Internet creator company MSCHF has re-released the pilot episode of Mad Men. Instead of smoking cigarettes, the characters now are blowing on kazoos!
TheTalko had the pleasure of chatting with Dan Greenberg, Director of Strategy for MSCHF Internet Studios. You might know MSCHF's work from the much talked about late night snap hacks, the clever way to trick your Snapchat followers into thinking that you're out living your best life while you're really getting your best rest... while cozy and comfy in bed.
MSCHF's latest project is an anti-smoking campaign that involves releasing specially edited versions of fan-favorite TV shows and movies, the first being the pilot episode of Mad Men. The only difference in these re-releases is that instead of cigars or cigarettes, the characters are holding bright orange kazoos instead. (Psst... you can watch it here.) Greenberg was kind enough to provide us with a rundown of how this hilarious and witty idea came to be.
Enjoy this exclusive interview!
TheTalko (TT): Dan, you are the Director of Strategy for MSCHF Internet Studios, responsible for such viral digital stunts as “Times Newer Roman” and the neverending iMessage GIF. Would you describe MSCHF as a viral internet creator company and can you tell us how you got started in the industry and what inspires you to create viral sensations?
Dan Greenberg (DG): There’s a lot of ways to describe MSCHF. We say, internally, that we create “internet for the internet” or we make “internet culture” but it’s basically having products on the internet that evoke an emotion in the people using it.
A little bit about my background is that prior to MSCHF, I was kind of doing similar things where I was building these products that I thought people would enjoy and I wasn’t really thinking about the money. I thought, let’s just build cool stuff and let’s just get it out into the world. Then I met Gabe, the founder of MSCHF, and he told me that they were basically doing the same thing that I was already doing without making money, why don’t you come join us? So that was a little over a year ago, that’s how I ended up here and obviously, it’s been great since. The way we do it at MSCHF is traditional, we work with brands. So I guess we’re kind of a mixture between a marketing agency, a products studio, and an internet creative shop. We kind of hit all these intersections. We started by working with brands. Casper [mattress company] was our first client. We find insights and create a product around it. We’ve also worked with Fortune 100 companies like Bed, Bath and Beyond and Target to Fortune 500 companies like Fandango and MTV and direct to consumer clients as well. We have an eclectic palette of clients, everything from major to small.
As we’ve grown, we’ve had the opportunity and the luck to create our own projects. Times Newer Roman was one of our internal projects without a brand. The insight here is that for decades, students have been hacking page requirements in college so we thought, let’s find a tech solution to help that insight. The insight for Cignature Films is that after doing some research, we found that 44% of adolescents start to smoke because of images they’ve seen on movies and/or TV. That was just astonishing because I think, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it’s pretty clear and pretty widely agreed upon that smoking is bad, causes cancer and kills. Obviously, when my parents were younger and my grandparents were younger, it was kind of up in the air, you didn’t really know if smoking was really bad. But now it’s across the board, standardized and known that it’s a bad thing especially when you’re having teens and high-schoolers start, that’s really bad. I think that when it’s known that around half of them are starting just because of what they see on the screen, it seems like such a simple fix. Like, Hey Major Studios, stop putting cigarettes in your movies and shows and maybe half of the people will stop smoking? Obviously, adolescents will still smoke for other reasons so I’m not saying that this will solve everything but I definitely think it would help a lot. Going back to 2015, Disney decided to remove all cigarette use from their films so everything that they produce, Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, everything under Disney has not had cigarette use in it since then. I think that’s pretty cool because it’s not like smoking makes a movie. If you look at The Avengers and Star Wars, some of the highest grossing movie of all time, and there’s no reason for cigarette use in them.
TT: Would you say that 44% of teens who are inspired to smoke due to media, does that also include historical shows like Mad Men rather than a show set in the present time?
DG: I’m not 100% sure of that but basically, I think the study encompasses everything that adolescents are watching. Let’s use the example of Stranger Things. You see the character, Hopper, the alpha male of the show who saves people and you, as an impressionable 14 or 15-year-old, see Hopper smoking and think, why don’t I smoke a cigarette? That’s kind of how it starts. When you see these characters on TV who make an impression, people want to be like them. Look at the Mad Men example. Don Draper was like the best ad man in the show in the ’60s and everyone wanted to be like him and he’s Jon Hamm so he’s obviously an attractive guy. Mad Men fans reached every generation from Gen Z/Millenial to Baby Boomers. My grandparents watch it along with my younger brother. So everyone watches Mad Men and adolescents are seeing this glorified culture of smoking and treating women, I would say, the wrong way. That can be impressionable on 14 and 15-year-olds.
TT: How did MSCHF become involved with an anti-smoking campaign?
DG: When we’re doing these intel projects, we just want to find really powerful insights to tell a story. When we found that statistic, we thought, something has to be done about this. We thought, how can we put our MSCHF twist on this? If we were an agency, we could run a bunch of subway ads and Facebook ads with bold lettering stating that 44% of adolescents start to smoke because of images they’ve seen on movies and/or TV and maybe start a petition, who knows? But then we thought that’s clearly not interesting, no one is going to share that, no one is going to feel an emotion around that and obviously no press will want to cover that. We spent a couple of weeks strategizing and brainstorming to find the twist and came up with Cignature Films. It’s not only how do we remove it but how do we make it seem like something that is stupid and funny hence the kazoos. When you see someone blowing a kazoo on a TV show, you think ‘that’s kind of silly.’
TT: Well, my next question was going to be in regards to the successfully edited the Mad Men pilot which includes a very clever intro with the only difference being that instead of cigars/cigarettes, the actors now have kazoos and why were kazoos chosen as the replacement? But since you’ve just explained that, maybe instead you can tell us what other objects did you have in mind before you settled on kazoos?
DG: Yep, for sure. We were thinking, what resembles the shape of a cigarette because obviously, we couldn’t put an air conditioner in place of it because that wouldn’t look good. We were also thinking: what is something that people naturally put in their mouths and take out? We thought about pens, toothpicks, and even bananas but then we thought no, that’s not really something that people put in their mouth and blow on. So then we thought of musical instruments… flutes and recorders but those are kind of big. We realized that kazoos are of a similar size to cigarettes and people blow on them plus they’re funny.
TT: Yes, they are pretty much perfect! Can you tell us what age group is most susceptible to become encouraged to smoke due to what they see on movies and TV shows?
DG: According to the study, adolescents are most susceptible. The young teenage years, when you’re 12 - 17, you’re pretty impressionable and don’t have values fully formed. When I was in high school, I was pretty suggestible to many things like most teens are. When adolescents start smoking, they keep smoking as they get older. They get hooked. The hope is that if we can get them to never try it, hopefully, they won’t ever get hooked.
TT: Obviously, your campaign is directly targeted at teens but are you also kind of hoping that other generations will watch it and maybe people who have been smoking for years will be inspired to quit?
DG: For sure. There were a couple of reasons that we chose Mad Men to start. One of the reasons as I said earlier is that it appeals to many generations. Editing a video like this takes a pretty long time. We’ve been working on it for the past couple of holidays and when most of us were home on Christmas vacation, we showed it to our families and it was really interesting because it was hitting home with aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. Most of our projects are aimed at the under 30 crowd but this one can hit home for anyone. Personally, my uncle smokes and when he watched this, it kind of jogged his memory about how bad smoking it. So yes, while the core goal of this is to inspire teens not to smoke, it’s amazing if others can see this and be reminded not to smoke too.
TT: Have you heard feedback yet from hardcore fans of Mad Men or the actors themselves who have maybe caught wind of this project? If not, what do you imagine actor Jon Hamm’s reaction would be?
DG: In terms of anyone outside of our circle, no one has seen it because it doesn’t go live until Tuesday other than press and people in our network. Internally, we’ve shown it to our friends and family and the feedback has been good. People have been impressed and shocked by the fact that we replaced every cigarette in the episode with a kazoo because it’s a lot of work. Regarding if Jon Hamm will see it or January Jones or Elisabeth Moss… I would love it if this episode went “viral” on getting on their radar and the next thing you know, they’re tweeting about it. You know, we’re not going to pay celebrities or talk to their agents about doing sponsored influencer posts because that’s 100% not what we want but yes, it would be amazing if they see it and post about it. In terms of what I would expect? I’ve never met Jon Hamm or January Jones or any of them because they’re out of my social class but if they saw this, I would hope that they would understand how bad smoking it and would share it in a light-hearted tone. That would be my hope.
TT: We’ve heard that your long-term goal is to release edited versions of The Godfather, Fight Club and an episode of Stranger Things as well. Will kazoos also replace cigarettes in these re-releases?
DG: Yes, everything we plan to do with Cignature Films will always be with that orange kazoo so that we have some uniformity across the different shows and movies.
TT: Did you choose these TV shows and movies for their popularity and their use of cigarettes? What was the deciding factor on the ones that ultimately were chosen?
DG: The biggest thing was, are they popular? We couldn’t take a movie or a TV show that despite having a lot of smoking, no one had heard of. So that was the first thing. The second aspect was that we wanted to take shows that glorify smoking. Not only is smoking in the show but they glorify it. Why we chose the pilot of Mad Men, is so beyond hilarious and ironic because Don Draper is trying to sell a cigarette company on a marketing campaign and we’re doing the opposite. The irony makes it so much better for me. That’s what sold it on us.
TT: Can you tell us more about the other projects that your company has created or upcoming projects that you have in the works?
DG: A lot of projects that we do are branding. We’ve done everything from video, virtual reality experiences, bots, chrome extensions, IRL stuff, apps, microsites. We kind of play into the idea of all these different mediums to tell a story. Let’s use the Casper example like Late Night Snap Hacks. Casper could have easily written an article about how people love staying in bed rather than going out because let’s all be real, with the creation of social media, we always feel like we have to go out and party even though we all just want to be in bed. So Casper, hypothetically, in 2016, could have just written a blog post or created digital ads about that. But instead, they came to us and asked, how can we create an experience? With that, we built Late Night Snap Hacks which is a way to trick your followers into thinking you’re out partying when in reality, you’re in bed. That was covered by tons of publications, there were over 2 million users of it, it was used by people on SNL, talked about by Ashton Kutcher and just went all over the place. Currently, we’re working on a bunch of exciting projects that are going to be coming out this year. As the year progresses, we’re just going to have more and more coming out.
TT: If you had just one message for our readers about smoking, what would it be?
DG: I would just say that smoking kills. I don't know if that’s too harsh but I know people who have smoked and their lungs have gone to s***. So if I just had to leave one message, I would say smoking kills or don’t smoke.
TT: Perfect! Dan, thank you so much for your time! We really appreciate it.
DG: Thank you so much.
Readers, you will definitely not want to miss the kazoo-infested pilot episode of Mad Men. It's hosted directly on MSCHF's Cignature Films site. And while you're there, you just may want to bookmark the site so that you can get more kazoo fun when The Godfather, episode of Stranger Things and more are re-released.