With ‘Mr. Modem,’ Shaw shows how bad wi-fi can disrupt a household

Who: Shaw Communications, with Rethink for strategy and creative; Radke Films for production (Jono Holmes directing); Corus for media.

What: “Modem Man,” a humorous back-to-school campaign promoting the telco’s new WiFi 6 technology, which promises a “consistently strong signal” resulting in a smoother connection.

When & Where: The campaign is in market now, running across TV and online. There’s a 30-second anchor spot, complemented by a series of cut-downs.

Why: It’s all about demonstrating the reliability and smooth connectivity of Shaw’s home internet product, said Jordan Lawson, associate creative director at Rethink Vancouver and the copywriter on the campaign. The creative is also intended to show how well Shaw’s home internet works even when there are multiple devices connected to it.

How: “Normally what we’d do is show all the positives of how awesome Shaw wi-fi is, but we wanted to switch it up and try something different,” said Lawson. “Instead of showing all the positives, we wanted to show just how terrible it can be when you don’t have Shaw.”

The 30-second ad features an old man walking through a house and wreaking havoc with its various connected devices—swatting them out of user’s hands, standing with arms raised in front of the TV, and sweeping a gaming computer onto the floor. The payoff comes when we see the old man sneak into a closet. When the dad opens the door, we see a dusty old modem accompanied by the super/voiceover “Wi-fi acting up?” before directing people to the Shaw offer.

The creative team had initially contemplated ways of making the fact that the man was the embodiment of wi-fi more overt, such as making his wardrobe “more tech-y,” or having him wear flickering lights like a modem or antennas on his head, said Lawson. Ultimately, though, they opted for an approach that lets viewers make the connection.

“We were sweating in the edits, wondering if it was going to work once we saw the pieces put together,” said Lawson. “People are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. They’d be able to piece everything together.”

The casting: The creative team considered multiple variables when it came to casting, such as whether the personification of sketchy wi-fi should be young or old, should they look odd/distinctive. Despite not having a great audition, actor Al Maini stood out, said Lawson.

“He just had this kind of stone-faced awkwardness to him, almost like he was a man on a mission. He had one job to do, disrupt the enjoyment of a family, and he wanted to do it well.” When it came to the shoot in Toronto, Maini turned out to be the perfect choice, with some of the shots in the final spot—including the scene when he sweeps the gaming computer off the young boy’s desk—being first takes.

Inspiration from the wind: The ad recalls “Mr. W,” a famous 2007 spot from Nordpol Hamburg for client Epuron speaking to its investments in wind power. The ad was recently named the 10th best ad of all time by readers of The Drum.

That spot features a bowler-hatted man named Mr. W who spends his days just generally being a jerk, lifting women’s skirts, throwing sand in children’s faces, mussing a woman’s hair, slamming the shutters on a home’s windows, turning an umbrella inside out, etc. with the payoff being that he is the wind.

Lawson said he came across that spot when they were beginning to produce “Modem Man.” “We were inspired by how best to personify something that doesn’t have a tangible element to it, like wi-fi,” he said. “We were definitely inspired by that spot and how to best bring it to life.”

Chris Powell