual Play-Doh in hand. The images, including the typography and logo, are all hand-made, with a whimsical style that recalls what it felt like to imagine possibility between your gummy fingers—while reminding adults that the “real” world remains just as malleable.

Though we’ve perhaps still got a ways to go before head transplants become less scary.

The campaign took 10 months and 948 pots of Play-Doh to complete. “We kept count, and that’s what it took to bring to life the world of Play-Doh,” Courteau reveals.

“948 pots for a total of 71 characters, 15 trees and exactly 25,483 blades of grass. I have to be precise here, because if I forget one, [fellow modelers] Marion, Natacha and Remi will kill me,” he jokes.

“Did somebody say blades of grass…?” art director Remi Picard pipes in.

"The blades of grass ended up occupying our dreams at night, like Tetris players who dream of arranging the blocks in their sleep."
Emmanuel Courteau, DDB Paris

“The blades of grass ended up occupying our dreams at night, like Tetris players who dream of arranging the blocks in their sleep,” Courteau explains. “We don’t realize at first sight, but each tree represents at least two to three days of work. On average, we had to remake each one at least eight times. In the end it took four months to get the first key visual ready.”

“I fell into a giant pot of Play-Doh, and it took me 10 months to climb out,” art director Natacha Olive dryly quips.

“I hope the people who see the work will feel our passion. For us, it’s a bit like a child’s dream coming to life. It was an adventure we did together. And we are really happy to continue,” Courteau adds.

“‘The World of Play-Doh’ is proof that if you don’t forget how to dream like a child, beautiful things happen,” says executive creative director Alexander Kalchev. “We hope the world looks a little bit more like that in the years to come; it depends on us and what we teach our children.”

The campaign will include an online component, set to come out in September. “For now, let’s just say that we are not finished building the world of Play-Doh,” Bouchet teases.

Client: Play-Doh
Agency: DDB Paris
Creative director: Alexander Kalchev
Art director: Emmanuel Courteau, Natacha Olive de Cherisey, Rémi Picard
Copywriter: Jean-Francois Bouchet
Modelage: Natacha Olive de Cherisey, Emmanuel Courteau, Rémi Picard, Marion Dervaux
Photography: Marc Da Cunha Lopes

@luckthelady Angela Natividad is a frequent contributor to Adweek's creativity blog, AdFreak. She is also the author of Generation Creation and co-founder of Hurrah, an esports agency. She lives in Paris and when she isn't writing, she can be found picking food off your plate.