Donald Glover and the Art of Creating a Memorable Ad Campaign

If we were to label 2019 anything, there’s a very strong case to be made for “Year of the Donald.”

No, not that Donald.

We’re talking about Donald Glover, the multi-talented, multi-Grammy, multi-Emmy winning singer-writer-actor-creator known for his hit TV show Atlanta and Grammy-winning songs “This is America” and “Redbone.” You might also know “This is America” from its viral music video, which won its own respective Grammy at this year’s award show and created quite a stir when it was released last year.

Since February’s Grammy ceremony, Donald has gone on to headline Coachella, where he simultaneously timed the release of an hour-long movie titled Guava Island, as well as a new ad campaign and brand partnership with Adidas. Oh, and did we mention he’s playing Simba in the Lion King remake later this year? Yeah, we think he’s earned Year of the Donald.

All other accolades and accomplishments aside, let’s take a look at the new Adidas video ad campaign, titled Donald Glover Presents: Adidas Originals. It features Donald and famed comedian Mo’nique as they… Hang out while Mo’nique talks smack to Donald? Yeah. That’s pretty much the gist of it!

The video ad campaign, directed by Atlanta and Guava Island writer Ibra Ake, is cut up into five videos. We’ll look at each one individually and see what we can learn from this genius master class in video marketing, but you can watch them all here:

Ah, yes. Nothing beats the sweet, sweet sounds of Mo’nique talking smack to someone. Even in her soothing, sickly sweet tone, she can’t help but dress you down in the most hilarious way possible. Which is perfect for this ad campaign promoting Donald’s new line of shoes, which is all about disrupting the idea of class and status as something out of reach.

As Donald puts it,

“Rich is a concept… With this project, I wanted to encourage people to think about how their stories can be told on their feet. Value isn’t quantified by what you wear, rather the experiences from them. And you make the decision on what works for you, you live through your own lens. The partnership for me is about being able to exemplify what doing your own thing truly looks and feels like.”

Since Donald has forged a career out of doing his own thing and not playing by anyone else’s rulebook, he’s gotten a lot of criticism, as well as a lot of praise. So what better way to deconstruct the idea of being rich, or powerful, or an untouchable genius, than by creating a five-video series essentially making fun of yourself?

Which brings us to video (and rule) number one…

1. Don’t be afraid to make yourself the punchline.

In this video, both Mo’nique and Donald make fun of themselves – Donald by thinking someone wants a selfie when they really don’t, and Mo’nique by trying to convince Donald her birth year is “1985.”

While there’s plenty to learn from observing the shots used in the video, the takeaway point here is this: if you’re going for a comedic ad campaign, don’t be afraid to make fun of yourself a little bit. It’s always better to be in on the joke than on the other end of it.

That’s also true for video number two, titled “Timber”:

Timber is a hilarious riff on Donald’s appearance as he comes back from chopping wood. Mo’nique goes off on his shirtless appearance, which seems to be his signature look these days. She even incorporating zingers from Donald’s actual life, like someone online who questioned his “muscled” look and referred to his stomach as “a loaf of bread.” That’s harsh – but freaking hilarious.

Lesson is: if your video is on the sillier side, or a spokesperson you hire, or the type of product you’re making has a certain stigma attached, own it. To quote the great fictional strategic mastermind from Game of Thrones, Tyrion Lannister, “Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness.”

2. Your video ads can be as different as you want – as long as they have continuity.

In video three, titled “Avocado,” Mo’nique and Donald find themselves beekeeping and collecting honey. However, the video starts with a great pan-up shot from Donald’s shoes, which keeps us oriented on the product, even though the rest of the video isn’t really about them at all.

Each of these videos features wildly different locations and scenarios, but always keeps us grounded with a focus on the shoes. It’s subtle in these first few videos, but as the humor keeps the audience hooked, the shoes slowly draw attention back in. They’re beat up and worn and get progressively so in each ad – exactly what the shoe is supposed to represent.

In your own marketing videos, reach for the stars with your creativity, just ground them in a united theme or visual motif. This can be as simple as featuring your product in every video, like in this ad campaign, or more complicated by incorporating the product into part of the actual story itself.

3. Master the art of the “push-in.”

In video four, titled “Polenta,” Mo’nique complains about the fancy food at a party they’re attending. Throughout the entire short, there are multiple “push in” shots used, first to establish the location as fancy waiters bring shrimp cocktail platters to and from the kitchen, and then as our leads riff back and forth.

A “push-in” or dolly-in shot, is when the camera sweeps in toward a subject. Alternatively, a dolly-out shot is when a camera pushes out from a subject, and both are used to masterful effect in this short, elevating an otherwise simple two-person setup into a kinetic masterpiece full of movement.

You don’t need to use an actual dolly with a dolly track to get this type of shot – using a decently stable steadicam rig, your camera operator can move in and out with the camera to create a similar effect. Camera tricks like the push-in make a big difference in production value and can emphasize important details, like pushing in on your company’s product, or pushing in on an actor or customer’s face as they take in an exciting moment.

These types of shots can be cheesy if done too haphazardly, so as you rewatch “Polenta,” watch how the shots feel natural because of their subtle, rhythmic speed. Go too fast, and you risk an over dramatic moment. Go too slow, and you risk not being able to use the full shot in your edit.

4. When working with actors (or influencers), let your talent shine!

Last but not least, if you’re hiring someone for their following or their creative chops – let them shine! No video in this series does that more than the last one, titled “Dusty.”

“Dusty” incorporates everything fans love about Donald Glover and Mo’nique, especially Donald’s strange and often bizarre vision. In the video, Donald is holding a bottle to his eye as Mo’nique sits in a life-size wooden boat, which Donald is trying to paint as a “ship in a bottle” – all while Mo’nique hits him with her signature hilarious cut-downs.

Once again, the shoes are still a signature plot point when Donald drops his paint palette on them, reinforcing the new shoe line’s theme of letting your shoes tell your story. Adidas took Donald’s cue by letting Donald and his team tell his own, too.

While this video series is slightly unique because its star is also one of its creators, you can follow a similar formula in your video marketing campaigns when working with top-tier talent or influencer partners. You’re working with these partners because of their unique vision or signature style, so let them do what they do best by staying out of it and letting them bring their thing to your company.

The best thing you can do is support them to create the best version of what they want to make, because nobody wins if you try to impede their style when their style is why they have a following to begin with.

Don’t worry. Not every video series has to be as brilliant (or barrier-breaking) as Donald Glover’s – few are. But it’s always good to watch something great to get yourself fired up and inspired!

Grant Harvey

Grant Harvey