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Sponsored / Advertising

How Greg Barth and Droga5’s surreal, retro-futuristic ad for MailChimp was made

In MailChimp’s latest ad campaign, a wide-eyed protagonist stands nervously like a rabbit in headlights against an undulating ‘black hole’. Comparing the unknowns of building a web business with an endless abyss, and offering a far less daunting alternative (using MailChimp), the ad is a surreal and tongue-in-cheek visualisation of the internet.

The ad was directed by Greg Barth with agency Droga5, and as Greg explains, the intention was to avoid an aesthetic time-stamp by translating MailChimp’s services into abstract and metaphorical tools. “One of the challenges we faced was how to show technology without making it feel ‘techy’ or gadgety,” he says. “We wanted to establish a strange, retro-futuristic look that could make the MailChimp tools feel timeless, inspired by the minimalism of sci-fi classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey, while also representing the service as clever and contemporary.”

Incredibly, the effect was created in-camera. The team wanted to physically show a black hole without it being too scientific or “blockbuster”. “I wanted the black hole to be surrounded by a pattern that it would slowly warp and ingest, giving its presence an unexplainable sense of fear as it slowly expands, without distracting from what a black hole actually is, or what it isn’t.”

Furthering Greg’s recent visual experiments with printing on to Lycra and using its elastic properties, the grid pattern is printed on the fabric, which covers the wall. The ‘black hole’ is an actual hole in the wall, so the effect was created by physically pulling the fabric back and forth from behind the set, “creating crazy distortions that warped our grid texture”. The set also included a second ‘black hole’ – a dangling, circular piece of wood, that was suspended in front of the fabric and bounced as the fabric was pulled. “This created really interesting shadows that made it feel like it was pulsating and changing in size.”

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Greg Barth and Droga5: MailChimp campaign

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“My favourite part of this project was seeing the whole set, it looked completely crazy! I love that we had our actor in front of a real, pulsating black hole. It was something we could actually see and feel, making his interaction very genuine, as opposed to a green screen with a blue cross where the black hole would be inserted in post.”

Accompanying the trippy visuals are experimental analogue soundscapes by Francois Bayle, a 60s French pioneer in electronic music. “The combination of a real set, physical effects and experimental music created a really unique vibe that briefly disconnected everyone on set from reality… at least it had that effect on me and Samuel (our actor),” Greg says.

The character, Greg explains, is at “a crossroads between pure evil and a soothing, superior presence. A comically ominous voice-over compares the two options he faces, as the ad “unapologetically cuts from a growing sense of unease to a thriving feeling of relief and hope”. It aims to continue the playful and surrealist tone of MailChimp’s previous campaign, while “logically growing that universe to something more product-oriented, without seeming so”.

“I’m really pleased with the result – it’s odd, and looks quite different to what else is out there in the advertising realm.”

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Greg Barth and Droga5: MailChimp campaign

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Greg Barth and Droga5: MailChimp campaign

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Greg Barth and Droga5: MailChimp campaign

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Greg Barth and Droga5: MailChimp campaign