Interview: Kevin Almeida

In addition to working as VP of Marketing Services for Creative Digital Agency, Kevin Almeida is a professional film/tv writer with more than a decade of experience in Hollywood, having worked for STARZ Animation, John Rogers (The Librarians), Avi Arad (Spiderman), and Arthur Sarkissian (Rush Hour). Kevin has also written for the Cartoon Network series Ben 10.

On the brand side, Kevin has penned video work for Mountain Dew, Ben & Jerry’s, Chiquita, Rich Products, and the California MED-Project.

You’ve worked in Film, TV, and in short-form brand content like commercials and social media content. How different is it moving between formats like that?

Budgets change, timelines change, the practicalities change — but at the core it’s all the same. It’s all storytelling.

Forty years ago, Steven Spielberg famously said, “If a person can tell me the idea in 25 words or less, it’s going to make a pretty good movie.” Meaning a single, great idea is all you need to make an impact on your audience. At the time, people thought he sounded cynical, but I think this argument is even more relevant today, with short-form digital content.

Do you have a favorite commercial you’ve worked on?

My Mountain Dew commercial is definitely the most fun I’ve ever had working on brand content, just because of how absolutely nuts we were allowed to get with such a small budget.

I wrote a corny folk song that tells the increasingly wild story of a Dew-Drinking Snowboarder who finds himself racing to survive an increasingly ridiculous series of adventures with a Yeti, zombie dinosaurs, and ultimately a full-on alien invasion.

What’s changed about commercial production in the past few years?

Everything! Technology has changed the whole game, both in terms of how you produce content and how your audience digests it.

Professional editing software and high-quality camera packages aren’t through-the-moon expensive anymore. Who needs a helicopter shot when you can just use a drone to capture the exact same effect?

We can now produce a high-quality piece of original content for a fraction of what it used to cost, and we can pass those savings onto our customers.

Then there’s all the strategic changes that are happening on the distribution side. Video production is now about targeting a specific story to a specific audience, with a specific set of channels that each have their own rules to play by.

If you’re making just one ad for the entire world, you’re missing out on one of the most disruptive forces in advertising today: personalization.

In other words, production budgets can come down, but at the same time you’ll need to produce a far greater volume of content.

What makes a great commercial?

A great commercial has nothing to do with the amount of money you throw at it. A great commercial always comes down to how much you love your audience.

You need  to tell a story that leads the audience to have affinity for the brand, all on their own. It doesn’t matter if you do it through drama, or comedy, or some sort of social aspirational hook — at the end of the day, the viewers decide for themselves that a brand is a part of their own personal identity.

Storytelling is always about giving people a framework to define who they are.

Brand stories are no different. It’s why people are so excited to wait in line for forty seven days, in a blizzard, to get the new iPhone. No phone is worth all that, but the chance to be a part of the “Apple story?” That’s something people can get passionate about.

I wrote a commercial for Ben & Jerry’s a few years ago that highlighted their commitment to Fair Trade. That’s a cause a lot of people (especially young people) want to be a part of, but we had to make sure the finished spot was still fun and not preachy.

Okay, then what makes a shitty commercial?

Cynicism. When the storyteller has no respect for their audience, you can smell the odor of disdain from a thousand miles away. If you’re making a commercial that either ignores your audience or is obviously pandering, it’s awful.

For example, I hate using the word “Millennial” because I think it’s become pejorative.

All the time in this business, I’ll hear people ask, “How do I get Millennials to watch my TV commercial?” And you immediately know from their tone of voice that they hate their own audience. I have to bite my tongue not to say, “Broadcast TV is a dead technology and the only people who watch it are over 50.”

You need to care about the people who are going to see your ad. Respect their wants, needs, goals, their sense of humor, even their insecurities.

How did you get your start doing commercials?

About ten years ago, I had just finished doing a story treatment for the Uncharted film adaptation for Sony (which looks like it might finally start production) and my friend David Brashear brought me in to work on a spot he was producing for Top Flite golf balls.

Dave had this funny idea to feature talking golf club covers, but he didn’t have a story or a concept beyond that. I came up with this idea of the whole thing being a play on the famous “Do you feel lucky, punk?” speech from Dirty Harry, with the clubs taunting a golfer not to lay up with his next shot. The brand loved it, and that was the start of me moving into advertising full time.

What’s your process when coming up with a story?

My philosophy is that people are defined by their insecurities. I know I am! Everything we do, every accomplishment, every mistake, it’s all in response to something that we are deeply insecure about.

I always start with a story about someone’s insecurity and go from there. It works for comedy, drama, aspirational stories, and it’s instantly relatable, which is a good fit for commercials and short-form video content.