Tile’s First Major Ad Campaign Tells the Epic Story of a Beloved Lost Panda

Deutsch and Mark Molloy craft a sad, sweet saga

If your beloved anthropomorphic plush panda bear ever goes missing, don’t sweat it. Tile’s got you covered.

In “Lost Panda,” a moody two-minute tear-jerker by Deutsch and Smuggler director Mark Molloy, the titular toy, named Ernie, treks far and wide in search of his owner, a little girl who’s bereft without her fuzzy friend.

Can Tile, the Bluetooth-enabled tracking system, help reunite the pair? (If it can’t, this really isn’t much of a campaign, now is it?)

“When we lose something and then find it, it’s an indescribably good feeling,” Deutsch executive creative director Guto Araki tells AdFreak. “But how could we tell that story so that the lost thing is compelling to everyone? That was the challenge. So, we realized that by transforming something into someone, we could end up with a beautiful love story.”

As it turns out, the resulting tale took it cues from real life.

“The ‘Lost Panda’ story was inspired by an actual Tile customer, a young girl who lost her stuffed animal in a busy city, only to be reunited later with the help of the Tile community,” says Tile CMO Simon Fleming-Wood. “Our creative team thought it’d be powerful to tell the story from the perspective of Ernie, a stuffed panda, and to bring to life what his owner, Lucy, might have imagined her ‘best friend’ going through in trying to find his way back to her. In her imagination, Ernie gets more and more lost while looking for her, only to be helped home by the ‘good neighbors’ he meets—a metaphor for the Tile community. Of course, in reality, Ernie stays in the exact place he was likely dropped by Lucy, only to be found by a loving father who had the foresight to put a Tile in Ernie’s pocket.”

So, what’s this about a “Tile community”?

Working on iOS or Android, the app helps users find items attached to a Tile dongle within a range of about 200 feet. If your stuff gets really lost—which can happen when a plush Panda hops a freight train to the middle of nowhere—you can receive location info from the phones of other Tile users. (When these folks approach your missing items, their own apps generate an anonymous update for you to follow.)

That handy feature, one of Tile’s biggest selling points, informs the campaign’s tagline, “Together we find.” Yet, this functionality is never fully explained in “Lost Panda,” which, according to Fleming-Wood, is intended as “emotional storytelling to provoke consumers’ attention and drive consideration.”

The spot will run on TV and online in 60-, 30-, and 15-second formats, while the full-length clip will be available on Tile.com and the company’s social platforms.

Consumers seeking more information can watch Ernie and Lucy in a series of online demos, like the one below, that spell out the details:

As for the main “Lost Panda” film, it’s a masterwork of emotional manipulation by Molloy, whose cinematic sense of style and narrative—previously on display in Nissan’s unconventional “On the Shoulders of Giants” epic from last year, and Samsung’s celebratory surfing spot from 2014—fits the material to a T.

We know from the start that things will work out OK, but we go along for the ride largely owing to the director’s artistry. There’s an angsty aspect that ups the emotional ante and gives the climax, though predictable, added punch and appeal. (In fact, the child’s imagination/favorite-toy set-up recalls John Lewis’ “Monty the Penguin” spot from a few years back, through “Lost Panda” has a darker vibe that’s completely different, and in tune with the brand message.)

Besides, Ernie is unbearably adorbs!

“[Molloy] wanted to capture as much as he could in camera, and we basically ended up capturing almost everything [that way],” Araki says. “Obviously, there was a ton of cleanup to do and a massive amount of VFX to bring it all together.”

Two pose-able Ernies, and a third designed to be extra cuddly, appear in the spot, as do “Lost Panda” posters, which actually went up last week as campaign teasers in New York and San Francisco.

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@DaveGian davegia@hotmail.com David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.