Have you seen that video of the dogs barking the Darth Vader song? Chances are, if you have a pulse and an Internet connection, you have. The viral video is a teaser for a Volkswagen Super Bowl commercial, so yes, that makes it a commercial for a commercial.
It's bold new territory for advertising companies, who now acknowledge what many Super Bowl viewers suspect: The commercials are the best part. To find out more about this viral hit, we spoke with music video and commercial director Keith Schofield. He's the man behind the Duck Sauce human-heads-on-crotches, Wintergreen's “How to Make Meth,” Diesel XXX Safe for Work Porn, Fat Boy Slim's Censored Naked party videos and more.
We talked with Keith about the making of the video, dog whisperers, canine erections and the key elements for directors who want to make a video go viral.
“The Bark Side”
What the exactly is this?
I recently directed a video for Volkswagen called “The Bark Side,” for Caviar Content, who teamed with the company Deutsch and they came up with the idea, so they brought the concept to me and it was my job to execute it.
The concept, if you haven't seen it, is a chorus of dogs singing the “Imperial March” from Star Wars — that's the Darth Vader theme song. When I got the scripts in, I was like, dogs and Star Wars, this is going to be a hit online — and it was. Now it's got more than 10 million hits online. Last year they did a spot that had a little kid dressed up like Darth Vader. This year they have a new spot and this is bridging the gap in between.
What was the process like for creating the “Imperial March” with barks?
We had 12 dogs total in the spot, and the process we went through for filming it was we created a temp track, where our music editor created a song with library sound effects of dogs barking, then we brought this to the trainers and started rehearsing with it. What we soon found out was that dogs — really understandably so — can't bark in a tempo, so there's no concept of them hitting a beat, or you know, a rapid succession of barks, so there is no possibility of them doing anything that would work melodically.
So what's the trick?
It's all in the editing. So we would film these dogs barking, pausing, barking, pausing. And in post we would edit that to the music so it would sound like they were barking along to it.
The dogs take us through all the different moments of the song and it builds up and we get to some close-ups. We conclude the whole thing with a — not to ruin it — with a whippet, which kind of looks like a greyhound, dressed up like an AT-AT walker, which was one of those robotic, giant dog things from Empire Strikes Back on the ice planet Hoth.
So the dogs have characters?
All the dogs had little costumes on. We assigned a character to each dog, and the idea was that not all the dogs were explicit, some of them were, you know, not quite overdressed. We also wanted to avoid any sort of store-bought costumes, or anything that was too much. We have a black lab and he has a little robotic panel like Darth Vader has, so he's our Darth Vader. One of the dogs has the Leia bun ears. We have a Chihuahua who is playing the Yoda character, there's a C-3P0 dog, and a Stormtrooper and Han Solo. There's an Ewok dog, whose name was actually Ewok in real life, so that was easy on set.
What was your vision for the shoot?
The vibe we were going for was sort of a school play where you have all these kids, and they're not all well cast or talented, but they're cute and charming, and trying their best to put on a show. We tried not to make it too slick, and not to make it too perfect.
Did you have to enlist any dog whisperers?
On set we had about six dog trainers, and a head dog trainer, who corralled the dog trainers, who corralled the dogs. There was enough rehearsal time so that there weren't any surprises on set.
Did you have any favorite dogs?
I really liked the C-3PO dog, which was some kind of wispy, I don't know what kind of dog you'd call it, some kind of mutt or something. He was just very shy and got intimidated by the other dogs. So he was like the underdog. I liked him because he wasn't quite ready for camera. There was something endearing about him.
Least favorite dog?
All the dogs were really nice.The pug wasn't as nice as I thought he would be. My least favorite dog was a really sweet dog, but, the bulldog, he kept having an erection while we were rehearsing. It was just so big and so gros,s all the dog trainers were, like, “Oh what's the big deal?” And I was, like, we're not going to put an erection in this online viral. I know it wasn't his fault, but what can you say.
Another one of Schofield's videos, called “Toe Jam”
Is 'Bark Side' a commercial for a commercial?
It is a commercial advertising that a commercial is coming out. It's a teaser, and it's completely different footage than what's going to be played on the Super Bowl. … Super Bowl ads are worth it, because you're paying for the ad on TV, but you're also paying for the articles, the discussion. There's websites where people actually go and watch the spots afterward. And if we can build up some good will toward that spot…
Next: on how to make viral videos
For aspiring viral video directors out there, what are the essential elements to making a viral video?
There's two types of viral videos: There are videos that are planned to go viral, then there are ones that by complete random they've gone viral — for example, Chocolate Rain. That guy didn't set out to make a video that would make him famous, he didn't set out to make something with 50 million hits or whatever, but it was so odd and the right people saw it at the right time, and passed it around, and then it became big.
There's a hundred Chocolate Rain-esque videos that you've never heard of, because, for whatever reason, nothing ever happened. I think a mistake people often make is that they try to do something like that, and that's, like, “No, no, no, you can't predict that.”
Then on the other hand, if we want to make something viral, then the idea is that you start looking for things that have gone viral in the past and try to use them. It's like, the pandering works. It helps people to latch onto things.
For example, Star Wars. If you do a Star Wars spoof online and it's halfway decent, that's going to get popular, there's a lot of Star Wars fans, this stuff travels online. Anything that has to do with video games, or computers or anything that has to do with technology, or has some kind of joke in it, is always a good place to be. Dogs and cats, I'd say cats more than dogs, but stuff like that always helps. This has all the cards stacked up in its favor. Then there's the other things, if there's nudity or porn or whatever, which happens to be very popular online.
The commercial and product don't really seem to have a connection. Is that something that you're seeing a lot?
It's something that I never started thinking about until I saw that people were writing on YouTube, “What the hell does this have to do with Volkswagen?” And they're right, there's no car in there, there's barely a logo, so I guess I can't say I officially directed a Volkswagen car spot in the traditional sense.
Something that is unique about advertising is if you create a piece of content that people talk about, then someone says, “Hey have you seen the new Volkswagen commercial,” and that person advertises the word Volkswagen to you and so you pass your day, maybe you didn't watch any TV, but somebody bombarded you with an ad because they're relaying what they've already seen online…
It's one little [bit] in a whole campaign, and it was one of those things where the content worked better if it wasn't focused on the car. … There isn't even a tagline that says, “Here's why it was what it was.” It's, like, “Nope, here's some crazy stuff, now watch the Super Bowl.”
Brands are now promoting the brand instead of the product. You connect Volkswagen with this cool idea, which connects the idea of coolness with the brand by proxy.
This idea of commercials that don't have a lot of the product in it goes back to Coca-Cola commercials, where, at a certain point, everyone knows what Coca-Cola is. It's a fizzy soft drink. At that point, you can have a fun spot and end with a logo.
Beer commercials do that a lot, too. With cars, it's less common because car commercials have always been about showing the car. I'm sure as time goes on, and brands become more ubiquitous, we'll be spending less time telling you to get this brand, and instead saying, here's a 30-second bit of entertainment and here's the brand.
Schofield's video “WTF! Insane Human Curling”
How well do viral videos do when translating into sales?
There is something to be said for brand awareness. When someone tries to get a new car, what are the first names to pop into his head? And that's one of those things that advertising is, a reminder for people that you're always here, and you're not going away.
A lot of times advertising agencies spend a lot of money for something to go viral and it doesn't go viral, because for whatever reason, they didn't pick the right elements or they latched on something that didn't work out. That happens, and I think they think that since their viral budgets aren't that high, they think, “No harm, no foul.”
How important is it to engage the nerd population?
Engaging the nerdier side of society is definitely good for viral success. Those guys will get it out the gate and eventually your mom will find it and email you.