john st.’s Cher Campbell and Blinkink directors Stevie Gee and Essy May speak to Addison Capper about saluting the “home of chillers, makers and wake up and bakers” in a delightful spot for DoorDash
From saucy soft-serve ice cream to basketball-dunking meatballs, to the very chefs and curbside 'dashers' that make up the 'Flavourhood', every part of Canada’s neighbourhoods are represented in this delightful campaign for food delivery service DoorDash.
The second iteration of a campaign by john st., the spot is all about championing food experiences and the neighbourhood and people that make them happen. And it does so in the most joyous of ways. Collaborating with Blinkink directors Stevie Gee and Essy May, who also helmed the campaign's first spot, the animated film features karate chopping sashimi, ollie popping burgers and burritos cruising around in vintage toy cars. It's all underpinned by a voiceover whose dramatic delivery gives it big Nike ad vibes but murmurings such as "wake up and bakers" keep it nice and silly. The juxtaposition between the two is extremely fun.
LBB's Addison Capper chatted with john st. chief creative officer Cher Campbell and directors Stevie and Essy to find out more about making it.
LBB> What are the foundations of Flavourhood? What was the initial brief for this campaign and what were your earliest thoughts on it?
Cher> The Flavourhood is all about discovery, that sense of wonderment. The desire to taste every flavour on offer. We call this feeling 'hungerment', we love a good portmanteau. The Flavourhood is where you find the weird, the wonderful and the comforting, and it's all a delicious adventure. What's so special about the Flavourhood is the sense of community and supporting one another, it's a place where everyone has a seat at the table and all flavours are celebrated.
The initial campaign in October 2020 introduced the Flavourhood to Canadians, but with this latest iteration we wanted to push past the introduction and celebrate its inhabitants, the heroes of the Flavourhood, the makers, the bakers, the cooks, the chefs, and the Dashers. So much goes into the food DoorDash delivers. Our earliest thoughts? How do you create serious happiness, that's what the Flavourhood is after all. So, we got inspired by happy things like the Care Bears and Gumby and serious things like sports and performance advertising.
LBB> As the name suggests, the idea is all rooted in the 'neighbourhood'. Can you speak a bit more about that inspiration? What inspired that approach? And what is the power of one's neighbourhood in 2021?
Cher> 2020 and 2021 has been extremely tough on businesses, especially the restaurant industry. If you walk through any given neighbourhood there is no doubt you'll see for lease or vacant signs. Small shops and restaurants are some of the main ingredients that make neighbourhoods so magical and welcoming. We want to reinforce the importance of growing our local economies through supporting our local (restaurant) merchants. Without them, we wouldn't have neighbourhoods.
LBB> Canada is an incredibly diverse country - how much did this feed into the inspiration for Flavourhood?
Cher> Canada is often referred to as a mosaic not a melting pot. Representing all those flavours matters. The unique and diverse flavour offing of a neighbourhood is often what defines it. We wanted to ensure we were highlighting food items that represented who we are as a country. From meatballs, to sashimi to samosas - Canada is made up of all different types of ‘flavours’ and that's what makes it such a great place to live.
LBB> A campaign rooted in the idea of a neighbourhood could stereotypically be quite 'normal' (for want of a better word!). I'm thinking real people, real businesses, documentary style. This couldn't be more different to that! Once you had the idea nailed down, what inspired the animation approach and the style of creative that you've put out?
Cher> It's all about joy. Food makes people happy, eating great food is often, these days more than ever, the highlight of one's day. We wanted to put work out in the world that made people feel the way food does: happy. Puppets, claymation, animation, these are all things that make you happy, though they are executed in the most modern way and have echoes of nostalgia. It just makes you feel good. Covid may have started the ball rolling in the direction of animation back in October but it's not why we stayed in that world.
LBB> How did you end up working with Blinkink, Stevie Gee and Essy May on the animation? What did they bring to the project that was so appealing to get them on board?
Cher> We worked with them on the first round and we're big believers in creating teams that work and returning to them. When you have partners that understand the brand, that understand the vision, it makes everything so much better. Initially we went to them because, well, have you looked at their work? It's awesome. It's meticulous. But mostly, it's full of that joy and fun we were looking for.
LBB> Stevie and Essy, this is the second spot that you've done for DoorDash and john st. Why was it something you were keen to get involved in?
Stevie and Essy> In the first ad we introduced the idea of living food characters when we pitched to the agency. They ended up as puppets and giant costumes transforming into real food which was really fun. For the second ad they came to us as they wanted the entire ad to be filled with these food characters. We have always wanted to work in the medium of stop motion animation and this ad was filled with it, so it was a dream job for us.
LBB> There are so many ace little details in the latest spot - the karate chopping sashimi, ollie popping burgers, etc. What was the creative process like on all these elements? How collaborative was the process between you and the directors?
Cher> Extremely collaborative. We were co-creating the entire time. Daily check-ins to ensure everyone was aligned on how we were moving forward.
Stevie and Essy> We designed all the characters and sets ourselves and proposed them to the agency. Christian [Buer] and Meghan [Kraemer] at John St were down for us to have fun and get wild with that so apart from a few changes here and there, they gave us a lot of creative freedom. They always had great feedback and ideas especially as Canadians and were a joy to collaborate with. We were definitely all on the same page coming up with ideas as a team.
LBB> Everything is food related - all of the 'people' even some of the buildings are food shaped. How did you find the challenge of creating something so rooted in what we eat? Was it a fun subject matter to sketch out and shoot ideas about before the production?
Stevie & Essy> Too much fun. It wasn’t so hard really, just super fun.
LBB> I also need to ask about the car, purely because it looks very much like something I want to drive. What was your inspo behind that?
Stevie & Essy> That was something that we sneaked into the ad ourselves behind the first ADs back and it made the final cut. It’s a 1980s vintage toy which we customised and painted and slid the burrito lady into. It felt kinda bad as it was in its original box and we mutilated it, although it's now immortalised in TV ad history forever!
LBB> With regards to the whole vibe of the film, it feels like a fun version of some kind of hyped-up sports ad. What were the overall inspirations for it?
Cher> Gumby x Nike.
Stevie & Essy> Yeah the agency had some great sports ad references that were very inspiring. Quite a serious tone with lighting, environment and snappy editing. It was fun to emulate some of that style but with goofy chefs and dancing burritos instead of incredible athletes.
LBB> Do you have a favourite character in the film?
Cher> That's a real Sophie's choice kinda question. I love them all but there is this one deleted scene I still think about, it was the burrito from the '88 Cabriolet, but she was dancing on a countertop. I miss her, but then again, I like to imagine that the meatball and the donut are best friends, I think I'd like to hang out most with those two.
Stevie & Essy> Yeah, Meatball for sure, especially when he takes off his sunglasses at the end and kind of screams in shock. Purple fluffy Dasher comes in a close second on his little BMX.
LBB> The voiceover is pretty cheeky too - looking at you "wake up and bakers". What was the writing process like for that? And who is the voice? Why were they right for the spot?
Cher> The creative team on the project wrote to the inspiration that they pitched, meaning absolutely fun, weird, and joyful is a totally serious performance / Nike-style inspirational VO. We had fun leaning into that seriousness. Her name is Britta Barbour, she's a Toronto based poet. We wanted someone who could deliver the energy we were looking for and ensure every word was powerful and clear. And she was exactly right.
Stevie & Essy> Ha, the agency wrote that, not sure if you noticed, the clock on the Mexican restaurant wall was set to 4:20 too.
LBB> Overall, what was the production process like?
Cher> Extremely collaborative and trusting. In a ‘traditional’ production process, once we align on the director the team hits the ground running and we share the ‘details’ in the pre pro. With this process, we did daily shares to ensure everyone (Including the client) were feeling good about the direction we were going. The team was so thoughtful and meticulous with each and every detail, we reviewed everything from the jeans our Dashers were wearing to the clouds in the sky. Going into the ‘shoot’ there were no surprises, just the opportunity to watch all the ingredients come together to tell a beautiful story.
LBB> Technically, can you speak about the animation style and how you actually went about making your ideas a reality? Overall, what was the production process like?
Stevie & Essy> We worked with a super talented and experienced team of sculptors, riggers and animators that have worked with Wes Anderson, Tim Burton and Aardman so as stop motion animation goes we were in very good hands. As this was our first stop motion job that was very reassuring.
LBB> What were the trickiest components and how did you overcome them?
Cher> Two things come to mind here:
1. Doing it all virtually.
2. Since the spot is a combination of animation, claymation and puppeteering, we didn't know how it was all going to come together until the end. Everyone was working on separate timelines and paths. We just had to trust the process and remind ourselves why we're working with the people we've selected. We're very happy it worked out.
Stevie & Essy> As directors we do tend to add in a lot of shots at the storyboard stage. It was a six-day shoot during a pandemic and there were some concerns from the crew that we would manage to get so many shots done in time. We did though. Matt Day as DOP and his amazing crew smashed it. When the producer says it probably won’t happen it's almost like a challenge to make it happen.