Extreme Group nails it

Halifax advertising agency's workplace safety ad win award at Cannes Lions ad festival in France.

Naughty Nail Extreme's ads for the WCB of Nova Scotia won big at Cannes Lions this year.

There once was a nail without a job.He'd done his duty proudly for years.Then one day it was taken from him.He was sure someone would notice and put him back to work.But no one did.Hope turned to despair.Finally he decided he would be ignored no longer....

Cue a warehouse worker beginning to stand up under the haphazardly placed nail, poking out from the edge of a pallet. Cut to black. Follow with the sound of the worker being nailed in the head.

It shouldn't work, this tone switch---moving from the cheeky yet dulcetly narrated sad tale of an unemployable nail (you're thinking maybe it's some sort of local labour push? Or ageism?) into a horror show complete with sound effects and a screen as black as your worst thoughts. But it does. And the folks over at the 2008 Cannes Lions advertising festival in France think so too, so much that they've awarded Extreme Group, the Halifax ad agency who created "Nail," with a bronze medal in the Product and Service, Public Health and Safety category.

"Nail" is one of a series of three television commercials about workplace safety created by Extreme, as part of a long-time campaign for the Workers' Compensation Board of Nova Scotia. (You might also recall the ads featuring the guy who hoped to dance with his daughter at her wedding and the dude with the hockey dreams, both of whom ended up under large machinery, as well as graphic print ads, which ran in this newspaper, depicting a pulled-out eye and a chopped-off hand.) The other ads are about a forgotten bucket of water in a busy hallway and a ladder with a faulty rung.

The spots are the third stage of the campaign. "The first was increasing awareness of workplace injury and prevention," says Shawn King, the creative director and vice-president of Extreme, from his office on Lower Water Street. "The second was changing attitudes toward workplace safety."

For this round, "We set out to build a campaign that was designed to get people to realize they can do something and something doesn't have to be that much."

King says the most back-and-forth within Extreme about the ads (produced with local house RPM Productions) was how to depict the injury itself.

"There was a debate around, do we show the injury or do you just hear it? In the past we've done stuff that was a little gorier---you mentioned the hand and the eyeball---that was appropriate. With this campaign and the audience we were chasing it seemed less effective to show it than hear it and know what's happening. I don't think seeing it could give any more to it than anything you can see in your mind."

"Nail" was one of 28,000 entries at the Lions. Just making it to the shortlist---which the agency has done five times before this year---is a feat. So placing is huge.

"Every year the Cannes ad festival releases its winners reel," says King. (This reel usually makes an appearance at a downtown Halifax cinema under a title like "World's Best Commercials.") "And all over the world people will buy these reels---agencies buy them, clients buy them. Agencies will show clients and their staff. The reels are used as reference for the greatest advertising in the world. If you pick up hardware, you're on the reel. And the reason people watch them is for inspiration. To think that we've been able to produce something that is globally considered inspiring and globally considered the best work out there---it's pretty awesome."

Ironically---considering their attendance other years they were finalists---nobody from the Extreme team was in France to pick up the trophy, so it's a race to the mailbox every morning. King has big plans for the prize: "We're gonna treat it like the Stanley Cup," he says. "Everyone gets it for 24 hours."

Watch all the Extreme Group's Worker's Compensation spots and lots of other nifty ads online at extremegroup.com/work. See all the competitor's submissions at Canneslions.com

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