Your Shot: How John Cena, R/GA and the Ad Council Reclaimed Patriotism This Fourth of July
4th of July 2016 marked Independence Day in the USA at a time in which it - and other countries around the world - have never seemed more fragmented. To mark the occasion, R/GA launched a follow-on to its super viral ‘Love Has No Labels’ campaign for the Ad Council. The campaign, ‘We Are America’, features a flagship film in which WWE wrestler John Cena strolls through a stereotypical small American town while pondering the meaning of patriotism. To be patriotic isn’t just to love one’s country, it’s to love everything that makes it what it is. And as the spot unfolds, the viewer gets a real sense of what that means as the seemingly stereotypical town boasts inhabitants who are LGBT, Muslim, Latino and more. The new film was directed by MJZ's Rocky Morton.
LBB’s Addison Capper spoke with R/GA group ECD Eric Jannon to find out more.
LBB> Last year’s film was extremely popular - how tricky was it to follow that up? And why is this subject a fitting sequel?
EJ> The goal was to keep flooding culture with the same message of diversity and inclusion, but reaching out to a very large audience again required a very different approach. At a time when it feels difficult for our country to find common ground, we chose to remind people that to celebrate America is to celebrate the real people that make up the country.
LBB> How did you land on the Independence Day and patriotism idea? Why was it important to reclaim the concept of patriotism?
EJ> We started by taking a look at the real portrait of America, wondering who were all the people living in the country. We realised that more than half of the country – the majority of us – are from minority groups. The numbers that John shares in the film are probably the most honest demonstration of America’s diversity. A reality check and true celebration of what makes America, America. And what better than the Fourth of July to rethink patriotism and celebrate the real people of America?
LBB> The writing is fantastic - what was your starting point for that?
EJ> The word patriotism has been “thrown a lot” as John says upfront. That was our starting point as its meaning has been a little lost. We wanted to create a reminder that patriotism was love for the country, and that love for the country was love for the people who “are” this country, all reinforced by facts and undeniable statistics. R/GA Associate Creative Directors Thomas Darlow and Rene Van Wonderen wrote the three-minute speech, getting the tone of voice right for John, balancing serious statements and lighter lines about flag sequined onesies and quadruple cheeseburgers to get the message across. John didn’t change a word. He embraced the whole text and delivered it in the most powerful way.
LBB> How did you balance the important message without being too preachy?
EJ> The Love Has No Labels campaigns are designed to celebrate diversity and make people rethink implicit bias. Both campaigns – Dancing skeletons and #WeAreAmerica – rely on an element of surprise. Last year it was all about the unexpected pairings coming from behind the X-ray screen. This year it’s about the average American that John Cena asks you to picture. The thing is that this person you are picturing looks quite different to the real average American.
LBB> Why was John Cena the right man to lead the spot? Who are you aiming to reach with that decision?
EJ> The casting is a very important part of the idea. Pro wrestler, TV show host, actor and quintessential all-American John Cena is the right man to lead the film; when he asks people to close their eyes and picture the average American there’s a big chance that they picture him or most likely someone like him. John quickly reveals who this average American really is, which is a great way to explain that America is much more diverse than what people think.
LBB> The writing also had to work with a walking rhythm - what additional challenges did that create? What are the challenges that come with a production like this?
EJ> A three-minute plus synchronised piece requires several early morning rehearsals before the actual shoot with John Cena. The challenge is that everyone has his own flow and walking pace. When John showed up on set, we had to re-adjust every detail happening in the background in a very limited amount of time.
LBB> What kind of reaction have you seen in America and beyond to the campaign?
EJ> We’ve just launched the first part of the campaign (out of home campaign will follow) but we’ve mostly seen very positive comments. Thousands of people have already posted the campaign. Good Morning America and the USA channel talked about the powerful message, celebs such as Ellen DeGeneres also picked up the video and retweeted Cena with the message “I love you John”. The message is obviously more USA-focused than last year, but numerous people outside the country watched it and wrote on social media that the speech could be applied to their own country, which is absolutely true. A country, any country, is more than a beautiful rock and cool animals, it’s the people, right?
LBB> In the UK we've seen the toxic effect of a warped sense patriotism, and also with the political situation in US, this film feels very timely - how far did the current political mood influence the film?
EJ> We can’t ignore the context in the US, the situation in the UK and the debates in many other countries, but the message we’re delivering is definitely apolitical. It’s about universal love and about embracing differences. The context may have affected the overall tone of the film which is probably less entertaining than dancing skeletons but more powerful and thought provoking. The 4th of July marks the beginning of the campaign but the message goes way beyond Independence Day’s celebration.