“I dunno. He looks a bit wooden to me.”
“She’s got dead eyes. Bit of a blank stare.”
“Just a very stiff performance.”
Okay, I thought we’d get all the easiest “mannequin actor” jokes out of the way. Trust me — there were many, many more on set filming our latest set of brand videos.
If you haven’t seen them yet, here’s one called “Coffee.”
So why mannequins?
Well, they’re incredibly easy to work with. They don’t talk back, they’re incredibly consistent. Okay, we may be in for a whole blog’s worth of these. I stand by it.
But really, the idea for these spots came really organically out of some new positioning work we did as a company wrapped around a couple key insights.
No, really. Why mannequins?
Companies we talked to were really struggling with a tradeoff they felt they were being forced to make between efficient customer communication and a great experience for their customers.
Especially as these companies were scaling, they were running into this tradeoff constantly. The more customers they got, the more systems, processes, and workflows they needed to keep up with them. We’re talking CRMs, spreadsheets, playbooks, ticketing software, task management, channel management, internal communication.
And the pressures of COVID alongside the sudden shift to remote work did not help make life simpler for these teams. And that’s where the other side of this tradeoff came in.
Without technology, there can be no scale. So naturally, when you have more customers — and more customer messages — you turn to the latest technology. Conversational chatbots, deflection pathways, and ticketing systems definitely solve the problem of responding to those messages, but you lose something important along the way: the human touch.
For companies that differentiate themselves on the strength of their customer relationships, that’s a tradeoff they can’t afford to make.
You either sacrifice the thing that makes your business click, or you resign yourself to never scale… to stand still, unblinking, unchanging while your more ambulatory peers pass you by.
And that’s where the idea for these videos came from.
Don’t let your business lose the human touch
We wanted to make that tradeoff visceral and tangible, but also unexpected and even a bit weird. If you saw our Welcome to the Oneness campaign from last year, it’s a good onramp to our aesthetic sensibilities, and we didn’t want to push that envelope one year only to retreat into convention.
Let’s watch another one: “Quite Simple.”
This one was designed to illustrate the first part of that insight — the Kafkaesque complexity of a modern company trying to cope with customers by adding more systems in the name of efficiency.
It seems absurd, but it’s a lot less of a stretch after you learn the average company uses 89 SaaS apps. And for large companies, it’s even higher — 187 apps. If you’ve started at a new company lately, this video probably reminds you of your first day on the job. You probably spent all day just logging into systems.
It’s no surprise that this multitude of systems doesn’t always work together, and we wanted to visualize that with a crazy kluge of technology strapped together like something out of Johnny Mnemonic.
Fun filmmaking fact: Our set designer is crouched behind the kluge waiting for her cue to knock the monitors over. We did three takes of this gag and got it on the second.
Why not robots?
The second part of that tradeoff was all about how much it sucks for customers to be on the receiving end of mannequin-like customer service.
If you’ve ever been deflected to a chatbot when you have an important question, you know how frustrating it can be. You begin to imagine the robot on the other end of the chat window. All kinds of brilliant ideas pop into your brain about taking an angle grinder to it.
Visualizing this kind of automated customer service as horrible robots or some kind of futuristic dystopia has been done before—mannequins are much more unique, and they allow for more possibilities for humor. Alongside the retro aesthetic, they get across the idea that this approach to customer relationships isn’t the future, it’s the past.
Take a look at “Milestone.”
We wanted this one to be a peek into a company trying to compensate for millions of customers by automating away answering their questions.
Another reason we didn’t want to go with the obvious robot route was that advanced technology and automation are both a big part of what we engineer at Front. There’s a big role for innovation to play in solving this problem of scale.
And quite frankly, robots are generally much more awesome than they are scary. I actually prefer automation when the stakes are low or when I need a simple answer fast.
Technology isn’t ultimately the problem, it’s the lack of humanity on the other end of the email.
Fun filmmaking fact: Just offscreen to the right, there’s a whole wall of “employee of the month” portraits and awards featuring headshots of our mannequins. We didn’t end up shooting it, but I like to think it helped our actors get into character.
This project was a true team effort, and not enough can be said about our creative partners at Where The Buffalo Roam. Tim Pries, Adam Avilla, Brain Perkins, and Mike Schultz were incredible teammates in bringing our mannequins to life… or I guess, the opposite of that. Not that any mannequins were put to death, though. But they certainly were not brought to life, except maybe in the idiomatic sense… that would undermine the whole point of the mannequins.
Anyway, on the Front side of the crew, Mariahlyn Okuna, Emily Hackeling, Dave Prager, Jon Borgese, and David Stinnette also deserve a hand for their solid work on this project.
Written by Matthew Klassen
Originally Published: 16 May 2022