Willful takes a humour-first approach to estate planning

Who: Online estate planning company Willful, with Apple Orchard Productions (directed by Nick Appleton).

What: “Ball of Crap,” a new brand campaign urging the 57% of Canadians who don’t have a will to consider estate planning. It ladders up to the brand’s “Death is messy. Plan for it” positioning.

When & Where: The campaign launched this week, running through the end of the year. For now it’s online-only, using  YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, although Willful’s chief marketing officer Luke Sheehan said it could eventually move into broadcast.

Why: It’s a brand-building piece aimed at educating people about the importance of estate planning, while other more targeted marketing will be used to convert consumers interested in learning more about the Willful product as they move further down the funnel.

Much of the messaging in the estate planning category tends to be “generic and boring,” said Sheehan. As a relatively new entrant in the category, Willful wanted to ensure that its creative broke through, particularly with its primary audience of female decision makers within the home.

“There’s no point in telling people why they should have a will… so we’ve got to find a new way of cutting through the noise and saying ‘You might know why you need a will, but you probably don’t know what happens if your loved ones don’t have one,'” said Sheehan. “All avenues lead back to a ball of crap.”

How: The creative approach is based on the insight that when people die without a will, it’s left to their loved ones to deal with all of the things they’ve left behind. That means not just intangible things like funeral arrangements and finances, but also the very real things they’ve amassed along the way.

The spot eschews the mournful piano and funereal tone so common to ads about estate planning, instead using dark humour to portray the consequences of not having a will.

The spot opens on two women sitting at a table, one woman asking how the other is doing after the death of her husband before being distracted by something in the background. “What’s that?” she asks, as the perspective shifts to show a literal “giant ball of crap” that the woman’s late spouse, Dave, left behind: A weird agglomeration of stuff that includes everything from tacky neon signs and musical instruments, to dumbbells and sports trophies.

The woman explains that Dave left her with no insight into his funeral arrangements, banking passwords, etc. “So instead of leaving a legacy, he left me a giant ball of crap.”

The ball of crap: Sheehan says his original vision for the ad was to show an actual ball of feces, but Appleton talked him out of it. “[He said] ‘That will be gross, and nobody will air your ad if it actually looks like a giant steaming turd,'” said Sheehan. “He said ‘Trust me on this, you’ll want to make it about all of life’s crap instead.’ I greatly appreciated his guidance.”

And we quote: “Any brand—especially one that’s in a tricky space where you have to work to get people to do what you need them to do—as marketers we can’t put brand thinking on the back-burner. We ignore brand identity development and creative communication at our peril, and the second we feel like we’ve strayed into safe territory is probably when we’ll stop producing creative that’s going to cut through and we’ll end up being a vanilla brand that really doesn’t appeal to anybody or say anything interesting, ever.” — Luke Sheehan, chief marketing officer, Willful

Chris Powell