Making Absurdity Work: The Inside Story of the Ocean Spray Sequel

This holiday campaign packs quite a punch

The most absurd aspect of making an absurd commercial is the dry practicality involved.

You can't start by thinking about what’s going to be funny. You have to use the logic within the world you've created, and then leave room for magic.

For example, last year we took Ocean Spray cranberry jelly, looked at its wonderfully bizarre physics and turned a boring family dinner into a jiggling, wiggling party. We purposely didn't over-script so we could spend our time watching what our cast could do.

This year, we set out to make a sequel featuring Ocean Spray's cranberry juice cocktail. There were many things we had to consider. How could we connect these two campaigns, but keep each one distinctive? If cranberry sauce made people jiggle, how would they react to the juice?

We started answering these questions with director Jeff Low, who is unmatched in helping define the rules of an absurd world. We decided:

  1. The juice would transform a lifeless gathering. We wanted it to feel bleak, nondescript and impersonal. Like a graduation party hosted by a church. 
  2. The vessel had to be a bowl of punch. Cranberry juice cocktail is added to drinks. Cranberry juice cocktail makes drinks taste better. It made sense. 
  3. The punch had to take on a supernatural quality. It couldn't just sit there. It had to swirl and sway. The centrifugal force of the punch would move the bored guests to do the same.

And after that, we got to play and build within this world, seeing what worked and what didn't.

To create the effect of our cast being swirled around like the punch, our production company created multiple spring-loaded metal rigs. They brought one to our callbacks and it was crucial. It became immediately clear what would work best once we saw how people reacted. 

Our cast included folks who could act like nothing was happening, even when they were being swirled around like rag dolls.

The day before the shoot, we watched the full cast test out the rig in their wardrobe. Everyone was laughing and you could tell that each actor felt comfortable and emboldened.

But one of the real surprises of the shoot was Deb, our punch-spiking grandmother. It wasn't until we saw her face on camera that we realized this was Deb's story. Using cranberry juice, she was the sneaky instigator for this wild ride. So we worked with our editor, Jeff Ferruzzo, to add more shots of Deb to our final cut, really building her story.

Creating the building blocks of absurdity not only makes for a stronger tale, but it also can keep the narrative going for years. If we keep traveling down this road, we're bound to discover what other scenarios the humble (yet mighty!) cranberry can juice in the future.

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