It’s a Friday morning in April and and Tammy Einav, managing director at Adam&Eve/DDB, London, is a little obsessed about the weather.
“I’m keeping a really close eye on the rain,” she confesses, interrupting our call several times to check on the rainfall situation at a farm in Berkshire, southern England, where the agency is about to film a TV campaign for Waitrose.
The idea is a little different: to give viewers a close up, virtually unedited view of where the supermarket chain’s ingredients come from by broadcasting ads that consist of same-day footage from webcams and GoPro cameras strapped to farm animals. Hence, the weather is a crucial factor.
The first ad was filmed (without too much precipitation) last Friday morning and went out that night during Channel 4’s “Gogglebox.” The campaign is designed to “top and tail” each ad break in which it appears; the first clip simply featured footage of some cows grazing in a field and at the end of the break, another clip showed ingredients on the table; in this case, a dessert topped with fresh cream. It also introduced the new Waitrose tagline: “Everything we do goes into everything you taste.”
A second spot followed on Saturday featuring hens – one walks right up to the camera — followed by a mouthwatering closeup of poached egg and avocado on toast. On Sunday, viewers were treated to footage from a GoPro strapped to the neck of a cow named “Mo.” The follow up clip was simply fresh milk poured into a glass.
The aim is for the farm footage to be as unedited and as “near-live” as possible, within the confines of U.K. broadcasting restrictions. Text on the screen confirms the time and place it was filmed, to underline to viewers that it really is filmed earlier that day.
The wider campaign includes screens at train stations showing live-streamed footage from another farm, including beehives and a rapeseed field. Print ads will also emphasize the real-time element, using images taken within 24 hours of publication. Meanwhile, the TV campaign will continue with further executions; the agency is currently filming on an Icelandic trawler with cameras strapped to fisherman’s hats.
The underlying message from Waitrose is that it has nothing to hide; the ads emphasize that it is the only U.K. supermarket to guarantee that its chickens are free range and its dairy cows are free grazing.
“We liked the idea of allowing the cameras in and and letting the animals tell the story,” said Ms. Einav. “There was no need for any other layers. The power of the idea lies in its simple confidence.”
Adam&Eve/DDB took over the upscale grocer’s account from BBH last year (it already handled John Lewis, Waitrose’s parent company). According to Richard Brim, executive creative director at the agency, the farm animal campaign originated as a digital idea before it became apparent “that this was the big idea.”
But there were several hurdles to get over. For instance, getting the placement of the cameras right. The team found that putting the GoPro under the cow’s neck just didn’t work, said Mr. Brim. “It just looked as if you were seeing a massive anteater.” It had to be moved to the side instead.
The famously changeable British weather is also a logistical challenge. England is known for its April showers and snow is not unheard of. “If it’s raining, the cows aren’t happy and they might not go outside. But in the end, you are going to get a different kind of footage. It’s not predictable, but it’s exciting,” said Mr. Brim.
According to directorial duo Wilkins & Maguire, at production company Stink, lack of broadband on remote farms also proved tricky. “Once our edits were approved, our producer would be seen driving from hill with increasing panic if the 4G signal wasn’t responding with the deadline looming,” the pair said in an email.
And then of course there were the animals themselves. “The cows were also a bit more affectionate that we anticipated and our cameraman got slobbered more than once,” the pair added. “We spent a lot of frosty mornings with the cows heavy breathing all over us — weird, but strangely calming.”
Waitrose is certainly not the first brand to underline the quality of its food and provenance of ingredients by filming in a farmyard. Since Chipotle won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2012 for its spot focused on sustainable farming, farms, and farmers have cropped up continuously in ads for grocers and food brands. Nescafe recently set up a webcam at a Brazilian coffee farm so that viewers could see a coffee harvest in 360 degrees, and brands including Whole Foods have also emphasized the farm-to-table message. In the U.K., even McDonald’s has highlighted its relationship with farmers.
But Mr. Brim believes the power of this campaign will be in its simplicity, and it letting what happens, happen. “The beauty will be in the understatedness of it,” he said. “If we just get an empty field and then a chicken walks past the camera, I still think that is really compelling.”