In mid-February, Elastic Media director Biff Butler found himself standing on a sound stage in Los Angeles with three giant LED screens projecting images of eagles, fires, storm clouds and lightning. In the middle of the room, young people dressed in face paint whooped and cheered and stared menacingly into the camera.
Tasked with creating a series of high-octane spots to get fans hyped for the NBA by connecting the passion of March Madness with the upcoming playoffs, Butler felt his idea coming to life.
“Instead of trying to show it metaphorically, I proposed ‘What if we just build a room that is that kind of mindset room or college spirit room,” says Butler of his early discussions with the NBA and its agency Translation Media. “And then this is what I love about directing: people just say ‘Yes.’”
Butler and his team produced four 15-second ads featuring NBA stars like Jimmy Butler and Chris Paul. Each spot contains highlights of the players between quick-hit shots of fans sporting their alma maters colors and LED images related to their college.
“I was really drawn to their ideas of taking the messages or the lessons that these players learned in college and portraying them through the different images…projecting them on to how they carried that into how they play the game currently.”
The NBA footage was easy to come by. Elastic used footage provided by NBA Entertainment right from game broadcasts. For some of the ads’ grittier-looking NBA footage, Butler shut off all the lights in his edit bay and re-captured the footage on an iPhone 7.
Using fans was a different story. Butler knew he needed young people to illustrate the rabid passions and exuberance college fans feel for their schools, but he also knew how difficult it can be to clear footage of fans.
“We knew we couldn’t get away with not showing the fans,” says Butler, a 12-year veteran of Elastic and its sister company Rock Paper Scissors.
Elastic put out a casting call for college-age kids and then decked them out in the colors of the colleges they were representing.
“We had these fans and it was like, ‘Let’s just shoot them doing a range of stuff, almost like music-video style,” Butler says.
He has plenty of experience in the music world from which to draw. Butler is the son of Black Sabbath bass player Geezer Butler. He came to Los Angeles around 2000 with his band, Apartment 26. Though the band would break up in 2004, Butler stayed in touch with former bandmate Andy Huckvale. It’s Huckvale who provides the dramatic, industrial-electro soundtrack for the NBA spots.
There’s been no shortage of incredible talent in the NBA in recent years. If you need a sign that the league is as compelling as ever on a night-to-night basis, check out Sunday’s action, as the league rollicked toward its regular-season conclusion.
Russell Westbrook scored 50 points, broke Oscar Robertson’s record for most triple-doubles in a season and hit the game-winning three-pointer from basically two miles out. Meanwhile, in Atlanta, the Hawks came back from a 26-point deficit to beat the Cavaliers in overtime, dropping Cleveland back into a tie with Boston as the East’s number-one seed.
With drama like that, ad campaign’s such as Elastic’s might buttress the product on the court, but they really don’t have to convince fans who have been following the league all season to watch the upcoming post-season.
“That had to be the takeaway,” Butler says of the spots as a whole. “That the NBA was the most exciting part.”