In late 2017, Amazon held an entertaining livestream event on Twitch (the gaming/social-video platform it had acquired a few years earlier) that invited fans of the Prime Video driving show The Grand Tour to blow up cars on a huge Battleship-style game board.
This past summer, Amazon launched another big real-world stunt, helping Universal hype Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom by building the largest Amazon Prime delivery box ever and using it to ship a supposedly 65-million-year-old dinosaur (actually, just a dinosaur statue) from Costa Rica to Los Angeles.
Then, just last month, Amazon Prime Video pulled off a fun experiential coup in New York City by reopening—for a week, downtown—the famous Carnegie Deli in the form of a period-authentic popup for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
All three projects were brought to life by Tool of North America, the L.A.-based production company that's been positioning itself lately as an all-purpose creative production partner to clients, taking on strategy and ideation roles traditionally handled by creative agencies.
Tool's mix of creative chops, production capabilities and diverse pool of repped talent give it a well-rounded offering, its leaders say—particularly when it comes to real-world stunts. Its strong video production background, in particular, helps Tool create much more content than is typical around an experience, which can amplify an event well beyond those who are actually on site.
"With experiential, one area we feel a lot of people forget about is thinking through, 'How can you produce content that isn't going to feel like a case study video?' " Tool managing partner Dustin Callif tells Muse. "You need content that can be shared through social, on PR, on web channels, etc."
For example, for the Maisel activation, Tool shot a '50-style commercial for the Carnegie Deli but held it back until halfway through the popup's run. It also worked for weeks afterward on different content projects to extend the life of the limited experience.
In that sense, the experiences that Tool crafts have less of a FOMO dynamic and are more about finding ways to include the excluded.
"It's an opportunity for people who couldn't experience the event to be able to have that," Callif says. "And it's a way to continue to feed the press and social with new content."
Roots with Amazon
Tool first got a foot in the door with Amazon by working with its in-house agency in Seattle to shoot some of the first Alexa spots. Tool helped to write some of the ads, proving it could be more than a production vendor.
It got involved with the Prime Video group thanks to another project entirely. In April 2017, Tool worked on a livestream stunt, broadcast on Twitch, in which Carl's Jr. literally destroyed relics of its sexist advertising past. Later in the year, when Prime Video wanted to do its own Twitch stunt for The Grand Tour, it was connected to Tool. The result was "Battle Cars Live."
"It's the perfect type of a project for Tool because it's live-action storytelling mixed with interactive, and that leverages all our capabilities," says Callif.
The relationship with Amazon expanded further in 2018 with the Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom assignment from Amazon Media Group.
Tool wrote and produced a teaser video for the stunt; orchestrated a motorcade of over a dozen SUVs and Jurassic-branded Jeep Wranglers flanking the 40-by-12-foot box; designed the box with audio haptics to make dinosaur sounds; worked with local news and social influencers to deliver real-time user-generated content; and captured footage of the unboxing of the dinosaur statue at a live event with the film's stars, Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt.
Tool's hybrid creative/production model facilitates working directly with clients like this.
"First off, we're born in making, which inherently makes you collaborative," Callif says. "Two, it makes you fast. We're used to getting calls two, three weeks before something needs to get made, and we just find a way to get it done. And third, we've been in the talent management business for 23 years. That's attractive to companies like Amazon and Twitch because we can bring them one of our creators who has a strong gaming background, or a strong feature-film background, or a strong experiential background. All those things let us get very involved in making, but also very involved in creative strategy as well."
Reopening the Carnegie Deli
The Carnegie Deli stunt for Prime Video's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was another home run—causing quite a stir in NYC over the holidays and, according to Tool, tallying some 1.9 billion press impressions and 36 million social media impressions.
Tool devised the creative strategy and execution, as well as the communications strategy. Campaign materials included not just the restaurant itself (open from Nov. 29 to Dec. 8, it was completely decked out in 1958 decor and featured original sandwiches named after the show's characters) but also playful wild postings and a roaming bike messenger who visited media outlets in character.
"We were trying to find an idea that would align not just with the Prime Video team but that we could sell through to the show's creators, because ultimately they are the final say and the final stakeholders in this," says Adam Baskin, director of innovation at Tool. "It was immediately obvious that this idea was the perfect vehicle for transporting people to 1958, into this era that they've fallen in love with in the show."
In terms of world-building, they didn't want to just create a menu and a sandwich that were tied to the show and call it a day.
"We paid close attention to every detail to make sure we were delivering on that goal of transporting people to 1958 and really making it accurate to what the Carnegie Deli would have been like for someone visiting it in that era," says Baskin.
"We worked closely with the show's creators, with the production design team from the show, to leverage all the research they've done and ensure that everything we were doing was being approved at the same level of consideration that they take to the show. From the salamis hanging in the window, to the artwork throughout the shop that was all hand-painted, to the iconic photos on the wall of entertainers and comedians, to the jukebox—everything was truly from that era."
The content strategy was designed around a particular pacing, which Callif describes as a three-act structure—the same structure that drives so much storytelling. Act one is driving awareness. Act two is the event itself. Act three is amplification of the event with more content.
For the Maisel project, act one began with a sign in front of the restaurant that simply read, "Coming soon. The reopening of Carnegie Deli." (This drove enormous buzz partly because it wasn't just about the show—it was about an iconic New York landmark, a story that would drive press headlines on its own.) Act two was about designing the space with as much thought as possible given to how the visitor could share the experience, with photos in particular. Act three was about packaging and rolling out content captured at the event itself.
The immersive nature of the experience mirrors the immersive world of episodic television today, Baskin says. Thus, there are clear parallels between the program content and the marketing content—something Tool is leveraging in lots of its entertainment world.
"Whether you're calling it theater or experiential world-building, I think one of the reasons why this is so popular now is that content is different," says Baskin. "We're able to binge content now. We're able to watch four, five, six, practically a whole of season of episodes in one sitting, and the connection people draw with those characters and those storylines is deeper because of that. Especially with an era-specific piece like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, we're able to create an illusion that you truly have stepped into the show, especially when we do things like bring the whole cast in on the first day. To see those characters in that environment is a whole different level than just stepping into the deli."
In the end, the Maisel project was a perfect storm for Tool—a buzzy idea, executed in remarkable detail, that nicely blended a real-world event and a slew of media content in a way that extended the richness of a show's world for its fans while still appealing to yet-to-be-fans.
"It's something we try to identify with our clients throughout the entire process. What's the content strategy? Not just what's the event strategy?" says Callif. "We were everywhere in New York, which is awesome. It was a perfect mix for us."