O Big Brother
Orwellian Themes and a Classic Ad Come to Life for an Unlikely Product
The world is full of busy people, but the director and president of Frederick-based Big Picture Media, a video production company, is a man for whom the word “busy” doesn’t begin to cover his days. Salyer McLauglin (he prefers to go by only his first name) and his team have produced ads for an impressive and lengthy list of mega high-end clientele. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, the United Nations, the U.S. Department of Labor, the Catholic Church, National Geographic and, most recently, Frederick’s own Mattress Warehouse.
It is the Mattress Warehouse spot that is the subject of our conversation. The ad (destined for “virality” on an internet near you) pays a thinly veiled tribute to the iconic 1983 Macintosh computer Super Bowl ad depicting an Orwellian world, commanded by Big Brother, set free by the small-but-mighty Mac.
“We live in a world where we’re being told a lot of information about all kinds of products and issues, and the problem is that a lot of that information just isn’t true.” Salyer’s voice rises and falls as he gives vent to the frustrated energy of an artist with a need to do something about it. “Big Brother is telling us that technology is a certain thing and that we have only one way of looking at things. We’re just trudging through life and accepting what we’re told, swallowing it all wholeheartedly.”
A mattress commercial seems a weird and vaguely unsettling venue for battling Big Brother and Salyer’s inflection rises to that challenge.
“We’re drones listening to the homogenous messages we’re being given. The ‘like new’ mattresses people are being sold these days aren’t ‘like new,’ they’re used. So we wanted to re-create [the Big Brother world of the Mac ad] and pull it off and make it relevant to this day and age, with modern consumers and this product.”
The dishonesty clearly bothers Salyer.
“I named this ‘Mattress Wars’ because I like to think that when you push the competition you can produce real change. When Mattress Warehouse came to me about this new direction of theirs, characterized by honesty and a really good product, I wanted to encourage them to create messages bigger than just the brand, and they are doing that with this spot. I just really like the idea that they want to clean up this industry and to be respected again because of that.”
This is not Big Picture Media’s first foray into revolutionary commercialism, either.
“I used to do a lot of public service messaging in controversial campaigns back in the early 1990’s, and a spot we did for the U.N. garnered enough public pressure to convince President [George H.W.] Bush to go to the first United Nations environmental summit. … We got worldwide attention with James Earl Jones doing voiceover and this small group of ten of us managed to represent a good idea that forced this thing that changed the world. So, I figured out how to create messages that create messages that raise awareness and create positive change.”
But a mattress commercial?
“I never thought I’d do mattress commercials, but this has been interesting. We’re taking the high road and helping people believe in the mattress industry again. Walk into a Mattress Warehouse showroom and you’re not going to be approached by a ‘truth minister’ pushing a mattress down your throat, but in fact someone using science instead of high pressure sales to sell mattresses.”
Salyer and his team are equally proud of having produced the spot locally. Casting was done at Area 31, a local production company. (A local comedian, Stefan Subotich, was cast as the “Truth Minister,” touting used mattresses.) The commercial was shot at Baltimore’s Renegade Studios.
“Mattress Warehouse is an interesting collection of people and the biz itself is interesting. Dealing with a fairly mundane product and having to work that much harder to create an interesting brand was fun. Geico opened my eyes as to
how to take something so boring as insurance and make the ads whacked and interesting to consumers. They’re so creatively done.
“We used improv comedians and kind of let them go on the product. Stefan [Subotich] is such a genius. He can improv in 10 different directions all at once and he gave us so much good material to choose from. He made it look easy.”
The challenges are not insignificant, however, and Salyer had his share of them in shooting the commercial.
“Keeping a crew of 40-plus techs and a cast of 20 to 25 actors happy and busy is pretty difficult.”
And the creative side?
“We wanted it to be creative enough that it would challenge our thinking just enough yet not so much that it scared the client. That’s a fine line that we walk and have to put the ad through multiple versions in order to make sure that it’s not pushing too many buttons, but pushing the right kinds of buttons instead.
“On the tech side, we shot it in one day because we had it pretty tightly storyboarded. [We had a] good cast; they did two 20-hour days in a row, which is not easy.”
What excites him most about this spot?
“We used a new director of photography, Chris McGuinness. He was new and had been doing some interesting stuff for Timex. His lighting was interesting, working with blue- and straw-colored gels, so we shot a lot in that kind of light, since we loved that kind of look.
“The thought that we might be creating something that might go viral; that was fun and exciting. Working with Stefan was fun. We wanted him to play more of a truth kind of guy who in actuality was totally false, we wanted him to point out the myth that used mattresses are OK, but the fact is that they’re really gross, and so his ‘truth’ was the real joke.”