McCann Paris chief creative officer Julien Calot explains the low-fi, collaborative process that’s taking ‘Because You're Worth It’ into a new era
Two years ago, McCann Paris and L’Oréal Paris released a two-minute video that was worlds apart from what you might expect from the beauty brand. A simple, raw format in which the actress and activist Viola Davis spoke directly to the camera, inviting us to reconsider the phrase, ‘Because You're Worth It’. The video, published simultaneously on social media by both L’Oréal Paris and Viola Davis herself, was watched more than 9 million times. It was the first in a series of episodes entitled 'Lessons of Worth', in which each brand ambassador takes a personal look at the iconic tagline, women’s empowerment, and self-worth.
Many more videos have since launched in a similar style, Jane Fonda, Aja Naomi King, Eva Longoria, Liya Kebede, Kate Winslet, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Camila Cabello, Yseult, Leila Bekhti, Nidhi Sunil, Helen Mirren, Andie Macdowell, Bebe Vio and H.E.R. Each is similar in its approach but the messages are varied, each famous personality giving their personal definition of self-worth.
To hear more about what went into creating this deeply personal body of work with so many well-known individuals, LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with McCann Paris CCO Julien Calot.
LBB> ‘Lessons of Worth’ is quite a drastically different approach for L’Oréal Paris. How do you feel about that?
Julien> We're happy because it's really the first time we have had the opportunity to do something a little less product-oriented on the brand. I feel it was time to do it.
‘Because You're Worth It’ was developed and launched by McCann in 1973. So almost 50 years ago. The story behind it is really fun because it was at a time where advertising was really driven by men and a young woman copywriter from McCann, Ilon Specht, came out of a meeting very angry with this world of men, thinking about the latest commercial for L'Oreal. In her anger, she was like, "I want to do something by myself.” Basically, “I'm fucking worth it.” It came out to be ‘Because You're Worth It’ and then to go in the solar system of advertising for generations.
It was a very radical phrase and I would say it is still today very radical. Actually, Helen Mirren in Lessons of Worth talks about the radicality of this phrase in our lives.
I've been working on the brand for four years now. Four years ago, I think the brand lost a little bit of its meaning, year after year, portraying a vision of femininity which was very linked to the beauty of the time but kind of perfect. Because the brand has always been on the side of women, I felt it was, a little bit, getting into something which was not exactly the brand. We wanted at the time to re-explain it. What's behind ‘Because You're Worth It’? You need to explain a more modern version of femininity, which is really connected to the woman of today. So that's how it started.
LBB> This style of campaign for L’Oréal Paris dates back to a video put out alongside Viola Davis two years ago. How did that come about?
Julien> The true story is that we wrote this text with copywriters at McCann, but we basically stole it. We were on set with Viola but it was for a product commercial. And on the side we were like, "would you say this?" We explained a little bit why we felt it's important to explain what’s behind the 'Because You're Worth It'. And [Viola] was like "yeah, of course". So we basically co-wrote the text with her. We changed a few things. Then we were on the side of the set. It was not even art directed – the first one is a black background and the light was off. In front of a very, very small group. We start shooting, and she gets it, first take on the prompter. And I'm like, "OK, it's cool. Can we do another one?" And she's like, "No, Julien you have it." And that's how we started.
LBB> How did that develop into the big series you’re now rolling out with many famous L’Oréal Paris spokespeople?
Julien> We had this piece. We felt this is really cool and interesting. It's new. I love the fact that the craft is off and it's one take, not cut. I felt it was a new form of advertising. It was very interesting. So we decided to do more.
We wanted to keep the same craft – to keep exactly the same black background, even with the light, everything, just to maintain the same energy we had at the beginning. So that's how we do it now. And we try to make it easy and not to take too long to have many takes. It has to be something very real. Jane Fonda really cried after her first take. And Kate Winslet really burst into tears after hers. It's cool to get that very pure emotion.
LBB> What’s the collaborative process like with the spokespeople? It’s a very personal style of advertising.
Julien> First of all, L'Oreal Paris has a lot of spokespeople. They are part of the brand identity. They are very loyal. For example, Andie Macdowell has been working with the brand for more than 30 years, people like Jane Fonda and Eva Longoria have been on the brand for many years. They're super long partnership stories.
Also, we developed very strong and connected relationships, even friendships, with the spokespeople. So we are able to to connect and to exchange text, to co-write and also build up this global campaign together. I think it bumps on the mission of McCann too, which is ‘The Truth Well Told’. This idea of getting back to the truth, getting back to the core beliefs of the brand. At the beginning, it was an anecdote and it built up, step by step.
We collaborate like family – L’Oréal, McCann and spokespeople – it's super easy. It's basically one call discussing what they want to talk about, we start writing something, we exchange, have another call etc. It's like sitting on the corner of the table on the side of a shoot and sharing ideas.
LBB> What do you like most about this creative approach?
Julien> Now I take it as a creative exercise because the frame is so narrow – black background, one take – and we try to to create in that super narrow frame or some stories, in order to always have the same storyline. For example, we did one super interesting one for French actress Leila Bekhti. It's the moment before she's about to record something. So you see all the hair and makeup. It's the same frame, black, but you see people and they're like, "you OK, Leila?" and you hear the voice inside her head and all her doubts – what she thinks just before this moment where she's about to say ‘Because You're Worth It’. I love the idea of trying to come up with something in a super narrow frame. It's like a painting, you have just a frame which is very narrow - trying to be creative in that little space.
LBB> How have people responded?
Julien> We had a great response. The best was when Juliette Binoche, the French actress commented [on Instagram] underneath the Kate Winslet video: "I hated that sentence before I heard you say it, but now when I listen to you, I just love it. It becomes meaningful, generous and truthful. Thank you again Kate. ❤️" Wow.
It's good because it's changing the narrative. 'Because You're Worth It' was associated with memes on the internet. You know, guys with long hair floating and saying 'You're Worth It', but in a very ridiculous manner. And I think it's now back to the core meaning of it.
For me, the most important thing is the truth. It's the purity of the message. A brand today has to have a meaningful role in people's lives. It has to have a purpose. For me the brand is like a human being talking. You have to deliver this if you want to talk to people and touch them. I feel that's what we tried to do here.