Keen observers might notice something a tad unusual going in Pom Wonderful’s latest campaign.
Somehow, this guy’s been impaled by a live dolphin. So, now he goes through his daily routine—taking meetings at work, pumping iron at the gym, preparing dinner at home—with the thing wiggling and clacking in his chest.
We’d say something fishy was going on, but dolphins are mammals, and we wouldn’t want to be accused of spreading fake news.
“The videos are one part pharma-ad parody, and one part homage to those feel-good UpRoxx/UpWorthy stories that get widely shared and cried over,” says Darren Moran, creative chief at the Wonderful Agency, the in-house advertising unit that devised the campaign. “People are used to those videos being longer than the typical six-second attention span – which we needed because of the complexity of the messages – yet they watch them because they know they’re really going to feel something by the end.”
But why employ such marine-life mayhem as the hook?
“Taking care of your health is serious business,” says Moran. “But to treat the delivery of this message so straight that it would be ignored would have been irresponsible of us. We felt comedy was the best way to get people to pay attention to something this important. And to compel the viewer to share the content with family and friends who could use a little non-judgmental nudge towards a healthier lifestyle.”
While being impaled by a dolphin may have plenty of positive side effects, it hasn’t made everything better at home for Jeff and Karen:
OK … but, why not use a swordfish instead?
“A swordfish would have been too on the nose, so to speak,” says Moran. “A dolphin is much more unexpected, just like most health scares.”
Yeah, no one expects to be skewered by a dolphin, that’s for sure.
Despite the polished look of the films, Pom didn’t have a big production budget, so fancy computer effects weren’t an option.
“We went old-school puppetry,” says Moran. “They sculpted and molded the skin of the dolphin from scratch, and watched lots of nature films to make sure the skin and mouth would move just right. We smoothed out and “moistened” the skin a bit in post, but what you see on screen is 95 percent what we saw on set.”
Cacophonously clicking away, with just the hint of a smile on its beak, the creature looks both realistic and totally ridiculous. Its presence keeps the story afloat despite a concept more porous than a fishing net.
“There aren’t even any electronics inside the dolphin, just wires and levers and such,” Moran says. “We’d yell, ‘Dolphin freakout!’ or ‘Salmon!’ to the operator, and he’d really make that porpoise dance.” (The visible rigging was removed during postproduction.)
Ultimately, this setup “let the actor (James Dooley) really feel what it would be like to live with a big ol’ cetacean sticking out of your chest 24/7,” he says. “Using a dolphin prop also gave the other actors something to react to, to be scared of, annoyed with, supportive of, or inspired by.”
Of course, this nautical nonsense is one huge whopper. But, somehow, the team reels in a winner, thanks in large part to Michael Illick’s spot-on faux-earnest/sitcom-y direction, and Dooley’s unflappably deadpan performance as an everyman who just happens to have a live dolphin lodged in his torso.
“James was so good at staying in character,” Moran recalls. “I don’t know that he ever laughed the whole time we shot.”
“The blowhole gag was tough to pull off,” he says. “Sometimes the water trickled out, other times it shot out like a firehose, and we could never predict where it would go. A lot of innocent people got blowholed that day—but in the end we got the shot.”
Client: POM Wonderful
Agency: Wonderful Agency
President: Michael Perdigao
Chief Creative Officer: Darren Moran
CD/Copywriter: Mike Condrick
CD/Art Director: Jason Fryer
Director of Integrated Production: Corey Bartha
Producer: Sam Baerwald
Sr. Digital Producer: Austyn Frostad
Production Company: Arts & Sciences/Suneeva
Director: Michael Illick
Executive Producers: Mal Ward, Geoff Cornish
Producer: Jeff Pangman/Katy Maravala
Director of Photography: Samy Inayeh
Production Designer: Christie Greyerbiehl
Editorial: Whitehouse Post
Editors: Brian Gannon and Corky DeVault
Producer: Annie Maldonado
Executive Producer: Joanna Manning
Visual Effects: Carbon