Britain was introduced to the Jamaican-born musician Levi Roots in 2007 when he convinced Peter Jones and Richard Farleigh on Dragons' Den to invest £50,000 in his Reggae Reggae Sauce. As the first Dragon-slayer ever to serenade the panel, he has secured a place in the popular imagination, and his sauce has become the market leader in Caribbean food.
Since then, the brand has appeared on TV, in partnerships with Subway, Domino's Pizza and, more recently, KFC, but there had been no focused investment in communicating Reggae Reggae Sauce itself. Five years on, there was a need to remind people about Levi's story and what made it so special.
The brief was to create a commercial that made Reggae Reggae Sauce a more exciting alternative to the other sauces on shelf. We needed to put it at the forefront of people's minds in the run-up to, and during, the barbecue season. Also, there were people out there who hadn't heard about Levi, so we needed to introduce them to him before he was famous - as a guy from Brixton on a mission to liven up British food.
The Creative Idea
We knew that when you put Reggae Reggae Sauce on your chicken drumsticks, something magical happens. The line "put some music in your food" is at the heart of the song Levi sang in the Den, and this became the seed of the creative idea. We wanted to see the food brought to life by the sauce, becoming a barbecue "food choir", joining Levi in his trademark song. But we also wanted to see the Caribbean come to Levi's Brixton back yard, showing how the sauce can spice up an ordinary British afternoon.
Turning vegetable kebabs into a chorus line isn't something you can do easily. When the scripts were written, we immediately knew that stop-frame animation was the way to capture this and that Aardman were the people to do this.
Aardman's history of creating characters with warmth and personality made it the perfect choice. We had confidence that the director Merlin Crossingham, who worked on Creature Comforts and Wallace & Gromit, would be able to render Levi's unique character and make the food look charming and appetising. It felt right that a British institution such as Aardman would be working on a new British icon.
We knew that getting Levi excited about the project would be important. To help, Aardman created a near-life-size bust of Levi in clay, so when we presented the script he could see what we were working towards. It was a nerve-wracking moment, but we knew we were on to a winner when he asked to take it away with him and then displayed it in his jerk-chicken restaurant. Then we just had to make the film.
No animation style is a quick process, but claymation is particularly painstaking. Aardman began by filming Levi's movements: how he walked, played the guitar and sang. The time spent time with Levi and this footage meant Aardman was not just making a clay figure, but capturing the essence of his character.
Going to Bristol to visit Aardman revealed the dedication it brings to projects. The animators work in near-darkness while adjusting the models. A day of animation yields just two seconds of film. After 12 weeks of production - four of animation - the finished film came through.
The Reggae Reggae Sauce song was released as a single after its airing on Dragons' Den. It's a simple song and is the centrepiece of the film. Refreshing the original recording was important for a new audience, and for it to sound natural coming from the mouths of sausages.
Aardman animated from a guide track as we worked on a fuller sound mix. Levi brought in musicians he had worked with to rework the track, including one of his daughters. You could see Levi was in his natural environment in the studio, perfecting the harmonies and improvising on the guitar.
The film's opening was equally important for the sound design, and was an opportunity to capture the spirit of Brixton. At Levi's request, we recorded the cries of his newborn grandson as he woke from a nap. You can hear him at the beginning alongside the traffic and the barking dogs.
Client: Peter Baxendell, marketing and business development director, AB
Creative agency: JWT London
Executive creative director: Russell Ramsey
Creative director: Jason Berry
Creative team: Christiano Neves, Bruno Xavier
TV producer: Denise Connell
Account director: Dan Duffett
Account manager: Patrick Netherton
Media agency: ZenithOptimedia
Production company: Aardman
Director: Merlin Crossingham
Sound: Grand Central