As almost every brand in the world weighs some kind of response to the coronavirus pandemic, some efforts feel like ... more of a stretch than others.
Case in point: the Ace Aglet company, makers of aglets—those little metal or plastic tubes affixed to the ends of shoelaces to keep them from unraveling. (Bet you'd never heard the word aglet before. You're welcome.)
In the Ace Aglet spot below—which naturally begins, "In these difficult, unprecedented times..."—the brand does everything you've come to expect from a totally generic and superfluous coronavirus commercial. Indeed, it practically ties itself up in knots with the faux-reassuring clichés.
Which, come to think of it, I guess is on brand...
The parody (which extends to the Ace Aglet company itself—it doesn't exist, though let's hope Monstanto doesn't see this) was dreamed up by freelance creative director/copywriter and regular Muse contributor Mark St. Amant, with help from Cartel editor Kevin Zimmerman and many others. The stock footage is from Dissolve. Full credits are below.
St. Amant even whipped up the fake Q&A below, extending the gag while also giving shout-outs to the real folks who helped them piece the fun project together.
How did you first partner with Ace Aglet?
Mark St. Amant: When Ace reached out about helping them "join the cultural conversation" as an "essential" brand/product, I thought it was a prank Zoom call. I chuckled, "Ha, right, those shoelace tips ..." and waited for the punchline. Which never came. So I asked for a budget/timeline and they said, "Zero dollars and yesterday—the aglet game is cutthroat and we'll get crushed if we don't say something now." I suggested instead of being just another brand just "saying" something, they should do something, like donate money or supplies? And the CMO said, "Look, Mother Teresa, we make money, not give it away." He was totally serious. It was chilling.
So they wanted to use "these uncertain times" just to sell ... aglets?
Yes. It was gross. But one of their junior brand managers then said, "Hey, we have tons of these stupid things, let's just donate 'em to food banks and old people and stuff so people think we actually give a crap!" And they started cheering, high-fiving and chanting "ACE! ACE! ACE!" That's when I knew these were horrible people. Kind of a cult that looks innocent but is actually super dangerous. Like in Midsommar. But with aglets.
So you tried to pass?
Oh, immediately. Especially when they showed me the script and storyboards we had to shoot frame-by-frame, word-for-word. Because their in-house counsel threatened that if we didn't, we'd face breach of contract, libel, malpractice and manslaughter charges. Note: He had also accidentally screen-shared at that exact moment and was literally looking up "manslaughter" on Wikipedia ... so I doubt he was even a real lawyer. But who has extra cash to fight a lawsuit these days? Not me.
If they had a script and shooting boards, what did they need you for?
Air cover. They were hedging their bets. They said, "If people hate this, we'll say you made us do it ... but if they love it, it was our idea." The boards were absurd. All the requisite tropes we see nowadays. Super "empowered, aspirational" people tying shoelaces and shit. And #TieTogetherApart—what does that even mean?? It doesn't even lead anywhere. It would've been hilarious if they weren't so greedy and unhinged.
So you had misgivings about working pro bono on a for-profit brand?
Absolutely. I didn't want to waste my time, my friends' time and industry favors on … aglets. More, I didn't want to add to a branding landscape that's seen some amazing, selfless, inspiring work, but is also filled with too many cliché, schmaltzy, borderline tone-deaf "brand manifesto-y" videos that really didn't need to be made. Including this one. But like many freelancers, work has dried up a little and I had the time. Plus, I didn't want them to kidnap my family.
Did they have a brief or anything resembling a strategy?
Nope. Their CMO, whose name I can't mention—because NDA and manslaughter—sent a 137-page internal creative "brief," developed with McKinsey, whose "single" most important message was:
WHAT: Make a viral video that gets 100 million+ views.
WHY: To dominate the global aglet market and pay out 2020 executive bonuses.
WHO (primary target): Tip-Savvy Actively Disruptive Lacers—urban suburban rural bi-coastal middle American aglet enthusiasts; all races/genders/sexual orientations; ages 6-106; HHI $5,000-$5,000,000.
HOW: By convincing TSADL'ers that only Ace aglets are an essential, eco-friendly, safe, healthy, dependable, artisanal, FUN family product they should BUY NOW (!) to endure these uncertain times. Together.
For the love of Dan Wieden, I wish I were making that up.
Are you at least happy with how it turned out?
Aside from virtually every pandering, tone-deaf second of it? Yes. But we ultimately just thought, hey, if we're being coerced into making this thing, hopefully it'll bring a few ironic smiles and let people know that maybe it's OK to laugh right now despite everything. Laugh at ourselves. At some of the work we make even with the best intentions. At an industry I still love and believe in, that isn't perfect, but can truly make a difference at times, even in small ways. That's largely filled with good people who, unlike Ace Aglet, are trying to help. And if that takes a few kittens, flags and other clichés, so be it.
Speaking of the industry, who helped on this?
A real who's-who of production and post folks all kindly threw in gratis. Editor Kevin Zimmerman with Cartel in L.A. JSM Music in New York. Dissolve, a relatively new stock house up in Calgary, who was super easy to work with and source all the killer footage. L.A.-based Julie Johnston did the voiceover and nailed it. Coupe Studios here in Boulder handled mix/audio. We even had some heavyweight creatives like CP+B's Tony Calcao and Baldwin&'s David Baldwin kindly shoot and send some of that Oscar-worthy "homespun, overly eager shoe-tying" Zoom/iPhone footage (Tony on the baseball cleat; David on the rubber gloves/dress shoes). A real dream team. But I hope they all feel as filthy as I do for helping these monsters exploit fear, isolation and uncertainty to sell aglets.
Date: May 11, 2020
Client: Ace Aglet Co. (fake)
Agency: MSA Creative (not fake; Boulder, Colo.)
CD/Copywriter: Mark St. Amant
Editorial: Cartel; Los Angeles, CA
Editor: Kevin Zimmerman
Stock/Visuals: Dissolve; Calgary, AB
Music: JSM Music; NY, NY
Audio/Sound Design: Coupe Studios; Boulder, Colo.
Voiceover: Julie Johnston, Innovative Artists, LA (Agent: Jill Witterschein)