Fast Company magazine never settles for boring corporate headshots and their interview with CEO Jamie Thompson (“Forget QR Codes: Pongr Easily Turns Your Photos into Brand Rewards“) was no exception.
Given our focus on tapping into the power of brand logos and iconic advertising imagery, the action scene above may remind you of the Kool-Aid Man mascot, who is constantly bursting through brick walls and shouting “Oh, Yeah!” whenever there is a distress call from thirsty kids.
However, Fast Company editor Jason Feifer had other inspirations in mind.
“Photo recognition isn’t an easy thing to show in a still image. It’s a process, all done digitally, and any attempt to illustrate it would have come out cheesy,” he says. “So I started thinking that, rather than show Pongr’s business, it should show Pongr’s nemesis—the QR code, an instantly recognizable symbol.”
“We thought about various ways we could have Jamie fighting a QR code—he could be stuffing a big one in a garbage can, setting it on fire, kicking it. But in each of those, I just pictured a guy and a square piece of paper drowning in the photo. They all felt empty. Too much dead space. We needed the QR code to be bigger, badder, something requiring a full-on assault. And from there, the answer was obvious: Jamie needed to be busting through one, high-school-football-player style,” adds Jason.
Jamie met Fast Company photo editor Kathy Nguyen at the Manhattan studios of photographer Jordan Hollender, who was charged with the task of bringing out Jamie’s personality — again, no stodgy corporate stuff.
Kathy had a more daunting challenge. Where do you find a printer to churn out billboard-sized QR codes on short notice? And then how do you prop it up?
Large format printers charge about $300 to $400 per sheet for posters that size. And with the plan being to take multiple poses and shots, the budget wasn’t generous enough to go through props like toilet paper. High school cheerleader pep rally banners were also considered, but most of those open and reseal with velcro and that wouldn’t capture the “torn” look the photographer would be striving for.
The giant barcode you see Jamie burst through is actually nine squares of paper glued together. Originally, the plans were to mount the squares onto foam core board. That image would have stood firm, for sure, but it also would have been impenetrable.
Kathy finally settled for firmly stretching the code like a canvas over a wooden frame.
Saving Jamie from countless headaches and a possible broken nose, the prop stylist cut a small hole in the middle of the code for Jamie to stick his head through and then tear a larger opening.
“The thought was that once we ripped it, we couldn’t go back, so we took baby steps before we let Jamie act like the Incredible Hulk,” says Kathy. “I couldn’t believe how animated he was — such a great model. He really brought his A-game!”
To get the “action” look, Jamie tried his best to get a running start behind the QR code, despite the tight quarters in the studio. At one point, he stumbled through the hole and accidentally caused a larger rip than anticipated.
“We were looking for lots of options so we had him running and jumping the whole time. He was absolutely dizzy by the end,” Kathy says.
The Fast Company fashion shoot (Did you notice how Jamie is even dressed in the colors of a QR Code) also included poses of the Pongr CEO throwing the shredded code into a trash can and trying to rip apart the remnants like a grizzly bear. Those shots ultimately wound up on the cutting room floor (or whatever magazines call the place they send their outtakes).
“I appreciate his willingness to humor us and keep trying new things. Jamie didn’t need much direction. He kept pushing the boundaries on his own. This was definitely one of my favorite photo shoots,” says Kathy.
Whenever you ask a CEO to act like the Kool-Aid Man, a high school cheerleader and the Incredible Hulk, how could it NOT be?