This Wool Ad Offers a Vivid Glimpse of Our Future Synthetic Dystopia

This time, it's merino wool that breaks the spell

The world feels replete with ads dripping in dystopian ennui. 

Following the dark, condemning "Dream Thieves" by Koho in Canada, The Woolmark Company gives us "Live and Breathe." But the TBWA\Sydney creation feels less Black Mirror and more Blade Runner—or maybe more precisely, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the Philip K. Dick yarn on which the latter is based. 

Here we meet a female cog in a synthetic world composed entirely of drippy factory tubing, animated by people who mostly wear crinkly plastic rain ponchos. 

Our heroine is attached to a harness, cleaning gunk out of a pipe … and that's when a strange white-haired woman gives her a gift encased in wood.

Take a guess at what's inside.

WOOLMARK LIVE & BREATHE

On the surface, the premise is silly. This chick has an awakening because somebody gives her a woolly sweater? If that's the case, why doesn't the world change after every family Christmas? 

But the work says bigger things in its world-building. It isn't hard to imagine a steampunk-esque society where we're all mindless mechanics dressed in synthetic material. Instead of taking us into the distracting technological din of a Minority Report-style world, we're kept in slick darkness, the atmosphere punctuated by things we already recognize. 

The environment sucks. People zip around on Segways. Even the chopsticks are made of plastic, with food reduced to little more than pudgy, chewy variations of Soylent. One billboard actually punts air in a tube, something we make fun of today but that actually exists.

Except everything is obtusely cheerful and cute; even the steel piping comes in bright hues, the chopsticks decorated with rosy droplets. We've always been good at lipsticking the pig we're riding. 

Outfitted in her gift of breathable merino cotton, the woman sets off on a jog and encounters an actual flock of pastel-colored sheep. Except instead of wool, they're covered in plastic debris. 

The result is a dream composed of a thousand anxieties—the corrosive effects of fast fashion, our indifference to environmental ruin, the invasion of plastic waste in the bodies and skin of animals, all dolled up with mind-numbing positivity, eggs painted for Easter.

Like Jonas in The Giver, the protagonist goes on running until the city vanishes behind her—off to find the reality we've lost, where sheep are still woolly and not covered in pink forks and crinkly tinsel. 

The Woolmark Company (the group that represents Australian wool growers) created the film as part of a consumer awareness program for Australian Merino wool, spun to be breathable for the athleisure set. Some 90 percent of the world's wool apparel is produced Down Under, and any anodyne visit to your local Starbucks will show you athleisure is the fastest-growing sector in textiles, valued at $1.7 trillion.

Taking advantage of the yoga-pants trend isn't exactly noble, but the larger message is about our growing reliance on synthetics and the anxiety that accompanies that convenience. In the same way man-made textiles seem to accompany an increasingly synthetic community, natural fibers speak to something in us that feels disconnected from a larger ecosystem. 

"A new generation of consumers are now expecting more from their purchases. Merino wool's combined performance properties and eco-credentials are primed to meet this expectation," says Woolmark's managing director, Stuart McCullough. "Our global campaign reminds consumers of wool's natural benefits, which cannot be matched by any other fiber." 

The film launches today in New York, San Francisco, London, Shanghai and Tokyo, supported by out-of-home executions in the majority of these cities. Online, influencers will lead fitness classes and capsule collection launches from brand partners like P.E. Nation and Erin Snow, with a focus on breathability.

Going back to the moment our heroine puts on her wool sweater and runs her fingers over it in awe, we're reminded that—social-media bluster and whatnot aside—sometimes it's a very small thing that wakes us up. We operate mostly on autopilot, in cultures driven by convenience; "Live and Breathe" is a Margaret Atwood-inspired vision that takes those two paths to their end result. 

The systems we've built are more fragile than they look, and we don't have to automatically opt in, Woolmark seems to be saying. More importantly, do you really want to spend the rest of your life in a creaky parka?

CREDITS
The Woolmark Company
Managing Director – Stuart McCullough
Global Communications Manager – Laura Armstrong
Global Content and Creative Manager – Mitchell Oakley-Smith

Senior Communications Manager – Anna McLeod
Junior Editor – Sophie Joy-Wright
Creative Agency – TBWA Sydney
Chief Executive Officer – Paul Bradbury
Chief Creative Officer – Andy DiLallo
Chief Strategy Officer – Matt Springate
Creative Director – Kat Alvarez-Jarratt
Creative Director – Doug Hamilton
Pete Citroni – Art Director
Head of Production - Lisa Brown
Head of Design – Chris Mawson
Client Partner – Camilla Stapley
Business Director – Sarah Cornish
Producer – Madeline White
Designer – Paul Hughes
Digital Designer – Razif Djamaluddin
Production Company – Goodoil Films
Director- Nathan Price
Executive Producers – Sam Long and Juliet Bishop
Art Director - David Mark Lee
Editor – Pete Sciberras at ARC edit
DOP -Ginny Loane
Music - Squeak E Clean Productions LA
Sound Design – Beau Silvester TBWA Sydney
Post Production – ALT VFX
VFX Supervisor ALT : Jay Hawkins
Executive Producer ALT: Aborah Buick
VFX Coordinator ALT: Jayce AIewell
Head of 3D ALT : Matthew Chance
Colourist: Trish Cahill

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Angela Natividad
Angela Natividad is a founding contributor to Muse. She is also the co-founder of esports agency Hurrah.gg, and co-author of Generation Creation.