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Why Nescafé Canada Took Viewers Around the World


Courage co-founder and co-CCO Joel Holtby, and Spy Films director Omri Cohen discuss making a campaign that saw them shoot across three continents and four countries in 23 days, writes LBB’s Josh Neufeldt

Why Nescafé Canada Took Viewers Around the World

With an estimated 5,500 cups of Nescafé coffee being enjoyed every second around the world, to call the drink popular might be an understatement. This is especially true in Canada, where citizens over the age of 16 consume more coffee than tap water

On paper, this might sound like a great opportunity for anyone attempting to make sales in the coffee industry. However, there’s a catch. The beverage’s popularity in the country has equated to a heavily diversified, heavily saturated market. As such, amidst the battle for Canadian java brand superiority, Nescafé Canada realised it was time for a new campaign. 

Looking at initial insights, it quickly became clear that despite Nescafé being enjoyed in over 180 countries, most Canadians were not aware of the brand’s global nature. Additionally, it seemed as though many of the country’s consumers felt shy about sharing their preference for Nescafé. Seeking to affirm this decision, Nescafé partnered with Courage Inc, as well as Spy Films to create ‘How the World Says Coffee’. Shot in four countries across three continents, the spot sees people of many cultures, backgrounds and ethnicities express their love for Nescafé, reflecting its status as a beloved international brand. 

This campaign was also significant, however, as it marked Courage’s debut commission. A real ‘trial by fire’ scenario, the project (shot in 35mm) was captured in just 23 days, with everyone involved battling jet lag (and contributing to coffee consumption statistics) in the effort to bring ‘How the World Says Coffee’ to life. 

To learn more about this adventure across the globe, LBB’s Josh Neufeldt sat down with Courage co-founder and co-CCO Joel Holtby, as well as Spy Films director Omri Cohen, discussing the travels, trials and tribulations of making this Nescafé Canada campaign. 

LBB> This work represents the first campaign launch to come out of Courage. How did this partnership with Nescafé come to pass?

Joel> Soon after starting Courage, we received a call from the team at Nestlé about the possibility of working on Nescafe. We quickly worked together on a brief, with the main focus not being on the functional attributes of the brand, but rather boosting brand love and really driving affinity. 

LBB> This campaign was directed by Spy Films’ Omri Cohen. Why was he the perfect person to bring this spot to life?

Joel> We had worked with Omri and the team at Spy in a previous life. Omri is an incredible director and filmmaker. Right away, he brought so much to this production - understanding the importance of being authentic. Omri and his team did a ton of research on different cultures around the world, not just on how they enjoy Nescafé, but on how the brand plays a role in their cultural moments. Also, he is just a lovely human who works harder than anyone we have met.  

LBB> Omri, what was the brief for this campaign? And what immediate ideas came to mind?

Omri> The brief was to create a film that captures the global nature of the Nescafé brand, and the love people have for it. The team at Courage really wanted it to feel more like a documentary than a commercial, so they wanted to shoot real people and for the spot to have soul and grit to it. One of the main references was Anthony Bourdain’s ‘No Reservations’. I interpreted that as a mood for the spirit of discovery, and a cultural immersion where you feel a place through touch, taste, smell and sight. Because this was their first film as a new agency, they really wanted us to push creatively and gave me total freedom as a director. 

LBB> This campaign saw you shoot across three continents and four countries in 23 days. Where did you shoot, and how did you go about selecting ideal shooting locations?

Joel> We started by talking with the Nescafé team who helped us connect into their global team. We had calls with China, the Philippines and Europe. This helped us carve out a flight plan to show the global nature of the spot. Some of the choices also came down to a post covid-19 world, with visa applications and rules changing daily. We shot a lot along the way, but our main hubs were Mexico, Thailand, India and Italy.

Omri> I originally selected the countries based on places that I love, that I knew had a film lab, and that were key Nescafé markets. Then covid-19 restrictions and visa issues took over, so we swapped Japan for Thailand.

My teams on the ground provided the perfect interiors and locations - all of which were close together. That gave us a sound, practical approach, and I pushed us a little farther out of the zone with the scouting I did on Instagram and Google. We definitely moved through some tough areas in Mexico travelling to the Nopalera (cactus field), and shot in some places controlled by the Camorra in Napoli, but we didn’t have any trouble. It was nothing but love everywhere we went. Thailand was really easy and the crew was top, but still, my favourite city was Napoli.

LBB> What was the writing process like, and why was the international approach the right one for Nescafé?

Joel> As soon as we presented the script and idea to Nescafé, they immediately said that the only way to do this is to do it in a real and authentic way. You can’t fake the busy streets of Mumbai or a street vendor in Thailand calling out for Nescafé. We wanted to reflect the real size and love of the brand around the world. The only way to do that is to truly travel the world and observe. 

In terms of writing, we wanted to capture fun moments that provided a reflection on life, like the ‘would you like some Nescafé with your sugar?’ scene. It really reminded us of two friends or siblings giving each other a hard time. Also I remember when I was younger, I used to drink Nescafé black, with a ton of sugar. Our goal with every scene was to be real - to feel like life and not the commercialised world. Same goes for the woman asking her partner to make her a cup of Nescafé while she rushes through her morning routine with her daughters. We really wanted to have moments that make viewers, no matter where they are from, feel like they have been there. 

Omri> We started with a solid script with scenes that took place in specific countries, and that was our backbone. It had a good rhythm to it. I contributed a long list of ideas in the treatment phase, like the pause moment with the long sugar pour. Then, we locked our four shooting destinations and I reimagined the scenes based on who was available to us in each country, and the languages they spoke. We were casting until the moment of shooting almost everywhere we went, so I had to improvise and create a lot of it on the fly. I wanted the conversations around the word ‘Nescafé’ to be authentic and real. For example we found Karim from Egypt in Mexico City at the last minute, and we couldn’t find an Arabic speaking partner, so he taught his scene partner - a Mexican woman - how to speak Arabic. I wanted the conversation around Nescafé to be totally authentic to Egypt, so we worked on it together and gave her really short lines, and I love the result.

LBB> You mentioned casting until the last moment everywhere you went. Tell us more about this! How did you go about finding the right people to film? 

Joel> The cast for this was an interesting challenge, and one that was constantly changing due to locations and languages. We wanted to find real people that were authentic, in order to reflect the way the Nescafé is prepared and drank. We did a lot of street casting in locations, as well as pre-vetted market casting with our teams on the ground. The Spy team was pretty instrumental in this (Omri has done a lot of work all over the world), so those connections helped a lot.  

Omri> I really love the cast! With that said, we got super lucky. We tried to cast ahead, but the brief changed and there were many challenges. We had to find an Iranian family in Thailand, a Filipino family, a Jamaican couple in Napoli - this was beyond challenging. Our teams on the ground were relentless; they went to language schools, friends of friends, expat hangouts, embassies… I posted on Instagram and friends and friends of friends showed up on the day.

LBB> How much Nescafé was used in the making of this spot?

Joel> 23 days of straight travel calls for A LOT of Nescafé. We travelled with six full size luggage containers of just colour corrects and labels alone, to make sure that we had every language and label. Needless to say we lost count. The great thing about Nescafé is that it is available everywhere in the world.

LBB> The press release mentioned that you shot on 35mm. Why was this the right choice for the campaign? And what other notable equipment choices did you make?

Omri> When I read this script, it felt like an iconic global brand spot from the ‘90s. I imagined the visual style should be nostalgic and photographic, so film was both the obvious choice, and the hardest. It takes an extra type of focus. There is no doubt that film immediately elevates your project, especially if you are shooting real people and real locations and have little control over other variables. It gives the shoot a gravity, and it creates a special energy on set. Everyone is focused. Everybody from the crew to the client is excited. Everyone is all in when you're rolling. And the way film captures the reality that moves us? It’s magic. 

However, the only way you pull it off is with a team you can really trust. My DP who is a pro (Adam Richards) and the baddest focus puller, Chris Strausser, made it easy. They were ready at all times, always in a good mood, ready to roll with the endless punches on very little sleep, and they never compromised the image. They also got us support from Camtech and Kodak - who generously made it all possible.

LBB> Do you have any stories or anecdotes from the shooting and travels?

Joel> Shooting around the world on 35mm film is a crazy ordeal, especially when you are going through multiple airports. You can’t send it through scanners as it will destroy the film and, well, trying to explain that to security with a language barrier was an interesting challenge. Lucky for us no film was left behind and not flights were missed. 

Omri> Haha, yes! We were planning to shoot our Jamaican scene in Mexico, but we couldn’t find the cast. We were going to fly in a friend from Jamaica, but visa issues blocked us so we kept pushing that scene to the next country and the next. We were searching for Jamaicans in Thailand and India, and we kept hunting until we finally ended up in Napoli. The plan was to shoot with a Russian arm, but permits and the location were too tight. I was about to give up,  and then at around two in the morning, Adam - with a fat smile on his face - showed me a photo of a motorcycle with a sidecar. It was perfect for the shot.

Other than that, the best part of the trip was getting through customs. We had to talk our way through Mexico City, Bangkok, Mumbai, Dubai, Rome, Napoli, Paris, and New York. Everyone had their turn getting us through, including our Adam and Chris, but also our agency producer Clair Galea, and EP Marcus Trulli. We had to play a lot of good cop bad cop!

LBB> How did the experience of working internationally, and in so many locations compare to a traditional shoot? Did it change the way you approached production and directing?

Joel> Totally! The prep for this job was a constantly evolving process. We never stopped location scouting and talent scouting. We would land and go directly from the airport to location, scout, and evolve the script along the way. We had our clear bets on what we would get, but when you are constantly travelling, you embrace the unknowns and find gold in them. 

Omri> I shoot most of my US work internationally (and most of my work is global), so I’m used to working with many cultures, and in different languages. Instead, the challenge was the fact that we had three weeks to prepare basically four commercials, and only a day on the ground before we shot in each place. So, I was director’s scouting, location scouting, casting and writing at the same time. It was crazy improvising in so many languages and trying to keep it all in my head - especially with the jet lag.

LBB> If you had a hand in post, how did it go? And how long did the project take from start to finish?

Omri> Incredibly fast. We basically took a 20-hour flight home and were editing the next day. I think the agency had four days to cut and I had one. Our editor, Chris Murphy, just crushed it.

LBB> Aside from tight deadlines and casting, what challenges did you face during this project, and how did you overcome them?

Joel> Like most productions, we faced a lot of challenges. Visas and ever changing covid-19 procedures were big ones. But we wanted to get through them and get to market fast, and for this, the team at Nescafé are honestly incredible. They faced all of the challenges with a smile and a ‘we got this’ attitude. 

Omri> I started off with no sleep, and that lasted for 23 days. There were also several rounds of food poisoning, elevation sickness, jet lag, performance challenges, dehydration, having to endlessly improvise, and many lost in translation moments. I just smiled and laughed and surrendered control.

With that said, we got through it all as a team. Adam and Chris had us laughing all day, and Marcus and Clair brought the sunshine everyday - spreading their contagious positivity. The agency creatives brought nothing but love, trust and positive vibes, and we had the best clients you can imagine - always on our side every step of the way.

LBB> How have people reacted to this campaign?

Joel> Initial reaction has been amazing, although it is too early to have hard numbers on things. But all indications are that the campaign is on course to deliver the results clients were hoping for. The film has been very well received globally at Nescafé. 

LBB> Given that this is Courage’s first campaign, what did this project mean to you?

Joel> Putting your first piece of work out as a new agency always adds a little bit of extra pressure. So, it’s quite gratifying to have our debut work be with a brand the size and stature of Nescafé. The work comes from a human truth and feels very different. It’s a reflection of what we mean when we say that we want to do work that takes courage and work with clients who want courage. 

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

Omri> I’ve been stung by over a 100 mosquitos in Mexico City, Mumbai, Bangkok, and Napoli.

Other than that… film unifies, trust empowers, and gratitude has a way of melting obstacles. Letting go of what you seek will attract it. A positive mindset and small spirited crew is the way to roll, what looks like a stroke of bad luck can be good fortune in disguise, and sometimes, you have to let the film make itself.

I’ve pitched films so many times in my career (and got shot down) that I have to say all the credit goes to my EP (Marcus) for backing my choice, and to the agency and client for having the courage to green light it on their first film, despite the risks involved. They had every excuse to say no. Tight post schedule, travelling with exposed film, using labs around the world, cost, etc. But in the end, everyone felt like it was worth it.

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Spy Films, Mon, 14 Nov 2022 17:19:30 GMT