From Whiteboard to TV Screen: Shapeshifter

Posted: May 2, 2023

Every year, Big Tobacco spends hundreds of millions of dollars marketing deadly products to Oklahomans in hopes of getting them hooked. No one is off limits to the lies, no matter their age, race, gender or socioeconomic class. Big Tobacco won’t stop until everyone is saddled with a lifetime of addiction. 
Those lies … just didn’t sit right with us. Thus, Shapeshifter was born.

Building the Concept

32522 TSET-23-02 TSWM Shapeshifter Promoted Posts-F-Updated-F

“Shapeshifter was already in the works when I joined the team last summer. I’ll never forget watching the animatics for the first time and thinking ‘Holy cow, I’m batting out of my league here.’ It was so freaking impressive.”
–    Mindy, Copywriter

It started with research. Because of the work we do with the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET), we get a front-row seat to the sinister marketing tobacco companies produce yearly. They shamelessly attack from every possible angle, including mental health, civil rights, culture, finances and more — pouring money into marketing promotions and exploiting addiction in areas where it hurts the most. In Oklahoma alone, the tobacco industry spends an estimated $150 million each year marketing their deadly products. And they don’t care what product they are selling, as long as that product is addicting.

Our survey with OU Health Sciences Center also shed some light about Oklahomans’ attitudes towards the tobacco industry. Less than half of those surveyed felt upset by Big Tobacco’s schemes. Over a quarter didn’t believe that Big Tobacco was targeting children, and nearly 20% were unaware of the harmful lies the tobacco industry told about health effects. Those were all stats we knew had to change.

32522 TSET-23-02 TSWM Shapeshifter Promoted Posts-F5

“There was something that struck me about how long the tobacco industry has known that nicotine was their product and were already working to address the next “vehicle” for addiction. That drove me, and us all to really see the weight of what we are messaging against. These companies pour millions of dollars, $150 million in Oklahoma annually, and have lobbyists fighting for their cause. That’s terrifying. We needed to capture that deceptiveness and create a feeling of unease for our audience.”
 – Erin, Creative Director 

“One of our main goals for this campaign, as unique as it may sound, was to make people angry. This was done by educating our audience on the manipulative, evil tactics Big Tobacco utilizes to hook new customers on deadly products, which of course should make a person angry. We want to create advocates for a tobacco free future, and sometimes getting people on board starts with creating emotion and driving desire for change.”
–    Tyler, Senior Marketing Strategist

Once the fire was lit, and the objectives were in place, there was no slowing down. But one question remained: “How can we show factual information that simultaneously makes people want to get up and fight?” When an idea to personify Big Tobacco came across the table, the spots started to write themselves … literally. 

“The tobacco industry is not afraid to use immoral tactics to cause addiction, and it was really important to me that we represent their lies correctly. So, we had the characters quote them, word-for-word.” 
–    Tyler, Senior Marketing Strategist. 

Big Tobacco was transformed into our shapeshifter, Big. Throughout the spot he morphs into seemingly harmless characters — the teen heart throb, the cool girl, the barber, the cashier and the best friend — offering up different forms of nicotine based on the protagonists’ age, interests, race and income. 

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Now that we had our “Big” idea, we just had to figure out the how.

Behind the Scenes

“After we settled on a key insight to guide our story, the question became “how do we actually show this visually?”. We debated several approaches, but ultimately landed on the idea that our audience should see BIG transform by watching its shadow morph from one character to another. We tested several techniques and landed on an approach that felt appropriately expressive but also flexible.” 
–    Matt, Creative Director

In a nutshell, we put on an overgrown shadow puppet show behind a projection screen.

The first layer of footage was a lit wall, and the second layer was the exact same shot with most of the lights turned off. From there, our talented VFX supervisor animated the transition between two actors to complete the morph. The transformation shots feel very natural—not overly composited or computer-generated—and that was a goal for our team from the outset. We’re quite proud of the results!


But not every transformation shot features a visual morph.

“In several instances, sound design suggests a transformation that we don’t actually witness. Our editorial team handcrafted the sound of BIG’s transition by resampling the audio of each actor’s performance using granular synthesis, and blending those sounds to create a suite of sound effects that serve a singular purpose: to help the viewer know that something evil and unnatural is underway.”
–    Matt, Creative Director 

Through a little tinkering, and a lot of careful planning, the Shapeshifter TV spot was shot in exactly one week. We cast our diverse “Big” ensemble and tied them all together using colored contacts, gold jewelry and black clothing. Fortunately, our cast was amazing, and all were able to pull off the same, sinister smile. 

Now that we had the footage, we just had to do … everything else.

The Campaign Comes to Life

“This is one of the biggest campaigns I have gotten to work on. It was a challenge to create all the supporting web pages, social content, press kit, magnets, billboards, print ads etc. Overall though I think it turned out well and has a connecting thread through it all.”
 - Moriah, Art Director 

We wanted the Shapeshifter campaign to be as prominent as possible, so early on our creative, strategy and project management teams collaborated on the best tactics moving forward. Because of our extensive pre-planning, rough drafts and white-board sessions we were able to concept over 200 total deliverables for the campaign through different mediums. 

"The Shapeshifter campaign required a ton of collaboration, communication and flexibility from the entire team. I believe there were over 200 deliverables for this campaign – videos, social content, press kits, billboard ads, print ads, collateral & more – that were all in progress at the same time. Ensuring the entire team shared the same vision for this project from the beginning was crucial with how fast paced everything moved. It saved us a lot of time in the end."
– Reagan, Integrated Project Manager

The Final Product

“As a creative who deals primarily in filmmaking, this project was so incredibly special and dear to my heart. We were given the chance to help tell a meaningful, impactful story that has the chance to save lives. What more could you ask for?” 
– Matt, Creative Director

We believe the final product speaks for itself.


Learn more about Tobacco Stops With Me here.

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