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How Leo Burnett’s Confident Rooster Strutted through a World of Energy Possibilities


The team from Leo Burnett Toronto, Enbridge, and Circle Productions director Chris Balmond on creating the rooster, finding the perfect song, and showcasing dawn without ever shooting at dawn, writes LBB’s Josh Neufeldt

How Leo Burnett’s Confident Rooster Strutted through a World of Energy Possibilities

Now more than ever, clean, renewable energy is of the utmost importance. In a world facing energy security questions and the negative effects of climate change, creating a sustainable future is a must. But for Canadian energy infrastructure company Enbridge, this has been a 20-year-long pursuit. “The work we’re doing at Enbridge is all about bridging to a sustainable energy future. It’s happening every day, and it’s the environmental progress and innovation we’re focused on for tomorrow,” says Enbridge CCO and SVP public affairs, communications and sustainability, Mike Fernandez, in a press release. 

To publicise, commemorate and reflect this ambition, they, alongside partners Leo Burnett Toronto have launched their latest campaign, ‘Tomorrow Is On’. Directed by Circle Productions’ Chris Balmond, the spot - which took three to four months from pre-production to final film - follows a rooster who struts its way through a world waking up and turning on conventional and renewable energies, all set to a rendition of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground’. Accompanying the TV spot is a fully integrated campaign with digital, print, and radio, running in select markets within the United States and Canada. 

“The campaign also demonstrates how we’re lowering emissions through modernising our conventional systems and deploying wind, solar, hydrogen, carbon capture and other technologies,” Mike adds. “The rooster is the embodiment of our excitement for what’s on the horizon for Enbridge. We’re embracing the future – not denying it. ‘Tomorrow Is On’.” 

LBB’s Josh Neufeldt sat down with the team from Leo Burnett Toronto, Enbridge, and Chris Balmond to learn more about how this historical campaign was brought to life. 

LBB> There’s a lot going on in this spot, from the music choice, to the rooster, to the assortment of conventional and renewable energies on display. As such, what was the brief for this project like? What ideas immediately came to mind?

Leo Burnett> Enbridge has been investing in and transitioning to more renewable energy for some time now, but people don’t know that. Our brief was to aim the brand toward the future they’ve been committed to - in a way that stands out from the category. So, the first ideas were all around time – the future, the past, the importance of today. 

Enbridge> We have a long-term partnership with the team at Leo Burnett. They understand our brand, our business, our industry and the challenging communications environment we navigate. Our brief started at the foundation - figuring out ‘what problem are we trying to solve?’, ‘who are we trying to communicate with?’, and ‘where do we need to focus our communications efforts to be successful?’.   

LBB> What were your main aims and ambitions with this project?

Enbridge> Awareness of our brand is low in many North American markets, given that we don’t have a wide retail focus. We want to ensure that when people do hear about us, they understand we’re a leading player in the energy transition and that we’re bridging to a sustainable energy future, all while guaranteeing the energy people use today continues to be there when they need it. 

LBB> Tell me about ‘Tomorrow Is On’. What is the strategy behind the campaign title and what kind of research informed it?

Leo Burnett> We loved how it spoke to the more renewable energy future that Enbridge is working towards, but it didn’t feel so far away. Tomorrow is right on the horizon, and it’s happening every day. When the line comes together, there’s the energy double entendre, of course, but there’s also a spirit to it - an excitement and optimism which speaks to how Enbridge is rising to the occasion of what that tomorrow can be.  

LBB> One of the most memorable aspects of the campaign is the song choice - a cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground’. How did you end up using this song, why was it the right choice for the ad, and who did you work with to obtain the cover?

Leo Burnett> Naturally, there were lots of tracks we looked at that explicitly spoke to ‘tomorrow’, or were just thematically hopeful about what’s to come. However, what made ‘Higher Ground’ stand out - beyond just being a killer track - was how it speaks to improvement and growth. It was there from our director Chris Balmond’s first treatment deck, and the incredible team at Vapor Music wrote and created the cover that we ultimately used. 

Chris> The song was a big part of my initial treatment. I’ve always loved the track! The lyrics worked well, but beyond that, I always felt the riff was like someone (or something) walking along with swagger. As soon as I had that track in my head, I couldn’t shake the image of a rooster strutting along to it.

LBB> Let’s talk about that rooster! According to the press release, it’s meant to represent Enbridge’s commitment to a sustainable energy future. But why a rooster? How did this become the animal of choice for the campaign?

Leo Burnett> The rooster’s the hero, but the idea is about meeting the challenge of bringing in a brighter future head on, every single day. He’s there at the crack of dawn, ready to do what he does, and we love how he embodies the way Enbridge is taking on this big bold mission. So, there’s that, and then we had someone on the team who grew up with a pet rooster and could vouch.

LBB> Building on this, what made Chris the perfect person to direct the spot and bring this campaign to life?

Leo Burnett> Chris Balmond is a total pro in every sense of the word. His eye, storytelling ability, taste, and craft is second to none. Besides being incredibly talented, his commitment was beyond anything you’d expect. All the way through, he and Circle Productions were in lockstep with every partner on the project. He worked extremely closely and collaboratively with the editor, Chris Murphy, at Outsider Editorial, all the way through. 

LBB> Chris, what was the script for this project like? Why was it something that appealed to you as a director, and how did you get involved? 

Chris> It was one of those scripts that’s a rare combination of having a beautifully simple core idea, but also the potential for being visually epic. I was really excited by the challenge of giving a sense of character and intention to something as inscrutable as a rooster, without ever straying too far from reality.

The script wasn’t too far from what you see on screen - in terms of the beginning and end point.  We knew we needed to feature certain vehicles, infrastructure, solar panels and wind turbines. However, how the bird would interact with those moments hadn’t been determined, and I guess my role in that process was to push the visuals and make the journey as epic as possible. 

LBB> We see the rooster in an assortment of cool locations, from the top of a wind turbine to a field filled with solar panels. As such, what was the writing process like? How did these locations get decided upon, and where did you shoot?

Leo Burnett> We wanted the rooster to take you on a journey through the kind of sustainable and renewable energies that Enbridge is investing in, but we wanted that journey to also show him doing things differently - choosing new roads (even if that meant taking the bus) and finding himself somewhere amazing. He starts where you’d expect a rooster to be, at the farm, then the writing was all about finding special fun moments that took us high above a city powered by the energy of tomorrow. 

Chris> We shot around Toronto, but had to base the locations on extensive photo research of real Enbridge infrastructure. The great VFX work Postoffice Amesterdam did for us didn’t stop at the bird - they also augmented our landscapes to match the research.

LBB> The rooster looks absolutely amazing! What was working with Postoffice like, and what did it take to achieve the final result we see in the spot?

Leo Burnett> The rooster was a mix of real-life rooster and CGI. We cast our guy, and the team at Postoffice Amsterdam built out a CG model, feather by feather, to accomplish the shots that no rooster, no matter how incredible ours was, could ever do (like jump off a windmill!). The work speaks for itself, but Postoffice Amsterdam was truly incredible to work with. They pushed the craft, held the work to a higher standard, and totally delivered on everything we hoped for. 

Chris> The fact that there is both a real and a CGI rooster in the edit is a testament to how good Postoffice’s work is. We shot most scenes - apart from the flying - with the real bird, Phoenix, and his genius handler Kirk Jarret. It was amazing how precise and well-trained Phoenix was, considering that roosters are usually a pretty unwieldy species! 

There would have been even more scenes using the real bird, but I was obsessed with our rooster walking in time with the music, and no matter how skilled Kirk was, he couldn’t get a bird to walk to a specific tempo, so we replaced it with it’s CG counterpart for where we needed to add that extra swagger. What this also meant was that we were always focussed on how the real bird moved, and were able to frame our scenes with the real thing. So, until the shot where he starts to fly, we weren’t doing anything too unrealistic with either the bird, or the camera.

LBB> Following up on this, the final shot of the rooster flying is really impressive! How did you achieve that? 

Chris> We shot everything on the LF, including the drone shots for the flying plates to make the most of the detail in those landscapes. Everything else was down to the Postoffice’s brilliant work. 

LBB> How did working with the CGI rooster impact the work that you did on set?

Chris> The biggest thing was just making sure every department appreciated how important it was to allow the VFX team to get all the technical data they needed, despite a tough shooting schedule. We knew the spot would live or die on the realism of the rooster, and shooting in ever-changing lighting conditions makes getting your HDRIs slightly more stressful.

LBB> Tell us more about these lighting conditions! The spot takes place at dawn, which looks amazing, but must have been a challenge to film. What kind of conversations did you have with the folk in the lighting and colour grade departments, and how did you, and they, pull it off? 

Chris> This was the biggest challenge of the project. We had a great production team at Circle, lead by producer Amanda Field, so between her, myself, DP Adam Marsden, and first assistant director Sam Pecoraro, we figured out which scenes we could shoot day for dawn, which we had to shoot at ‘dawn’ light, and which we could light once it was dark. 

As a matter of fact, we actually never shot at dawn - instead we shot in the late afternoon, through magic hour to dusk, and then into the night. We also spent a day in the studio with the real rooster to give us more time perfecting camera moves and bird performance without the pressure of a limited lighting window - lighting to the sky plates we’d shot the previous days.

LBB> Is there a specific part of this project of which you are particularly proud? And why?

Leo Burnett> You always hear people talk about the power of trust. This project is proof of that. Everyone from every team did what they do best and trusted each other to do their thing. Countless times in countless ways this could have fallen down, and I’m particularly proud of all the people who pushed hard to keep it up, championed it all the way through, and made that rooster fly.

LBB> Why was now the right time to do this? How does this campaign fit in with Enbridge’s marketing strategy for the summer, and in the long-term?

Enbridge> There is a lot of attention on energy currently – primarily driven by energy security and climate change concerns. Our business is right in the heart of those issues, so we felt that it was important to share what we’re doing to ensure reliable, affordable energy for people, as well as what we’re doing to lead the energy transition and bridge to a sustainable energy future.  

LBB> What challenges have you faced during this project? How did you overcome them?

Leo Burnett> Timing was an issue, as there were certain deliverables that needed to be out the door before all the CG work could be done. Teamwork got us through - revising scripts and creating edits to find solutions that could make everything work, without losing anything of the craft we knew we needed to get right.

Chris> Aside from lighting and the whole story set at sunrise featuring the flying rooster, creatively, the biggest challenge was probably that opening sequence. It was a matter of dealing with the question, ‘how do we get that sense of intention and purpose in the bird, as if he’s inspired by something as abstract as a boiling kettle, while also doing it in the fewest number of shots so we can get the bird out of the farm and on his way as efficiently as possible?’. It’s always the economy of the edit, and that’s the biggest challenge in commercials.  

LBB> What has the response been like to this spot?

Leo Burnett> So far, so great. Anecdotally, we’re all hearing really kind things from the people in our lives inside and outside of our businesses. Officially, we’re still waiting for the tracking data to come in, but we’re expecting it to be really well received and do a great job at raising awareness for Enbridge.

LBB> Is there anything you’d like to add?

Leo Burnett> A few of us at Leo might have told the clients we’d get rooster tattoos if this actually happened. So, that might have to happen.

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Leo Burnett Toronto, Thu, 06 Oct 2022 14:36:23 GMT