A veteran producer of the Chicago advertising community is now seated in the director’s chair for a milestone advertising campaign. Pearl Milling Company, the brand that was Aunt Jemima for more than a century, debuted its first major campaign since the name change earlier this month, highlighting the new name and moments of family joy over pancakes. At the helm of this historic production is former FCB and DDB Chicago producer and Midwest native Justin Casselle. Casselle spoke with SCREEN today to discuss this effort and his journey to the director’s chair.
Last June, PepsiCo made headlines when it announced plans to remove the name and likeness of Aunt Jemima, becoming the first major food brand featuring a Black person on its packaging to unveil such plans. The name Pearl Milling Company was announced in February and packaging featuring the new name began appearing in stores in recent months.
The first of three new TV commercials features a Black family sharing a range of warm moments and milestones: A daughter’s birthday, a mother getting into grad school, a dad helping his teenage daughter get through a break-up, all over a plate of Pearl Milling Company pancakes.
“I think viewers will connect with a couple things about the new Pearl Milling Co. piece,” Casselle told SCREEN. “The simplicity, the familiarity, and also the family’s relatability, and hopefully they connect with the fact that behind the camera is a rising Black director helming this historic brand transformation.”
Let’s take a look at the commercial for Pearl Milling Company, directed by Justin Casselle:
Justin’s Approach: Oversized Joy, Subtle Realness
In approaching this milestone campaign, Justin took a personal yet effective approach. “My main goal, first and foremost, was just to create something that felt real to me,” Justin told SCREEN. “I wanted this spot to feel tangible, to have moments of oversized joy but also moments of subtle realness. What I value greatly in myself as a director is my ability to direct relationships and elevate those moments of authenticity all through the lens of comedy. So it was important to me that this spot felt real and that it pleased not only the agency and the clients, but my own creative tastes.”
As for what it meant to Casselle to be leading such a critical advertising campaign, “It was huge! And it still is,” Casselle told SCREEN. “Being a former agency producer for the likes of R/GA, DDB, and FCB to now directing such a historic brand transition, especially as a Black director, is not lost on me. It’s full circle and I worked so hard to be ready for a moment like this. I was actually visiting family when I received the call from my producers, Casey and Ross at Method & Madness in Chicago. So to be able to celebrate something like this with those who are my biggest supporters was something I’ll never forget. I’m honored and proud to have been at the helm of this production and I’m excited to show the entire industry what I can do.
Leading a “Rockstar” Squad for Pearl Milling
Justin worked with multicultural creative agency Ten35 and production company Method & Madness on the campaign, which filmed this past July. Justin led a talented team of veteran agency producers to bring his vision for the new Pearl Milling branding to life. “I’d love to sing some praises about our agency producer, Sylvetta Christmas,” Justin declared to SCREEN. “A rockstar veteran in the game, she was a great production partner. I’d also like to give some love to our agency creatives, Teneka King and Simeon Coker, who led the creative charge for this brand transition. They kept it real and true and I appreciate them calling my number on this one. To Dae, Amanda, Anthony, Daria, John, and my other crew members of color – it was a beautiful experience working with y’all on something so major.”
Justin’s Road through Cleveland to Chicago to California
Justin grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio – 20 miles from Cleveland and six miles from Lake Erie in the beautiful town of Elyria, to be exact. He moved to Chicago to begin his post-college career, and launched his agency career as a producer for cornerstone companies FCB and DDB Chicago.
“I love Chicago with my whole heart and it truly has become my adopted hometown,” Casselle shared with SCREEN. “Chicago is where it all began! I balanced being an agency producer for all those years while also writing, directing, and producing short films, digital series, sketches, music videos, and short docu series all independently. Chicago raised me. From my political convictions to how inclusive and equitable I require my sets to be (not to mention with a little music between set ups!).”
What’s Next for Pearl Milling and for Casselle
Justin and his team just wrapped filming this week in Mexico City on the two remaining Pearl Milling commercials. Those two spots are set to debut in early October. The nationwide campaign will run through the end of the year and will span across social TV, digital, social, and in-store. A national retail promotion is expected to move forward this month.
“I’m excited to bring the Chicago way of doing things to so many more productions,” Justin declared to SCREEN. “No one does it better than we do.”