Google Cast Small-Business Owners as Superheroes in Animated Shorts

Hip-hop artist Tobe Nwigwe tells their stories

It's a bird! it's a plane! It's diverse small-business owners making a positive impact on their communities!

In a series of animated shorts, Google portrays three such entrepreneurs as DC/Marvel-style superheroes, with rapper Tobe Nwigwe dropping an original track and narration that help bring the stories to life.

Developed with agency Omelet and Emmy-winning animator Karin Fong (who worked on Spider-Man: No Way Home), the campaign broke June 27, timed to International Small Business Week. Three films running slightly less than two minutes put each enterprise in sharp focus.

First, we take a spin with D.J. Vourderis and his family, owners of Deno's Wonder Wheel, an amusement park that's been delighting patrons since 1920.

Google presents Heroes of Small Business | DENO’S WONDER WHEEL

Next, there's Dr. Cindy Ayers Elliot, owner of Foot Print Farms. She's a former Wall Street banker who, we learn, "traded her high heels for work boots, rolled up her sleeves and got out in the mud" to provide fresh food to folks in Jackson, Miss.

Google presents Heroes of Small Business | FOOT PRINT FARMS

"It made me feel like a superfood, everything good for the body, mind and soul," Ayers Elliott tells Muse. "Honestly, to have my story line completely and accurately told filled my heart with pride and hope."

Finally, Google climbs in the ring with Lynne Le's Society Nine, a provider of women's boxing gear that recently closed but made a big impact during its eight years in Portland, Ore.

Google presents Heroes of Small Business | SOCIETY NINE

"Initially, we were concerned about the value and perspective of our story given that we are sunsetting our business operations," Le says in an Instagram post. "However, we were floored by the resounding 'Yes!' they gave, despite this reality. Working in collaboration, we all agreed it is so important we celebrate and promote the sheer act of ambition, persistence, will power and courage to start a business, to inspire others and future generations of small business owners."

Ultimately, Le hopes Society Nine's story "can inspire others to take a leap of faith, go after their dreams and uplift communities in the process, then that is the ultimate success," she says.

And here's a clip spotlighting all three businesses:

Google presents Heroes of Small Business | OFFICIAL TRAILER

"Small businesses stand tall against incredible, overcoming challenges every single day, all to serve a community they care about," says Omelet group creative director Joshua Smutko. "These are basically the ingredients for a superhero, so we just made it official by celebrating them with big comic book energy."

As for Nwigwe's participation, "we wanted to bring in someone who could not only tell the stories but also provide the anthem and really set the tone," Smutko recalls. "Tobe is a force of nature; a multi-hyphenate artist and entrepreneur himself, who embodies the resilience, energy and attitude of small businesses. Not only did he and his team help us craft the narrative for each story, they also made a custom track that became the driving tone for the whole campaign."

The rapper, who also voiced Beats by Dre's film "You Love Me," brings a relaxed delivery that serves as a smooth counterpoint to the live-wire visuals, and his grooves, dramatic yet funky, add a note of gravitas. (Peaches' dance track for Meta's film hyping personalizes business ads served a similar purpose.)

"Heroes of Small Business" asks viewers to nominate their favorite SMBs for $10,000 grants, and winning nominators will get $500 to spend on those businesses.

Separately, Google will provide startups with free or discounted services and tech, including Workspace access and Chromebooks. The company has also teamed with nonprofit StartOut to assist LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs.

By some accounts, upwards of 90 percent of all U.S. business qualify as SMBs, and it's no secret they've been hit hard since the pandemic began. (Indeed, Society Nine's closure illustrates how tough it is for independents to survive these days.)

We've seen various brand efforts to address this situation, including initiatives from AT&T, Square, MassMutual/New York Times and Mailchimp. Last November, Google teamed with T-Pain and Normani to support Black Owned Friday, winning a Grand Clio for their innovative use of Social Media.


Client: Google - International Small Business Week
Agency: Omelet
Production: Imaginary Forces, Passion Pictures, Rehab, Martin Kane
VO/Music: Tobe Nwigwe, Walker
Small Businesses: Lynn Le (Society Nine), Dr. Cindy Ayers Elliot (Foot Print Farms), D.J. Vourderis (Deno's Wonder Wheel)

David Gianatasio
David Gianatasio is managing editor at Clio Awards.

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