The&Partnership Canada’s Nabil Rachid and Untitled Films’ Ivan Grbovic speak to Addison Capper about celebrating the joy in receiving mail via a troupe of singing mailboxes
Impossible as it might have sounded back in 2019, 2020 has made digital communication even more central to the way we live and work. We’re endlessly on Zoom / Hangouts / Teams / insert-video-conferencing-service-of-your-choice. Email is a drag where we’re mostly pestered by our clients, bosses and spam. Even social messaging services like WhatsApp and Messenger can feel like a constant thorn in one’s side, a persistent reminder of the expectation to be ‘always on’. But the mail is a little different. Energy bills and the like aside, receiving mail is exciting. It’s how those sneakers you ordered the other day arrive at your door, all pristine and ready to be muddied. Maybe it’s a crate of booze, a big ole coffee table book or the simple pleasure of a new vacuum cleaner (or maybe that’s us). And of course there’s revelling in the delight of receiving a letter or greeting card, aware that someone somewhere has taken the time to personally write you a message and manually send it your way without the help of the internet.
This, in a roundabout way, summarises Canada Post’s strategy for its 2020 Christmas campaign. Created by The&Partnership Canada and directed by Untitled Films’ Ivan Grbovic, ‘A Street Named Joy’ is a cheery celebration of the magic that can be sent in the mail, to the tune of a track by Canadian artists Amy Milan and Evan Cranley, performed exquisitely by a street of pleasingly diverse singing mailboxes.
LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with Nabil Rachid, creative director at The&Partnership Canada, and director Ivan to find out more about how the campaign came to be.
LBB> When did you actually begin working on this campaign? Did Covid impact your strategy at all?
Nabil> We kicked off our creative brief in early July. Canada had some of its lowest Covid case counts then, and we were unsure when or if the second wave would hit. But we were certain that the 2020 holidays would be different in some important ways. People would likely forego travelling for smaller gatherings. We also expected the effects of isolation to grow stronger over the holidays, as people are separated from their friends and family. We knew that receiving a personal letter or package could help bridge that divide. And that’s what Canada Post is all about: connecting Canadians.
LBB> Speaking of strategy, tell me about it. What research informed the focus on joy?
Nabil> Human desires around the holidays (desire to share memories with friends and family, to create traditions, to share love) are still the same. The pandemic did heighten certain emotions, however. Halfway through the year, as the initial uncertainty around the pandemic subsided, people started looking to replace the fear with joy. They found ways to connect to each other, even in isolation. The holidays are a time to be together, but in the absence of physically being together, many people will want to reaffirm their bonds with expressions of love and caring by sending real, physical mail.
Our research showed that 65% of Canadians value personal greetings that come by mail over those that come electronically. So instead of a campaign that reminded us how far we’ve come in 2020, we wanted to focus on the joy that sending a letter or package can bring.
LBB> Once you had the strategy nailed down, what was the process from there? What was the creative process like?
Nabil> In an attempt to deal with the weariness of being trapped indoors, we’ve all spent so much more time online. From Zoom calls, to endless TikTok scrolls, to monitoring Covid cases, to election updates. We’re officially addicted. It’s taken a toll on us. We started thinking about what it means to receive an email vs real mail. The former feels like a chore – a responsibility you have to deal with. Whereas receiving mail, most of the time, is joyful. It’s a surprise. Knowing that someone somewhere thought of you, took the time to write, and unsolicited sent you a little present. There’s magic in that.
We started thinking about how an email inbox would feel vs a mailbox. And how much happier the mailbox would be receiving mail. The idea started taking shape after that.
LBB> The music is by Canadian artists Amy Milan and Evan Cranley - what was the selection process like for that? Why was it a good fit and how did you rework it for the spot?
Nabil> It was clear, right off the bat, that our director Ivan Grbovic was the right person for the job. The music in our spot was never meant to be a soundtrack, but was central to our concept. And Ivan treated it as such. He felt very strongly about collaborating with a musician who wasn’t used to writing scores for commercials. Lucky for us, Amy was a friend of his and was more than happy to jump on the project. We were thrilled to have someone of her calibre involved.
Our music brief was intentionally open-ended. We wanted Amy’s personality to work its way into the song unhindered. Ivan was involved every step of the way – joining most client meetings, editing sessions, and music discussions. Working with Ivan and Amy was a treat.
LBB> Ivan, this seems like a good point to get you involved in the chat. What can you tell us about the music choice?
Ivan> Amy and Evan are good friends. I kinda wrote the treatment with them in mind, not knowing that it was even a possibility to work together. Somehow, the stars aligned (no pun intended). The demo was amazing. I think a word or two were changed. Otherwise, it’s all there.
LBB> And why was this project something you were keen to get involved in?
Ivan> Simple. I loved the creative. I remember telling Lexy [Kavluk] from Untitled “I want it”, like a kid in a toy store. That and I’ve never done a Christmas spot before. It’s a bucket list thing I guess.
LBB> At what stage was the project in when you came on board? Thinking back to your original treatment, what was your vision for the spot at the time?
Ivan> I came in at the bid phase. You chat with the creatives, get a sense of what they’re going for. Barry [Hann] and Jordan [Mark] were open to ideas. Nabil had some great insight. After that, you lock yourself up and write. I saw this one early on. The final film is pretty much what I wrote. I love when that happens.
LBB> The art direction is fun and really vibrant - what were your main aims and ambitions with regards to the overall aesthetics?
Ivan> This was uncharted territory for me, but so liberating. Unleash the inner child in you! In my treatment, I wrote that I wanted something less Disney and more Muppets. So yes, playful and fun. And yes, we watched some recent British holiday ads. More importantly, we treated it like a movie. Sylvain Lemaitre, the production designer, sourced every imaginable mailbox in a 100km radius. It was about creating colourful characters. From the simple mailbox that opens the film to the more eccentric ones.
LBB> What was the shoot like?
Nabil> Shooting a commercial during a pandemic always has its challenges, but we’ve become accustomed to remote shoots. The teams took all the mandatory safety precautions, of course. We were lucky that we didn’t have a lot of people in our spot, but on the flip side, it took a large number of ‘mailbox operators’ to orchestrate the mailboxes. What may seem like a simple affair is actually quite complicated. Ivan and the team at Untitled had to plan every little aspect of the shoot, down to which syllable would be sung by which mailbox. That took a lot of experimentation, planning, and patience. The team did a phenomenal job.
Ivan> It was my first meaningful gig since taking a break to shoot my second feature, so I was a bit nervous. Luckily, my dream team was onboard. The shoot was relatively straight-forward. It was unusually warm for early October, so making the snow was a challenge. Sara Mishara, the cinematographer, worked hard to get that early morning feel consistent throughout the shoot, rain or shine.
LBB> How much were you able to capture in camera? And how did you pull that off?
Ivan> We did as much in camera as possible (most of it actually). A bit of split-screen here, a bit of wire-removal there, and you basically have the recipe for singing mailboxes. The art department practiced lip-syncing to the song a couple of days beforehand. It went surprisingly smoothly. There were a lot of double takes from passersby during the shoot.
LBB> You worked with Mathematic on the post - what was that process like?
Ivan> Their work had caught my eye in the past so I was happy to get the opportunity to work with them. They're a very creative post house. Aside from the long hours, they have a point of view, which is what matters most. Special shout out to Alex [Pagot], Thomas [Van Maele] and their team.
LBB> Any parting thoughts?
Nabil> The work is only as good as the team that comes together to create it – and we couldn’t be prouder of the result. We’re lucky to have clients at Canada Post that inspire and trust us and a team at The&Partnership that is always sprinting after excellence. We’re also thankful for the opportunity to have worked with Ivan, Amy, Evan Cranley and everyone at Untitled, Les Enfants, Mels, Circonflex and Mathematik. This was a monumental team effort, thank you everyone!
Ivan> I remember having doubts about the casting early on. I felt that he should be older, more wise (I was wrong). So I went to the source. I simply asked my mailman. We had a chat and it was settled in my mind. Come to think of it, the actor kind of looks like him.
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