Coldwell Banker Uses Simon & Garfunkel's 'Homeward Bound' in Sweeping New Ad

Siltanen's approach resonates in these troubled times

Simon & Garfunkel's 1966 hit "Homeward Bound" provides the stirring soundtrack to Siltanen & Partners' epic film for real-estate giant Coldwell Banker.

Produced by the agency's Idea Factory Films unit and directed by Tim Kendall, the two-minute spot follows a diverse group of travelers on trains and planes, in buses, boats, trucks and cars, as they head home to their loved ones and sing along with the original track:

Coldwell Banker | Guiding You Home (Extended Cut)

Last year, the duo's "The Sound of Silence" drove Volkswagen's "Hello Light" spot by Johannes Leonardo, which won a Silver Clio for Use in Music. That was a canny use of a classic track. But now, giving the unsettling current events, the appearance of "Homeward Bound" for Coldwell Banker could deeply resonate with weary, agitated viewers seeking comfort and reassurance.

The film, titled "Guiding You Home," prominently features a new logo and brand identity for the client: a monogram and simple star, which "represents the North Star that pioneers and explorers have forever counted on to guide them home," Rob Siltanen, agency founder and creative director, tells Muse. "Guiding people home, like the North Star, is what Coldwell Banker has been doing longer than anyone in real estate, so we thought this symbolism was particularly powerful."

You can learn more about the logo refresh in the video below:

"We wanted to find the music that would be the perfect fit for the storyline. We thought there was no better way than by using one of the greatest songs about home that’s ever been written," says Siltanen.

Of course, it's impossible to predict the campaign's impact with coronavirus taking hold in the nation's psyche. The real estate market's in flux, with the pandemic pushing agents to show properties via video, and mortgage rates expected to drop after the rate cut by the Federal Reserve.

That said, this client-agency team took a similar road home and enjoyed considerable success with their first collaboration nearly a decade ago, when the housing market was at its lowest ebb since the Great Depression.

In our chat below, which has been edited and condensed, Siltanen recounts the lessons of those times and speaks in detail about the tuneful new campaign:

How the brand situation in 2020 mirrors 2011.

We won their business by convincing Coldwell Banker to take a "high road" approach with their messaging. At that time, everyone in real estate was doing the classic "There's never been a better time to buy" or "There's never been a better time to sell" type of marketing, and consumers weren't believing it. At the time, money was staying on the sidelines, as fear and uncertainty was everywhere, and it was paralyzing the marketplace. We convinced Coldwell Banker to do what we called an "evergreen strategy." We explained to them that a home is fundamentally priceless, and that you can't really put a price tag on its value. Our first manifesto/commercial for them, titled "Value of a Home" … helped define Coldwell Banker as a market leader, and it played a role in lifting the housing industry up by its bootstraps.

Why it pays to evolve an emotional appeal.

We have pretty much maintained the Coldwell Banker's position as, "The company that truly understands the actual value of a home—the deep emotional benefits as well as the rational/financial aspects of home ownership." That positioning hasn't changed in nine years, and the tone that we captured remained consistent and very successful.

On making the commercial "Super Bowl worthy."

We were looking to create a commercial that would have major impact and scale to it—something that was "Super Bowl worthy," even though we knew it wasn't going to run on the Super Bowl. I told the creative teams to swing for the fences and, as a working creative director/writer, that was what I was aiming to do as well. The world, and the U.S. in particular, has been a very divided place over the past several years. There's a huge divide between the haves and the have nots, issues among different races, and big differences among the political parties. It occurred to me that about the only thing we can all agree on right now is that home—among our loved ones and the comfort of our own things—is the best place in the world. I thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be refreshing if we did an uplifting commercial that showed what we all have in common instead of focusing on our differences? What if we wove together the stories of four very different people and their desire to get home into one blockbuster spot?" But we needed a soundtrack that would serve as the thread to hold everything together.

Why the agency chose that particular track.

Several years ago, I watched Phillip Phillips sing the song "Home" on American Idol and I immediately called our client at Coldwell Banker and said, "We need to buy that song and do a spot around it, because it's going to be a massive hit."  Sure enough, the song became a major success, and our spot was the first time that track was ever used in a commercial. Throughout our nine years of working on the account, I've been thinking about the best songs about home—and I've always felt that Simon & Garfunkel's "Homeward Bound" was probably the best home song ever written. 

How the team built the spot around the song.

I began listening to the song repeatedly, and I figured out how to cut it down [to work in different versions of the commercial]. It worked perfectly. Earlier, I had shared the concept of weaving four stories together in one spot to my longtime art director and creative right-hand, Joe Hemp, and he liked the idea a lot. We started bouncing around ideas about how the ad would be edited together using "Homeward Bound" as the driver. We crafted four different storylines: a nurse heading home from work, a student heading home from college, a truck driver heading home in an 18-wheeler, and a pilot heading home from a long flight. We wanted to showcase all walks of life. We imagined that the last scene would be the nurse, a working mother, returning home to the quiet comfort of her husband and baby in the wee hours of the night as the final lyric "…as my love lies waiting silently for me" rings out.

Expanding the concept.

As I listened to the song, it was clear that the piece had both quiet moments as well as upbeat periods when the chorus kicked in. I thought, "What if we kept the four stories, but peppered in other people returning home as well—and what if we had all of the people singing along to the song, as if the song was magically playing at the same time and people all over the place were singing along to it?" We could use the big, upbeat moments as an opportunity to introduce a full busload of athletes returning home from a game and bellowing out "Home!" as well as others joyfully singing along. I thought this would make the spot more unique, but I feared that this could also come across as cheesy. Joe said, "I love the concept of having them sing. It'll be awesome!"

It was very important that this not just be a sing-along spot, so I wanted to make sure that we started with the original track alone at the start and at the very end, bookending the commercial. It was also very important that we showed people in different age ranges, because we were aware that while this is a famous classic, younger people—like many of our staffers in their 20s—had likely never heard it before. The song needed to represent the official anthem of home for everybody, and by doing this, we'd add a youthful exuberance.

The response from the client.

We presented an entire room full of ideas to the clients and we showed the "Homeward Bound" concept last. They loved a lot of the work, but they felt the "Homeward Bound" spot was absolutely magical. They gave us the go-ahead to talk more with Simon & Garfunkel's team, so we put together a detailed storyboard and treatment which they liked and ultimately approved.

Putting it all together.

We shot all of it in Los Angeles and surrounding areas in a total of four days and did everything through our in-agency production company. Because we needed to make the most out of every dollar … we did a ton of work upfront to ensure there would be zero surprises once we began shooting. Through our in-agency editing department we did both a rip-o-matic, using various found video footage, and an animatic, with drawings from Joe Hemp, that were edited together … with the track, as well as with singing from various agency staffers, who actually did a half-decent job.

If you compared our storyboard to the spot, you would see that the end product pretty much mirrored the board. We used every scene and every actor we shot. A senior creative team from our agency, Scott Bremner and Brian Howell, along with agency producers Kenia Colderon and Maricela Rogers, took a big hand in putting the early rips together and helping with an enormous casting job. There ended up being 50 different people in the spot, and we looked at hundreds of different people who tried out for various roles. With each character, we needed to make sure they could sing well—yet felt realistic and natural. We didn't want it to feel like you were trapped in an episode of Glee. When an actor seemed fake or over-the-top, our cheese-ball radar instantly went up.

Our director, Tim Kendall … had mostly shot comedy before this spot, but he's a true storyteller, a detail-oriented perfectionist, a quick mover on set, and a great team player—all of which were an absolute must for a job of this scale. We were hugely budget conscious throughout, and our agency production company ate more of the cost than we probably should have, but we wanted to make sure the spot felt epic.

How coronavirus caused a big change in the media plan.

The commercial was scheduled to air throughout the NCAA men's basketball March Madness tournament with the 60-second spot airing during the Final Four. All of that has now been canceled [along with event itself]. These are scary, uncertain times that require the utmost caution. Times like these make the world of advertising seem trivial. We are now working to figure out our next move. We will figure it out. Great spots like this one find a way to get seen and passed around.

CREDITS

Ad Agency: Siltanen & Partners
Creative Directors: Rob Siltanen, Joe Hemp
Writer: Rob Siltanen, Brian Howell
Art Director: Joe Hemp, Scott Bremner
Writer assistance: Joe Siltanen
Art director assistance: Carly Sorenson
Agency Producer:  Kenia Calderon, Maricela Rogers
Account Management: Kelly Saffrey/Ashley Munoz
Strategic Planning: Erin Burns/Ruth Amir

Production Company: Idea Factory Films (In-agency)
Director: Tim Kendall
DP: Sam Chase
Line Producer:  Rick Guardino

Editorial: City of Angels (In-agency)
Editor: Donald Andrews
Online/VFX effects:  Matt Perry
Sound Mix: Lime/Dave Wagg
Color Correction: Company 3/Dave Hussey
Casting: Sanford Casting

Client: Coldwell Banker
CMO: David Marine
Ad Managers: Victoria Keichinger, Sharon Lee

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David Gianatasio
David Gianatasio is senior editor at Clio Awards.

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