My Dove Soap Commercial Experience
So this is the full story of how my son and I got cherry-picked by Dove for their Dove Men+Care campaign last year.
Funny, because I already blogged about this day in May 2009: a puppet show for the kids in Luxembourg Gardens went cuckoo when a character showed up in blackface. What I never said was that less than an hour later, we got approached at the playground to appear in a commercial for Dove’s new line of mens products.
Jessica the casting director approached me and Kalel—my Afro’d youngest son who wasn’t even two at the time—in the Luxembourg sandbox. My wife Christine wasn’t even two feet away, so it wasn’t that kind of party. Jessica sincerely asked to snap a Polaroid of Kalel and I; it was her day off, and the casting for Dove’s campaign had just closed, but evidently we had a look. She’d been searching for thirtysomething guys off the street (no professional models) for Dove’s first line of products for men launching in 2010. There’d be billboards, print ads in Men’s Health and GQ, subway posters. Really nice money. Possibly a commercial.
If things worked out, we’d get a call for a film test to see how we looked on camera.
Three days later, Jessica emailed about the second-round casting. Turns out they’d cast 80 guys off the street, which got boiled down to 20, and Dove only needed eight. The process was carried out simultaneously in New York City and Paris; the Americans would be flown to France eventually for the shoot with esteemed Parisian shutterbug, Véronique Vial.
From the beginning, I figured we were in. My guess was that Dove was after at least one black face, so I wasn’t really competing with 19 other guys, just the other black dudes in the bunch. Kalel and I showed up at the Somewhere in Paris casting office for our screen test, signed off on video footage for a “making of” web film already in progress, and went home. Kalel did great, no drama at all.
Somewhere in Paris made their presentation to Dove. They emailed cryptically a week later to ask for our clothing sizes. Jessica called back soon, and, we’d made it!
Eight guys were chosen in total, but only six would be used for the campaign. Four New Yorkers, four Parisianers. Facials and manicures at the five-star Four Seasons George V hotel spa, a boat ride down the Seine for some male bonding, and dinner together at Le Georges (at the top of the Pompidou museum). There was another brother chosen: Chris, a young chiropractor. Another writer was picked too: Rich, a Daily Newsreporter. None of us could quite believe any of it was really happening. The New Yorkers were especially happy just to get flown to Paris for free, even if all the rest turned out to be a hoax.
Christine came to the June shoot to help with Kalel, at a drop-dead beautiful rented home in nearby Nogent-sur-Marne six miles outside Paris proper. Véronique Vial shot Kalel and I in black-and-white playing in a king-size bed; he quickly got used to the six strangers in the room watching us fly airplanes around on the high-thread-count, fluffy white sheets. She shot me in the shower soaping up (with a plastic bar of soap prop so it wouldn’t melt away); she shot Kalel and I in a huge master bathroom, drying off by the vanity. The team rolled plenty of video and more “making of” interview footage. It was a good day, topped off with a parting present from Dove: soap (of course), a fab leather dopp kit, a Moleskine journal, and one of Véronique’s beautiful coffee-table photo books, Women Before 10 a.m.
Then, Susan from ad agency Ogilvy & Mather emailed in July with good news and bad news. The good: Véronique’s images were “quite remarkable,” Kalel “absolutely adorable,” and she’d be emailing me some high-resolution shots down the line. The bad? Dove oftentimes selects new images to run in the second year of the campaign (2011, in this case), and our flicks were being put on hold till then. If, y’know, they’d be used at all.