It's an Avalanche!
Call it Madison Avenue's snowball effect. A year ago, Travelers Insurance debuted a visually arresting ad showing a man who trips while walking down a San Francisco street. As he tumbles forward, he sweeps up everything in his path — another couple, a table, a bride and groom, a car — creating a giant ball of debris.
Created by Fallon Minneapolis, "Snowball" went on to win a batch of industry awards including a pair of CLIOs and a 2007 Emmy nomination for outstanding commercial. Weta Digital Ltd., the special effects wizards behind films like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, created the effects for the Travelers ad.
In perhaps the highest tribute, more than a half-dozen campaigns by other agencies and marketers have since offered variations on the digitally-rendered snowball theme.
In many of the spots, the tumbling debris ball in "Snowball" has evolved into an anthropomorphic form. The "City Man" ad for Jeep Compass launched earlier this year, for instance, has cars, radio towers and other structures collecting into the form of a giant robot chasing and then skateboarding on Compass through city streets.
Ad agency Element 79 used similar creative in "Stress Monster," a 30-second spot for Propel Fitness Water in which another Transformer-like figure lumbering down an urban canyon gradually sheds accumulated stuff including a hectoring boss before revealing a lone jogger underneath enjoying a Propel.
Crispin Porter & Bogusky got into the act this summer with an execution for Miller Lite's "Break from the Crowd" campaign featuring a 60-foot giant made up of hundreds of people lurching across a cityscape before some start jumping off to join other independent-minded Miller Lite drinkers.
Todd Riddle, group creative director at Fallon, eschews credit for getting the ball rolling with the Travelers ad last year. "Agencies always like to do things that are on the cutting edge to stand out and be memorable," he says. "One way to do that is to embrace new technologies."
Riddle adds that the underlying idea of a gathering human snowball goes back to sources like Looney Tunes cartoons.
"It's not something so abstruse no one can grasp it," he says. And while the knock-offs haven't equaled the impact of the Travelers' commercial, their visual cleverness still puts them way ahead of the pack.