In a new self-promotional video from branded-content agency Denizen, the cast is all thumbs. By that, we mean it's a digital campaign in the most literal sense.
Wearing tiny wigs and glasses, with drawn-on mustache faces, human thumbs abound. They ride buses, gather in dining rooms, but at least initially, these thumbs appear decidedly grim. You might even say they're giving life a thumbs-down these days.
That's because, in our device-oriented age, they're fraught with existential angst.
"Thumbs. Evolution's great gift to mankind," a narrator begins. "But what is their purpose? Every day, billions of thumbs scroll past an endless feed of mostly useless content, pushing past post after irrelevant post. The average attention span on Facebook is eight seconds. Worse yet, 60 percent of audiences say content being created by brands is poor, irrelevant or fails to deliver."
Do thumbs have to keep giving ads the finger?
Or … wait a minute! Could Denizen offer a solution?
"Sixty-seven percent of people think branded content is more entertaining, relevant, and they're more likely to think of the advertised brand at the time of purchase," the voiceover says. "But that endless scroll will keep going until advertisers get smart enough to simply make what our thumbs are looking for."
In the end, of course, we get a big thumbs-up for the agency, which has crafted branded content for the likes of Disney, McDonald's, Netflix and Nintendo.
"Denizen is an agency built to stop thumbs by thinking beyond an agency conference room and putting viewers first," we're told. "When consumers become viewers, ads become entertainment. When ads are entertainment, thumbs notice. When thumbs notice, viewers engage. When viewers engage, media costs go down, and the needle moves for your brand."
The novel concept and charming visuals vault the two-minute film, called "Thumbstopping," hands and feet—or at least thumbs—above the B2B pack.
So, where'd this notion come from, exactly?
"We pitched a campaign once to a big client, and as they talked about why they liked it, one of them said, 'I'd stop scrolling and watch this,'" Denizen co-founder and co-executive creative director Joel Jensen tells Muse. "We realized that the thumb is the key to engagement. This, to us, represents the new model of viewer experience. Thumbs are where the rubber hits the road."
What's more, "with 80 percent of audiences skipping ads, scrolling on mobile has become a behavior that content has to become good enough to stop, or slow down, to serve clients' interests," he says. "And so, since we make it our focus to understand why a viewer would want to watch rather than skip our ads, we felt like 'thumbstopping' was a good way to describe what we do for brands and audiences."
Once Denizen locked down its approach, "we wanted viewers—both marketers and consumers—to see their own frustrations with the industry status quo in that thumb," Jensen says. "So we decided to humanize it and glaze it with ennui so that it wasn't about the statistics, but about the emotional connection with content."
Every thumb in the ad is real (save for one brief shot), and the props and sets were—appropriately enough—handcrafted, with no VFX whatsoever.
Co-founder and co-ECD Joseph Matsushima recalls the casting process: "We had four thumb actors, most playing dual roles—left hand, right hand. We had pretty informal auditions. We wanted to see photos of the hands to make sure their nails weren't too long, as we had to put wigs over the fingernail. We were also looking for a long thumb that wasn't too calloused or off-putting."
Beyond that, "what we were looking for more than the look of the thumb is someone who was willing to put up with being on set all day, sitting in awkward positions for long durations, and not complain," he says.
Unsurprisingly, the vibe got a little strange.
"It's pretty surreal shooting for 12 hours with thumbs," Matsushima says. "We were so focused on making sure our shots were looking right that we forgot there were people under the set performing for us."
One such example was caught on film.
"Toward the end of the shoot," he says, "we were rushing to get the bus scenes right, and things were going great when suddenly, Travis—our performer of the main thumb—broke the fourth wall and popped his head up in the background and smiled toward the camera. At that moment, the whole crew started laughing, as it was the first time we really saw the scale difference of what we were shooting, compared directly to the size of our actors. Travis looked like a monster invading a thumb city."
You can check out his incursion here:
Bottom line: They nailed it. Can't wait for the Pornhub parody. (We're guessing they won't use thumbs.)
Agency: Denizen Company, Culver City, Calif.
Chief Creative Officers: Joseph Matsushima & Joel Jensen
Copywriter: Joel Jensen
Account Director: Ryan Parker
Business Affairs Director: Katherine Torress-Pummel
Production Company: Denizen Company
Director: Joseph Matsushima
Director of Photography: Alex Polinni
Executive Producer: Amy Matsushima
Producer: Jack Waldman
Editor: Alexander Hendriks
Visual Effects Production: Carl Stern
Colorist: Patrick Taylor