McCann Health puts a freaky spin on a familiar metaphor for addiction in "Get the Vape Off Your Back," a campaign aimed at teenagers that focuses on the controlling nature of e-cigarettes.
Created for the Evelyn Lilly Lutz Foundation, the work shows 13- to 18-year-olds trying to go about their daily routines at school while laboriously hauling other people around. (Sorry, monkeys, maybe next time.)
Creepy and controlling in the extreme, these "vapes" never shut up … about vaping. The teens carry a heavy load, literally, as their riders urge them to indulge no matter what else is going on. The kids can suck their tormenters' thumbs to vape, an oddly appropriate touch that deepens the notion of dependency.
"People develop these kind of intense relationships with their vapes, but it's an abusive relationship," McCann Health global creative chief Matt Eastwood tells Muse. "We knew from our research that the loss of control is something kids relate to in terms of vaping," rather than preaching about the effects of nicotine on their health.
"The vape tells them where to go, what to do, demanding refills of vape juice, needing to be charged constantly," Eastwood says. "We liked this idea of a high-maintenance person that just won't leave you alone. So it made sense to us to portray them as people. But we wanted a twist on that, something that was bizarre enough to get your attention but also show what a burden these vapes are in your life. That's when we settled on the idea of actually putting the vapes on these kids' backs."
McCann and director Bjorn Ruhmann of Smuggler pull off a delicate balancing act, creating a world that combines absurdist humor with a level of menace that never goes too far.
"Sometimes straight-up comedy can be easy to shrug off," says agency executive creative director John Washburn. "You laugh and then you move on. We wanted something that would be funny but also unsettling and disturbing. Hopefully this image of the vape as this controlling force sticks with kids and can help influence how they think of vaping in the future."
McCann originally planned to cast a single actor as the vape, but decided multiple performers worked best, as it speaks to the different manifestations of addiction.
"We did a bit of trial and error, figuring out how the kids would be able to hold the vapes up," recalls producer Wes Falik. In some cases, the teens managed to support the vapes on their own. Alternately, "we used a special harness which was originally designed to help rescue workers carry people out of disaster areas. That made it easier for the kids to carry someone who was heavier than they were."
Naturally, the team faced challenges.
"In one case, we needed crew members to help support the vape character from below so he could stay on the teenager's back," says creative director Ryan Paulson. "These crew members were dressed head-to-toe in green suits so that we could paint them out in post."
"So, we had this creepy little guy playing the vape who is dressed in tight grey pants, wearing long black gloves, climbing on the back of this poor kid," Paulson says. "Then you'd see two large guys in green spandex suits crouched down, supporting the vape character as he clung to the teenager, who would then take a hit off his thumb like it was a vape. And it was all set against the backdrop of high school. It was like a David Lynch character ran into some aliens from an early Star Trek film and they landed in a John Hughes film."
In addition to the long-form videos above, "Get the Vape Off Your Back" includes a selection of sharable shorts running on Instagram. The initiative includes intervention tools created with input from community advisers.
Lead Agency: McCann Health
Global CCO: Matt Eastwood
Director of Integrated Production: Nathy Aviram
Executive Creative Director: John Washburn
Creative Director: Ryan Paulson, Carlos Wigle
Design Director: Dave Mashburn
Producer: Wes Falik
Global Health President: Briana Ferrigno
Strategist: Alix Floyd, James Etheridge
Account Supervisor: Emily Carter
SVP, Connection Strategy: Luis Garrido
VP, Content Strategy Director: Will Zweigart
Senior Social Strategist: Grace Freeman
McCann Health SVP Global Communications: Prateek Patnaik
Production Company: Smuggler
Media: Universal Mccann (UM)
EPs: Patrick Milling-Smith, Alli Kunzman, Brian Carmody
Director: Björn Ruhmann
DP: Benjamin Kitchens
AD/Line Producer: George Nessis
Production Designer: John Hammer
Stylist: Brooke Ohsman
Casting Director: Maya Adrabi
Sales & Management Associate: Trace Henderson
Editorial Company: Gattie and Lopez
Editor: Chuck Willis
Assistant Editor: Brooke Flowers
Managing Partner: Sue Willis
EP: Anna Petitti
Sound Mixer: Walter Bianco
Finish/VFX: Gattie And Lopez
Colorist: Ricky Gausis
EP: Meghan Lang