Instead of fixating on big-name Hollywood stars, Squarespace has decided to center its Oscars campaign this year around the life and work of award-winning photojournalist David Guttenfelder.
In a cinematic 30 second-long spot set to debut during the Academy Awards this Sunday (see a minute-long extend version below), the website building company traces Guttenfelder's career from his days rushing to shoot a burning barn as a child in Iowa to the front lines of far-flung wars as an embedded combat photographer.
The commercial, created by New York-based ad agency Anomaly and directed by 300: Rise of an Empire's Noam Murro, will be accompanied by a website built especially for the campaign that will showcase some of Guttenfelder's most impactful work alongside documentary-style audio clips of him explaining the circumstances behind each one.
Guttenfelder, a seven-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, is known for his powerful news photography in more than 75 countries around the world over the course of two decades — especially his haunting work capturing life in the hermit kingdom of North Korea for the Associated Press.
But while photojournalism seems like his natural calling now, Guttenfelder says that future seemed far from certain when he was growing up.
"When I was young, I grew up in rural Iowa, where I didn't know anyone who travelled — or had a passport even. I had never seen the ocean," Guttenfelder told Mashable. "No one tried to hold me back. It's just that there was no view of the world where I grew up."
That unlikely trajectory was a story that Squarespace's creative team wanted to emphasize in the spot after holding extensive interviews with Guttenfelder to get a sense of his life and career.
"We've always been big fans of David Guttenfelder and, surprisingly to a lot of people, he has a pretty massive following," said Squarespace's chief creative officer David Lee. "When we found out he was on Squarespace we put two and two together and decided the Oscars would be a great time to tell his story in a really cinematic way."
It's not every day that working photojournalists are offered endorsement deals with big brands in front of what is typically television's second biggest live event of the year, and Guttenfelder described the whole experience as a bit surreal.
"I spent my entire career trying to focus on other people's stories, not wanting to be the story," he said. "So to have the camera turned on me is a strange feeling."
The ad will cap off a new campaign strategy for the website builder that is built around so-called "cultural tentpoles" like the Golden Globes, the Super Bowl, the Grammys and now the Oscars. Already this year the company has worked with comedy duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele for a Super Bowl live commentary and rising soul star Leon Bridges in an ad that aired during the Grammys.