Nearly two years after it was released, the view count for “The Story of Sarah & Juan,” a commercial for Wrigley’s Extra Gum, continues to tick upward, closing in on 22 million views the last time we checked. Clearly, people are still being enthralled by this romantic long-form spot about a pair of high school sweethearts.
The tale pulls at the heartstrings and is well-acted, but what really takes this almost two-minute commercial out of Chicago’s Energy BBDO to a higher level of emotional engagement is the music—Haley Reinhart’s rendition of the Elvis Presley classic “Can’t Help Falling in Love” is achingly beautiful.
When the spot was released in October of 2015, “The initial reaction was gangbusters. We were overwhelmed with the positive reactions, conversations and media coverage,” says Daniel Kuypers, Energy BBDO VP/director of music. “We actually put a chyron on the long-form video so people were, thankfully, able to see who the singer was.”
Reinhart, who competed in the 10th season of American Idol and placed third, and Los Angeles-based independent rights management company, Olé, released her version of the song as a single in conjunction with the release of “The Story of Sarah & Juan.” The track climbed to #1 on Spotify Global the week of its release, and since then has been streamed on Spotify more than 47 million times. In February of this year, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified that the record had gone gold.
Another validation: “The Story of Sarah & Juan” won a Clio Gold in 2016 for use of music in a short form film.
Looking back on his first interactions with the agency creative team working on the Extra Gum spot, Kuypers says they were in search of “something that was accessible to a wide array of people, something that would help tell a story of love and be timeless as a good love story is.”
Kuypers cast a wide net at the outset of the project, reaching out to dozens of music companies—close to 100, he recalls—in search of potential song choices. For this spot as well as others Kuypers works on, “I send them a brief with what I am looking for and watch as my inbox fills up with hundreds of tunes. I also dive into Spotify, YouTube and my personal collections of music—digital and analog/vinyl. While listening to all the tracks, I create a shortlist, which I share with the creative team along with my thoughts on why I think the songs could work.”
In this case, “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” an enduring classic, was deemed the right fit, then came the search for a vocalist to record a new version of the song. Energy BBDO spent a month recording about 60 demos with both male and female singers singing solo—there were duets, too—with varying instrumentation before Reinhart won the gig. “Haley was the ultimate choice because of how intimate she was able to make the song,” Kuypers says.
Reinhart recorded her version of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” in Los Angeles. “I was so excited when I heard the team at Wrigley and Energy [BBDO] wanted me specifically to lay down my own version of this iconic love song. I recorded it the very next day with my friend Casey Abrams, who was with me when I got the offer from Daniel Kuypers, on piano,” Reinhart says. “I’ve had my songs in commercial ads before, but this was the first time I’d been requested to sing a cover for a particular ad that felt more like it was a short film.”
Like many singers, Reinhart knew the Presley classic well. “I have young memories of sitting around my grandmother’s piano listening to my mom, aunt Janice and the rest of their four sisters belt it out in three-part harmony,” Reinhart says. “I knew even at the age of five or six that this song was powerful, yet so very tender and full of passion.”
In recording her own interpretation of the song, Reinhart wanted to stay true to the raw emotion of the original. “Elvis and the writers created a beautiful melody in the original that demands respect,” she says.
Reinhart recorded a few takes before she actually saw “The Story of Sarah & Juan” commercial. “I was taken aback by the breathtaking love story, and after shedding a few tears myself, I knew I needed to make it much softer, more intimate and pay homage to the simplicity that was so magical to begin with.”
Watching Reinhart sing the song in person was “a bit chilling, in a good way, a way that makes you smile and have emotional responses,” Kuypers says. “She does things with her voice that not many people can do. She has incredible control over her voice.”
Kuypers also notes how integral Abrams, the piano player, was in the recording process. “We could not have created this without Casey as well,” Kuypers says. “He and Haley have such a good dynamic and the closeness of their relationship was at least some of what enabled the song to come out so earnest.”
Any advice for advertising agencies and clients when it comes to producing music for spots? “I would just say that if you anticipate music being a driver in the commercial, give it the respect it is due. That includes dedicating time to finding, crafting the right music and [providing the] budget to pay for it,” Kuypers says. “Music can be a main driver in the communications we make. It’s not always, but in a case like this, it certainly is.”