Telling the story of the Pinball Clemons Foundation

Who: The Pinball Clemons Foundation, with Fuse Create for strategy and creative, Yellow Lab for animation (Andrew Embury as director/animator), and Ta2 for sound.

What: A new promotional / explainer video that is being used for social advertising and events.

When & Where: The video went live last week, and will be featured on organic social and at events for now. There’s no media buy yet, although it could be used as paid digital or in cinema down the road.

Why: Michael “Pinball” Clemons became famous as an undersized football player with an oversized impact—first on the field and then off it, as an enthusiastic community advocate and inspirational public speaker. He launched the Foundation in 2006 to provide disadvantaged kids with mentoring and other support so they can succeed in school and graduate into the workforce.

Clemons works hard to promote and speak about the Foundation, but it lacked a cohesive communications and messaging strategy. Financial support from one donor gave it the ability to work with an agency that could provide strategy and creative assistance.

“They needed help [but] they didn’t know what they needed,” said Patrice Pollack, creative director at Fuse Create.

“The greatest strengths were also their greatest challenge, because they do so much. They didn’t know how to communicate what they do in a way that made sense,” she said. “And they didn’t know how to do that outside of what Pinball Clemons does when he’s at events.”

Fuse Create was given an almost blank slate to help refine the message and develop communications to help get the word out and connect with donors.

How: The starting point for the agency was that they needed a way to communicate what the Foundation does, but in a way that worked across different channels. “It had to be designed to better explain the complexity of what they do as a Foundation,” said Pollack. “Instead of [Clemons] walking through the complexity [of the Foundation] with a slideshow, we could simply press play and have people lean in and truly understand what the Foundation does.”

The solution was a 90-second 3D animation video that uses a pinball ball and narration by Clemons explain what the Foundation does. The pinball machine is obviously fitting for a foundation named after Pinball Clemons, but also a perfect metaphor for the lives and challenges faced by the kids it strives to help.

“We’re able to tell that story—we’re able to make you feel something for an inanimate object, instead of using a face,” said Pollack. “There was no need to show the identity of who this person is, because there isn’t just one kid. Every child, every challenge, every dream is different.”

The video starts with the ball shot into the machine, before slipping past the bumpers and down into darkness. It gets trapped in a labyrinthian maze before being dropped back out into the brightness of the machine, where it gets bumped ever upwards on a path to success.

“Through storytelling and this visual metaphor of a pinball machine, we could really illustrate the complexity of the problem, but also the impact of the solution,” said Pollack.

“There are so many powerful moments that allow us to play into how this kid can go from feeling so lost, losing their way and at the same time—once the Pinball Clemons Foundation comes in—that they can catch them before they fall and give them that path and that purpose.”

Aside from the metaphorical fit, the pinball machine is also a highly effective and transferrable visual device that can be used across multiple media and channels. “This is just the starting point of what we could do with the pinball and with the pinball machine.”

Why the black and white start: “First, we wanted to avoid painting a picture or stereotyping who these kids are and what they look like,” said Pollack. ”On top of that, we wanted to contrast how their worlds and their choices appear to be black and white. Finally, we wanted our audience to feel the drastic change from their raw and unfinished story, to how they feel when they step into the real world for the very first time.”


David Brown