The Japanese concept of ikigai – or having a reason to get up in the morning – has been credited with boosting longevity and personal levels of satisfaction among the country’s population.
It also provided the perfect premise for a multi-media promotional campaign from Nestlé Middle East, which wanted to devise a campaign consisting of TV commercials and online media to promote its Nescafé instant coffee brand and engage with consumers.
The result, after about a year of preparation and three months of filming across three continents, was a series of TV commercials and Youtube ‘webisodes’ that expound the philosophy of ikigai as lived by people around the world, including in the Middle East.
Carl Khoury, senior brand manager for Nescafé in the Middle East, explains how the project came about. “We wanted to develop an emotional platform with our consumers, moving away from the simple physical stimulation attribution of coffee to a more elaborate emotional platform.
We wanted to focus on the morning occasion and we wanted to remind consumers, whenever they’re drinking their coffee in the morning, to think of a deeply hidden human truth – which is the reason why they wake up every morning.”
The campaign, which officially launched on Youtube in February and on TV in April, was a joint effort between the Nescafé team and several other players: film production company Filmmaster, creative agency Publicis, MEC for media and branded content, social media expertise from The Online Project (TOP) and PR support from LeoComm.
The team from Nestlé worked directly with the agency Publicis, which was briefed on the project and also generated ideas before hiring the production company – Filmmaster – to produce the TV commercials and webisodes.
It took Khoury and his team over six months to move from inception of the project back in mid-2014 to a firm plan ready for production, largely because of the breadth of the campaign. “It is a fully integrated campaign,” Khoury says. Indeed, with the Twitter hashtag #iwakeupfor, a TV campaign, a series of episodes on Youtube and in-store promotions, the campaign can aptly be described as 360 degree.
Much of the planning involved working out how to centre the campaign round the concept of ikigai and how to relate that concept to the Nescafé brand and the primary target audience of “young modern careerists” aged 24-35.
This group was a particular focus given the strong emphasis on internet platforms Youtube, Facebook and Twitter to drive the campaign. However, Khoury stressed that in terms of content, the campaign was also devised to appeal to a far broader base of consumers.
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“It’s not a narrow group because Nescafé is a mass brand, so it talks to different age groups and segments,” he says. This is amply demonstrated in the episodes, one of which features a Japanese grandmother whose ikigai is her devotion to her family.
Andrea Ciarla, executive producer, Filmmaster MEA Productions, explained that his company was hired by Publicis for the project last September, and within about one month had worked out its approach to the project. By this time it had also identified a director and DoP for the Japan and Middle East segments: Henry Chen as director and Ssong Yang as DoP. Meanwhile, the Brazil segments were directed by director and DoP, Diego Benevides.
Once the concept and structure of the campaign had been fleshed out, the team decided that they would first shoot in Japan, before heading to Brazil and finally to the Middle East to film in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
So, the first stop for the team– including the Filmmaster crew – was Okinawa, Japan, to do the shoot for the first phase of the campaign, including an episode to introduce the concept and ikigai to the target audience.
Khoury explains that it was important for the team to fly out to Japan and Brazil in order to capture inspiring real life examples of ikigai and to ensure the campaign had a genuine, fresh feel.
“We wanted something that is true to the idea and genuine, this is why everyone on the team went to Japan and then Brazil to really find inspiring stories that are true to the big idea and the concept,” he says.
The team visited Japan in December 2014 and spent about two and a half weeks in Okinawa before moving on to Brazil in January, and then Lebanon, Jeddah and the UAE in March 2015.
Ciarla and Antonio Sabatella, a producer at Filmmaster UAE, were responsible for all of the filming with a team of 10-12 crew working on the episodes.
Although the team spent two and half weeks in Okinawa, a significant amount of this time was spent scouting for locations and suitable subjects for the episodes.
Ciarla explains that Filmmaster had “a very strong producer” in Okinawa who was able to find genuine people to involve in the episodes. “For us, the biggest part of the project was the preparation because it’s not a normal TV commercial. Scouting and getting the right people was an exciting challenge,” he says.
Once the scouting was complete and the subjects for the Ikigai concept had been selected, Filmmaster shot everything, with the Publicis and Nestlé teams on hand to offer advice.
The main shoots in Japan to capture the people featured in the episodes were done on an Arri Amira camera and took about four days, Ciarla says. The team also captured significant amounts of background footage on Canon 5Ds during the scouting phase. One impressive scene recorded this way shows a fisherman working during sunrise.
“For the scout the 5D was the best solution because it is portable. We hired two or three lenses to support the image quality we wanted. The main unit, the Arri Amira worked well because it is a great documentary camera which is less bulky and more manageable than the Alexa, and then as a second camera we had the C100 which is also excellent quality and the shot matches very well with the Alexa footage. With these cameras we captured tonnes of footage. We left Japan with about 45 hours of footage,” Ciarla says.
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In Brazil Filmmaster worked with a different director and DoP who preferred to shoot everything with two Blackmagic cameras, although Canon 5Ds were still used for additional footage during the scouting phase.
During the Brazil shoot, the team captured some impressive stories from workers across the production chain of Nescafé coffee – from the farmers who grow the coffee beans to the workers in the factories where the coffee is processed and packaged. In each case, the people featured shared their personal take on ikigai.
In the Middle East Filmmaster shot in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and UAE. Mostly, the filming was straightforward, although Sabatella admits that producing content in Saudi Arabia presented some challenges, with various restrictions in terms of locations to shoot.
At first, the team was told to shoot only indoors, but this would have severely hindered the coverage of the subject - a Saudi photographer who spent much of his working day outdoors. Eventually, after a few polite requests and conversations with the relevant authorities, Ciarla and the team managed to do the required outdoor shoots.
“To go personally to KSA during pre-production and do basically ‘street casting’ was very challenging, although we discovered a facet of Saudi Arabia we didn’t know and didn’t expect - especially how open the people can be and also the enthusiasm they derive from working with international people and the close relationship you can develop in very short time,” Sabatella says.
Speaking about the Middle East shoots more generally, Sabatella says: “Every character, including the UAE mother and the Lebanese football player, was a discovery that didn’t come easily at the beginning, so the process of digging both online and from casting agencies was very important.”
Another challenge, particularly in Japan, was gaining access to the people who would become the subjects of the webisodes. This was partly due to cultural differences and the fact that the people taking part were not used to being filmed.
“When you deal with real people, one of the main challenges is to get accessibility, so they may not be used to cameras or intrusion, so there is always that thin line how to deal with people,” says Sabatella. “You don’t want to rehearse before filming otherwise it will look staged, so one big challenge was to preserve this freshness, this feeling of ‘first time’ that resonates into the final episodes.”
Ciarla adds that the crew was careful to respect the Japanese subjects’ private space. This meant having less crew members inside people’s homes to help gain a more intimate relationship.
The language barrier added another dimension to the shoots, especially in Japan, with dialogue between the crew and the subjects all passing through an interpreter.
Post production on all the footage was completed in Dubai, with the same editing and colour grading team working on all of the material. Editing was led by Scottish editor, Ruari McLeod. This helped to give the same look and feel to all of the episodes. Avid Media Composer was used for editing, and DaVinci was used the colour grading.
The main challenge for the editing team was the sheer amount of material, with more than 40 hours garnered from the shoots in Japan alone. “Our editor spent two and half weeks selecting and assembling the timeline,” Sabatella says.
However, the editor also travelled to Okinawa with the crew, which aided the editing process. This was important because the dialogue had to be translated from Japanese to English and Arabic for the subtitles, which needed to be arranged early on for the cuts pre-selected by the editor, Ciarla explains.
“While we were shooting he was in the editing room in Okinawa with a translator. They selected the best bits and subtitled them and then they started the editing. We did the same process for the Brazilian part.”
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The music for all of the episodes was composed by Xavier Capellas, from Barcelona, and was adapted for the different episodes. Using the same composer across the series helped to give consistency to the production across the three continents – an effect that mirrored the ikigai philosophy which also unites the subjects of the series.
As Digital Studio went to press, the campaign itself was well underway, and was being well received, according to the Khoury and Joseph Sindaha, digital marketing manager, Nestlé Middle East.
The TV commercial component ran from April to May, while the online component, which started in February was still in full swing, with some of the Arab episodes still being activated on Youtube.
The Japanese episodes, especially the first one which introduced the Ikigai concept to viewers had performed best at the time of writing, garnering about 1.5 million views on Youtube, while the episodes combined had received more than seven million views.
The campaign was also continuing to garner a strong following on Facebook and Twitter with the #iwakeupfor hashtag showing high levels of usage, demonstrating strong engagement with people in the Middle East.
And certainly, for Khoury and Sindaha, the campaign appears to have plenty of mileage left in it, with the team continuing to promote the online episodes on social media and even considering filming more stories of people’s ikigai in the region.
“There are lots of inspiring stories in the Middle East that we can capitalise on so we have to review them and engage with the people who share their stories,” Khoury says.
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The Ikigai concept
Ikigai is a Japanese concept that translates as “a reason for being”. Everyone, according to the Japanese, has an ikigai although finding it can require significant thought. Such a search is regarded as being very important, since it is believed that discovery of one’s ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to life.
In Okinawa, the southern region of Japan where Nestlé, Publicis and Filmmaster filmed for the Nescafé campaign, the concept of Ikigai is interpreted more as ‘a reason to wake up in the morning’. This was the angle that the Nestlé Middle East team focused on for its Nescafé campaign.
“The Ikigai concept is such an amazing story and philosophy. We really wanted to bring it to the people in the region in the most genuine way possible, because ultimately it is universal concept,” Carl Khoury said.
- Cameras used in Japan and Middle East: Arri Amira and Canon 5Ds
- Brazil: Blackmagic and Canon 5Ds
- Editing: Avid
- Colour grading: DaVinci