In April, New Zealand's national police force wanted to communicate health and safety information to young adults during that nation's stringent Level-4 lockdown.
Naturally, they called the cops. Though you might notice something funny about these particular officers.
Working with creative shop Wrestler, they recruited cast members from Wellington Paranormal, a popular New Zealand comedy-cop/horror TV show (created by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement), to appear in a series of online videos dealing with various aspects of Covid-19.
Actors Karen O'Leary and Mike Minogue appear in character as Officers O'Leary and Minogue. The latter plays a supporting role, mainly via video chat, while O'Leary hosts the episodes, each lasting a few minutes, from a squad-room set. She often welcomes viewers with a hearty, "Kia ora, Aotearoa"—"Hello New Zealand!" in Maori, the indigenous language of the land.
A mannequin, Officer Phil, also appears. But don't call him a "dummy," because Prime Minister Jacinda Arden wouldn't approve, we're told in one of the spots. (If Phil needs more work, he'd be a hit in Lithuania.)
Running on NZ Police social feeds, the campaign proved hugely popular, snagging 7 million viewers all told. (That's an impressive number in any market, but especially so in New Zealand, which has a total population of slightly less than 5 million.)
The tone triumphs throughout, with mildly wacky antics smartly reinforcing commonsense edicts—such as standing two meters apart, which O'Leary stresses in a delightfully daft ditty below:
"2 meters please. 2 meters please.
I don't want your Covid, if you start to sneeze.
2 meters please. 2 meters please.
I don't wanna breathe your Covid, if you start to wheeze.
Corona's spreading round the world, so people do your bit.
Keep a gap around yourselves, or you'll feel like … rubbish."
That tune's infectious. In a good way.
The spots name-check Arden, the prime minister, with plenty of good-natured in-jokes. Her leadership has been widely praised for guiding New Zealand through the coronavirus crisis in exemplary fashion, with just 1,500 cases and 21 deaths nationwide.
Arden's fiancé, Clarke Gayford—a stay-at-home dad for their daughter Neve—Zooms in for this next segment, as Officer Minogue amusingly disturbs the peace:
Wrestler previously worked with both Wellington Paranormal and the NZ Police on social and interactive content. Agency co-founder and CEO Ben Forman hails Helen Flannery, the force's marketing adviser, as "the most courageous client I've ever met" for shepherding the project and advocating its style of humor. (The NZ Police earned considerable praise for its offbeat and effective recruitment efforts from 2017 and 2018, too.)
Here, Officer O'Leary talks her preparedness-minded mum through Covid protocols:
Judging from that exchange, there might be some unresolved family issues at play.
"We knew this would resonate with us and our community," Forman says. "We like a good laugh. Even when it feels like the world is falling apart, we look for a little chuckle."
In this dark-humored installment, O'Leary dons a shabby ghost costume to go out on patrol and scare curfew-breakers into staying indoors:
Minogue: "Imagine you're doomed to walk the earth for all eternity after dying before your time."
O'Leary (beneath a sheet): "I do actually feel like that, to be honest, right now."
O'Leary seems perfect for the role. Appealingly quirky, yet always in control, she communicates potentially life-saving concepts through schtick with the greatest of ease. In addition to acting, O'Leary holds a teaching degree, and she recently fronted an early-childhood education series from Wellington Paranormal scriptor Paul Yates, who also wrote and directed this Covid-19 campaign, working with Wrestler creative director Kris Hermansson.
"We had a 48-hour warning before we went into Level 4, so we quickly assembled sets in our studio that could stay the same for the whole time," Forman says. "Then we created our little 'bubble crew.' The studio is pretty big, so we were able to keep a good distance from one another, and the only physical contact was our sound guy putting the mic on Karen. But he would rig that all up on her vest, and then she could grab it and pop it on."
The team shot on a Red Gemini video system, while Yates and client officials provided guidance via wireless monitors. Most of the video calls were shot in FaceTime. "It's actually pretty easy to shoot with FaceTime calls," says Forman. "I was able to direct the person on the other end of the phone to control their lighting, frame their shot, etc."
For catering, "we just stocked up on a whole bunch of soup packets in the kitchen," he recalls. "I mean, they were gourmet, but soup is pretty boring after day five."
The project took five weeks to complete, with the team shooting three episodes per day.
"All of these videos had a serious message underpinning them, and they offered rational value to our audience in how to handle the situation—but we didn't treat them like children," Forman says. "We also didn't wave a police stick at them and instill fear."
Instead, the production strove to "build a community, have some laughs and share valuable information," he says. "We respected our audience to see past the LOLZ and take away the serious messages, which they did. As soon as you look down on your audience and think you're of superior intelligence, your content shows it. And no one likes being talked down to, especially during a global pandemic. Bringing people together is how you win anything in life."
You can laugh and learn with the rest of the episodes here:
New Zealand Police: Covid-19 Campaign
Paul Yates, Writer/Director, Wellington Paranormal
Kris Hermansson, Creative Director
Ben Forman, CEO/DOP/Editor
Chris Ward, Sound
Paul Wedel, Sam Caino, Editors