Design Army’s promotion for Georgetown Optical had eyes popping and jaws dropping
ECCENTRIC. WEIRD. OFF-THE-WALL. These words typically don’t come to mind when you think of an optometrist. But whenever Design Army is behind the scenes, you should expect the unexpected, which is exactly what Georgetown Optician (GTO) got when they enlisted the Washington, DC–based design firm to help them compete with the influx of fashion brands and eyewear companies in the DC market.
After 30 years in operation, in 2015 the family-owned optical business found themselves up to their eyeballs in competition and feeling the pressure to step up their game without alienating their current patrons. They also realized they must be seen as a fashion-forward brand, not a service brand, to compete. So they turned to Design Army to help their business feel sexy and make it a one-stop shop for both eye exams and fashionable frames. Design Army’s solution was to create a “semi-true” story called “Our Family Know Glasses” that featured the optically-obsessed Voorthuis family showing off the massive collection of fashionable frames that GTO offers, as well as the family itself and its obsession with eyewear (and eyeballs!). Described as “Wes Anderson meets the Addams Family” by AdWeek, the commercial not only met its objective, but also garnered lots of media attention.
Fast-forward to 2017 and the story of the Voorthuis family continues with “The Eye Ball,” an even quirkier sequel to “Our Family Know Glasses.” In a bid to outdo the prequel in terms of kookiness, Design Army hatched a wild tale involving a short-sighted optical instruments heiress, a villainous butler, and a cast of 50 hunting hounds, all amidst a visual smorgasbord of eyeball puns.
Highly stylized and told through a fashion lens, the story begins with an invitation to the Eye Ball from Grandma Ida. The family arrives at Ida’s mansion and is introduced to Ida’s questionably faithful butler, Igor (emphasis on the ‘I’). Turns out, the Eye Ball—the event for the ocularly obsessed—is pretext for the family to view the first glasses Grandma Ida ever made. The plot takes a twist when the glasses get pilfered in the night. But if the butler didn’t do it, whodunnit?
KEEPING AN EYE ON THE BALL
GTO initially envisioned only a print advertising campaign, but Design Army, led by husband and wife duo Jake and Pum Lefebure, broadened the scope to a more expansive digital strategy to grow GTO’s followers and expand outreach. “With every project, you must create a branding strategy that’s very tactile. You have to ask the client what they’re trying to gain and work to create the best campaign solution. Adaptability is crucial,” says Pum Lefebure, chief creative officer and co-founder of Design Army.
So once the client gives the thumbs up, what goes into making such a heavily stylized video? “These films happen very quickly,” Pum says. “We spend about one month to concept the story and get it all approved by the client. Then we spend about three weeks on the pre-production (scouting locations, wardrobe, hair/makeup, final storyboards/scripts). Come shoot day, it’s madness! We have just one day to capture all the footage, so we work with a large support crew to jump ahead on each scene getting everything pre-set—the props, framing, lights—and then it’s a matter of moving the camera and wardrobe changes. We’re very efficient because everything is well planned, but of course things always go wrong! That’s when we improvise.”
And challenges for “The Eye Ball” were countless. Aside from time constraints, Pum says the hardest job was finding a suit that fit a 7-foot-tall butler and still read as high fashion. “We ended up getting it custom tailored,” she says. “All the props and set elements took so much time and hard work to create. Director/cinematographer Dean Alexander built the quirky doghouse, which took forever! But in the end, it looked amazing!”
“Funny, beautifully art-directed video. Amazing photography and photo art direction. Timeless and appropriately optical typography. Overall, a cohesive look and feel that elevates the product and brand.”
—Charles S. Anderson
HOW’s judges—Charles S. Anderson of CSA Design, Maurice Cherry of Lunch, and Yo Santosa of Ferroconcrete—agreed that every last element of the campaign, from the props to the photo art direction to the optical typography, was a showstopper, and awarded it Best of Show. “The Eye Ball has done a magnificent job creating an off -beat and quirky vibe around their eyeglasses,” says judge Maurice Cherry. “It’s like Wes Anderson giving you a vision test! It was a clear choice as my top pick.” Santosa concurs: “So much authenticity, attitude and personality. I can’t help but get sucked into ‘The Eye Ball.’ I forget my world, and see that I could be cooler, quirkier … if only I’m wearing these glasses.”
GTO is thrilled with the videos, and they’ve garnered the press, accolades and business the brand set out to attract. There’s not a massive media buy budget, so they rely on the viral aspect to kick in on the impressions. Thus far, it’s worked perfectly. Design Army changed the perception of the eye doctor from a boring place to a fashion destination for all things eyewear. They recently opened two more stores.
NEVER BATTING AN EYE
Design Army has been in business since 2003, and employs 21 employees from all over the world, plus a very naughty French bulldog named Luna. The firm is looking to grow to 30 by the end of 2018 (send your résumé to firstname.lastname@example.org), thanks to a smoking hot DC design scene. The agency has two creative divisions: the Design Studio and the Content Studio. “We are a team of dreamers, designers, art directors, strategists, writers and creative thinkers who work intuitively to reimagine brands, build unique personalities and develop visual identities,” Pum says. “We never like to set creative boundaries for our teams. We encourage them to push their ideas as far as they can, and then we worry about how to actually make them happen.” “The Eye Ball” is a prime example of a small, far-fetched idea that grew into a massive, successful production. Pum says the one thing that makes Design Army special is they hate second place. “I know it sounds a bit egotistical, but life is short and we do not like to settle for less,” she unapologetically admits.
For “The Eye Ball,” that meant striving for perfection in every aspect of film production from conception to execution: casting the actors and voiceover talent; providing direction for costuming; designing the set and building props; and overseeing every last detail of creating the film, from video style to postproduction color grading. Design Army also created print ads that juxtapose eye charts with portraits of the film’s cast, and widened the scope of the campaign to include an extensive social media takeover for GTO that positions the company as visionaries in the world of chic, original eyewear.
Pum says her favorite part of the intensive project was shooting the final scene and seeing the finished product: “These films are a labor of love, so it’s a very bittersweet relationship.” Will there be more adventures to come for the Voorthuis family? “Absolutely,” Pum says without divulging any details. So keep your eyes open.