This Creepy Ad’s Story of Young Love Sets a New Bar for Twist Endings

Y&R's study in deception

Headshot of Angela Natividad

This went places we didn’t see coming.

For mobile company Movistar, Y&R Mexico created “Love Story,” a bittersweet tale of blossoming adolescent romance. (But you know that isn’t really true, don’t you?)

The film starts with a young boy receiving a friend request from a girl. Over time, they get closer. Often it’s cute; elsewhere, it’s cringey in a horror-filmish “Who gets kidnapped at the end?” way. And while we’re happy to report that instinct is technically correct, there’s a twist.

That’s right—it wasn’t just one kid who was a fake. They were both fakes! And what delight we found in watching that creeper stare-off at the end. Talk about catfishing catfish.

“I received a basic storyline from Y&R in Mexico City,” says director Andrew Lang of Wabi Productions, which produced the film. “Like many of the best ideas, it was very simple: Boy and girl meet online, flirt, agree to meet, and when they do, they’re both actually old men. I knew it was a winner the moment I read it.”

Y&R gave Lang a lot of creative leeway to interpret the idea as he saw fit.

“I decided that the best way to go about it was to write a conventional screenplay. I worked through several drafts and sent them each one, then we’d have a chat on Skype and they’d give notes,” he goes on, adding that the key to this freedom was the fact that it was funded by a production company—so a signed-on client wasn’t standing behind him, art directing his creative decisions.

“We made the film with Movistar in mind, but we didn’t tell them about its existence until the edit was complete. There was no treatment and no PPMs. From a director’s perspective, it was a much better way to work than the one we’re all used to.”

Of course, creative freedom also has its limitations.

“We were on a budget and could have done with more shooting time,” Lang concedes. “We shot a three-minute film in a day. On top of that, there was a freak hail storm in the middle of the day and we lost about three hours! In the end, we ended up shooting the whole film in two or three takes a scene.”

The film concludes by telling viewers that 150 million fake profiles exist on social media. While it’s unclear where that figure comes from, the principle holds that when you meet someone online, it’s hard to know whether they’re really who they say they are, even if you’re building what you think is a genuine connection. This makes young people especially vulnerable.

For Lang, the best way to drive this point home was to be mindful of the reveal, which manages to be expectedly horrifying but also reassuringly comedic.

“There was a lot of debate in my mind about how and when to reveal that each child is in fact a man—the exact shot order,” Lang says. “Do they ever appear together in frame? Does he see her first or she see him? All these questions make a difference to the dramatic impact.”

Being a film buff helped resolve the problem: “In the end, I was reliant on two sources, then built the finale around that. For the walk to the meeting, I wanted to do something like the slow-mo walking in Xavier Dolan’s Heartbeats, which I’m sure was in turn inspired by Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love. Then, for the meeting, I wanted the two men to eyeball each other like two boxers, and remembered this brilliant scene in Beau Travail by Claire Denis.”

The choice of kids also made a difference in how the film would impact viewers.

“You needed a pair of kids who were young enough to be sweet—because that generates the empathy of the audience—but old enough to be sexual, because that legitimizes the tone of the texts,” Lang explains. “That leaves you with quite a narrow range of ages and personality types.”

The girl, Alejandra Saez, is a first-time actor, and Lang calls her a “natural talent—one of those actors who the minute you see their face on the monitor, you know they are something special. She came up with all those looks you see in the film just based on me yelling different emotions at her from behind the monitor. She even yelled back at me a few times if the direction was confusing, which had the crew in hysterics. Like I said, a complete natural!”

In our view, “Love Story”—which, since launch, has been viewed nearly 10 million times—succeeds because it hits us in a deeper, more personal place than your standard fear-mongering PSA.

“For the first part of the film, we wanted the audience to feel that adrenaline of being 13 years old and meeting someone you like,” Lang says. “Then … the biggest shock possible when the two kids are revealed to be old men. Overall, we want kids to be more careful about who they befriend online. Although I’m sure most kids wouldn’t launch into an online relationship as eagerly as these two do, some do, and the consequences can be dire. In researching the film, I read some horrific stories which started much the way the film does.”

But by and large, the experience was positive. Lang concludes, “I really appreciated the freedom and the support of the creative team, as well as being handed such good raw material to work with. I’d love to do more of this sort of thing.”

Client: Movistar
Agency: Y&R México
Creative Director: Luis Madruga Enríquez, Rodrigo Casas
CEO: Héctor Fernández
CCO: Saúl Escobar
General Creative Director: Karla Santa Anna
Producer: Juan Pablo Osio
VP Client Services: Adriana Veytia
VP Planning: Natalia Berrio
Head of Art: Luis Madruga Enríquez
Copywriter: Rodrigo Casas
Production Company: Wabi Productions, partner to The Sweet Shop
Director: Andrew Lang
Managing Director: Alan Suárez
Managing Executive Producer: Denise Mendoza
Executive Producer: Melissa Brown
DOP: Rafael Lluch
1st AD: Jorge Sempre
Production Manager: Adriana Vera

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@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.