How to Avoid Being a Douche in this Business

June 28, 2013 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Mother New York discuss the finer points of douche-iosity.

Agencies often run workshops and seminars in Cannes and it’s usually pretty predictable. Jargon-laden titles try and persuade you that, armed with their vital industry wisdom, you’ll be able to stay ahead of the latest tech trends and outperform your competitors with this secret weapon.

It’s rarely the case. You’re far more likely to be bombarded by buzzwords and slogans about blue sky thinking for an hour, before leaving the session with nothing more than a slightly advanced proficiency in the language of bullshit.

Mother New York took a different approach at Cannes this year, focusing on a home truth – that the advertising business has its fair share of total pricks (they’re American, so they went for the term “douche” instead. Please exchange for an insult of your choice). Hoping to reduce levels of douche-iness in the industry, Andrew Deitchman, Charlie McKittrick, Tom Webster and Angie Vieira Barocas took to the stage to teach Adland how to be nice, despite the pressures of this industry.

We couldn't make it on the day, so we caught up with Co-Founder of Mother New York, Andrew Deitchman, and Managing Director Angie Vieira Barocas, to discuss their workshop – How to Avoid Being a Douche in this Business.

The Beak Street Bugle: What do you think is the main cause of douche-iness?

Andrew Deitchman: It’s the most basic of human insights – people get unhappy and they fill their unhappiness with self-importance and puffing up their chest. And suddenly they’re just not focused on the reason why they got involved in this business. They’re more focused on how they posture, position themselves and basically just become a douche.

It’s like in lots of areas of life and business. People treat people poorly and push them down because they want to feel more important because they’re unhappy people and that makes them somehow feel happier. It manifests itself in so many different areas and all that ultimately is is someone who’s not comfortable with who they are, where they are and what they’re doing.

BSB: And why do think the ad industry is particularly douche-y?

AD: I think it happens to be a magnet for insecure people. Creative people are generally quite insecure. And at the same time it’s a weird thing how you justify your work all the time. It just leads to a lot of people who are not happy and project a veneer over themselves that isn’t that nice. We try to make sure that’s not the case. It’s just focusing on the things that make your brain happy and what you like doing. It all sort of starts from there.

Angie Vieira Barocas: My first creative director was David Lubars at an agency that no longer exists. He taught me what an idea was. He said creatives are putting ideas on the table all the time, so if they come up with an idea and it gets killed, they have to go back in and put more ego out.

Even presenting work. If you have a piece of paper and you’re presenting work don’t throw it on the table – treat it with respect because there is a lot of value in what is on that piece of paper and if your actions support that, even subconsciously, people around the table and clients will see that. And if you’re killing ideas, be sensitive.

BSB: Apart from the burden of creativity, what causes advertising people to be unhappy?

AVB: I started on the agency side, went client side and came back agency side. I’m [now] an agency person because I want to be as close to the work as possible. It’s not that you can’t be as a client, but you’re never as close.

AD: Part of what I like that Charlie talked about is embedded, organisational douche-iness. It’s fascinating to me that there are all of these different plains and levels and people who’s job it is just to be creating stuff around the stuff around the stuff [not the product, not the packaging - something far removed from the actual subject].

I go to a couple of conferences a year and I enjoy it. I usually hear some interesting things but people who decide to go to every single conference and sit on every single panel, after a while it’s just crazy. It’s like this has become your job now – to sit on panels. I guess at that point you’re just marketing the agency or whatever, but it’s still in the guise of somebody who’s doing work.

BSB: How do you avoid that particular kind of douche-iness?

AD: We defined ourselves from the outset as being very broad in the way that we do business. It allowed us to be very promiscuous creatively and have interesting conversations and not put limits on what our brand could be. We’ve also grown into creating our own stuff that we put the stuff around and that’s been really fun too. We talked about a couple of examples of things we’re working on in that vein as well, from an app we’ll be releasing to the whiskey we launched.

BSB: This workshop basically acknowledges that the industry is full of douches. How did you avoid offending people?

AD: I don’t think we were really worried about offending anybody because we just spoke from the heart about our own experiences.

I talked about how I was at six different agencies for the first ten years of my career and a lot of it was based on “I could get more money here; I could get a bigger title there” and that bought me all sorts of different experiences. I just wanted to get as senior as I possibly could as fast as I could.

There was impatience there, but it was also a lack of confidence on some levels, in terms of sticking in one place for a long period of time. But mainly it was just not feeling comfortable. I never really felt comfortable until I got to start Mother. That’s when I actually felt relaxed because I was able to be myself versus having to fit into an organisation.

AVB: I think if you want to have a diverse environment like we do, you can’t box people in. You need to recognise that someone might come in and be a little bit writer, a little bit strategist and everything. How do you maximise that?

BSB: How else did you teach people to ward off douche-iness?

AVB: Some of the things we shared with the audience were some basic tenets of mine that protect me from becoming douche-y: Have a good dose of humility. Know what you know and what you do not know.

I said to the young folks in the audience “check the entitlement at the door.” And it’s hard because today’s younger generation grew up differently than I did. To figure out why you’re in this business and what makes you tick in the first place. You need to remind yourself of that along the way.

My four points were:
I need to work at a place that has strong culture and values that are aligned with my own, so then I can be myself.

I want to work with people that I trust and respect all around me. It doesn’t matter if you’re more junior or more senior than me. That’s irrelevant.

I want to be around great creatives.

And my day-to-day needs to be something that I enjoy.

BSB: What did the audience have to say to you?

AVB: A young creative was saying “I just got in this business. I haven’t experienced my douche self yet. What do you recommend so I don’t go down that track?” I said as creatives, you guys are coming up with ideas and most of the people at an agency are surrounding you to make sure you come up with those ideas. I think the way to avoid going down the douche-y trap is to recognise that, appreciate it and don’t take if for granted.

BSB: Why do you think you got away with it?

AD: I think everybody understands in this business that you can laugh at yourselves and be reflective. Look at me. I’m kind of a douchebag.

AVB: [laughs and nods] We’re having a meeting at the Carlton in Cannes! Andrew started [the workshop] by basically acknowledging – “here’s our title, but also let’s remember we are sitting in the South of France in the most beautiful place at an award show.” It’s not to say don’t enjoy it. But you have to keep it in perspective.

AD: It’s not to say there’s some Zen state that I’ve reached. I’m incredibly ambitious and a lot of that comes from having a chip on my shoulder and being insecure in certain ways in the same way that drives lots of successful people. But it needs to be kept in check in terms of treating people well, understanding the business we’re in and not taking it too seriously.

Weird Ad of the Month

June 27, 2013 / Humour

By The Beak Street Bugle

What better way to sell sushi than via an overly literal piece of dance?

Yet another idea that boogles the mind when you imagine how it it ever got signed off. This time it's from Norway. It's probably something to do with those long winter nights. Watch it a few times and you'll begin to really appreciate the beauty of the dance though, especially wasabi man. He's a babe.

Cannes: Returning to the Scene of the Crime

June 26, 2013 / Features

By Alex Reeves

A year ago I lost my Cannes virginity. This time round I lasted a bit longer.

It’s no exaggeration to say Cannes in the week of the Lions is like no other place on Earth. Advertising people, drink, keynote speeches, drugs, exhibitions, drink, sex, sun, expense accounts, sleep deprivation, drink, beach parties, awards, drink, drink. You can find these things all over the world, but never in quite the exact balance and with the precise flavour that Cannes delivers.

Last year I was a Cannes virgin and, in a tumultuous 24 hours, my innocence was ripped away from me forever. Flying back, fragile and exhausted, I thought I had a good grasp of what Cannes was about – I concluded that it was a lot of happy people from the advertising industry getting a little squiffy and making connections that will win them business for the year to come. That’s not quite accurate.

A few weeks after my account of events last year, one creative director told me he thought I had pulled my punches on it. He was right that my view of the industry’s biggest piss-up was slightly soft, but this was more down to my quick plunge into the environment than any conscious decision to treat it with respect. This year I immersed myself for much longer and came back with what I hope is a more accurate picture.

Of course, now I think I’m some sort of expert, so this might read a bit like an expert’s guide. Don’t listen to anything I say though. Next year I’ll probably draw new, completely different conclusions.

Being armed with a press pass this year meant I was a delegate. So the doors that were coldly slammed in my face last year were now free for me to pass. What wonders would await me within the mystical Palais? Well, some lovely cold bottles of Coke and a load of seminars.

The serious bit

One thing I realised early on is that these seminars are all very interesting, and often star-studded, but they rarely translate to anything that will help you directly in your business. Listening to Lou Reed do a poetry reading was weird and quite profound, hearing Alan Parker’s anecdotes about the early years of the creative commercial was fascinating and trying to work out what Google X’s Astro Teller was going on about when he talked about “moonshots” was, erm, challenging. I’m not sure any of it was directly useful, though.

What I took from it was what I can only, perhaps pretentiously, describe as inspiration. Thinking about these sorts of things gets the old grey matter working in a funny way, and I found myself daydreaming during these talks, mostly about interesting questions that the talks raised in my mind. I’m sure this could be very useful to anyone in our industry.

But sitting in a dark auditorium listening to someone talk about a relatively abstract concept is not the best way to use a week on the French Riviera, especially when a whole global industry is there for you to meet and schmooze.

Clearly, most people get this and strike some sort of balance between the two, if they even bother with paying to be a delegate at all. I’m still quite young and eager to meet people in the industry, so my balance was skewed towards the sunnier, boozier, chattier side. I was in good company; more seem to prefer the parties to the seminars, funnily enough.

Flavours of networking

One very useful thing I learnt this year was the anatomy of a day’s networking in Cannes. The first stage is the breakfast meeting – a phenomenon that’s probably somewhat elusive to the average Cannes-ist. As the week progresses and hangovers accumulate, the productivity of these meetings plummets, so be sure to schedule them before your body reaches that critical mass of 57 per cent rosé. If you are both hung-over (a likely situation) then this can be used to your benefit as a shared adversity. I learnt that you can bond over this somewhat. The main problem is that in admitting a hangover you are also admitting to acting less that professionally. In Cannes, that’s not really such a problem though. Talk about work as much as you can and move along.

A lunch meeting is probably the first opportunity for pink wine to start flowing. It’s not a must, and be careful to pace yourself, but as long as you’re not meeting with a real stereotypical suit you can get away with it. Lunch meetings can be fruitful, as people’s brains are slightly more in gear by this time.

After lunch is when the party scramble begins. For those companies/agencies with access to a villa, opening it up for a pool party can be a good way to attract your clients and potential clients to come and see you. These can be pretty opulent, making full use of the Côte d'Azur’s incredible vistas and pairing these with the opportunity for a cooling swim.

This is the point in the day where people start to get competitive, saying things like “are you coming to this party?” and “are you on the list, because they’re very strict.” If you want to fill your party timetable, you (or your PA if you’re really important) need to make sure you RSVP to everything well in advance, or you’ll end up having to slum it on one of the private beaches you can blag your way onto. Eurgh. How awful?

Will there be food?

Dinner is optional in Cannes. No matter how much you might feel that with all this drinking and sleep deprivation you’re probably best off having a hearty meal, sometimes the party schedule won’t allow for it. There will often be food at afternoon and early-evening parties, but be warned. This will be of the canapé variety and, while you might want to take ten slices of Welsh rarebit to satisfy your hunger, the people you are meeting will not appreciate you spitting half-chewed glorified cheese on toast at them while you network. This is not in your best business interests, so be prepared to get most of your calorie intake from alcohol.

Evening parties are the main events, and very competitive. Drinks are sometimes free, sometimes ridiculously overpriced, but this is where you do a very important kind of networking. Dancing on a beach is no place to talk about business, but it’s a great place to make friends and rub shoulders, quite literally, with other people in the industry. Come the morning they’ll be your buddies and then who knows what could come of it? This is an industry of relationships, so it’s important to build some.

Cementing this friendship can take you one of two places after the parties finish at 2am (I’m ruling out the bedroom, but that is also an option): the Carlton Terrace or the Gutter Bar. If you opt for both then I suggest you do them in that order.

Carlton vs Gutter

The former is a bizarre place – although this is somewhat diluted by the general madness of Cannes. Late night it is usually packed out. With no invitations or guestlists, anyone could walk in. The reality is that they don’t though, because bottles of rosé are extortionate. There’s a delicate social structure to the terrace. Each table has its spiritual leader and provider of wine, while everyone else fawns and bootlicks in hope that they will earn a glass to justify their presence in the exclusive venue. This is no place to do business post-party, but it is full of drunk bigwigs, so there is good networking to be done.

If you can’t find a booze patron at the Carlton then you are left with one option only – the fabled Gutter Bar – a nickname that was only made official this year by Tumblr’s rather odd sponsorship. I never made it this far last year, but I managed to frequent it this year, consistently ending my nights amongst the ravaged masses. Every night I swore not to return and every night I crawled back with slightly less self worth.

The depravity of this place isn’t the fun sort of filth you get in a grimy indie club back home – it’s sheer animalism. The people here have been reduced, by expense-account-fuelled overindulgence, from intelligent adults into reeling beasts spouting inane nonsense. The vibe is confusing. It’s part jubilant, part aggressive and sometimes a combination of both. Don’t expect to have any meaningful conversations here or you’ll be let down. Of course, there are coherent, interesting people in the Gutter Bar, even after four AM sometimes, but these are the exceptions – islands of sanity emerging from a chaotic sea.

So partying is pretty important to adland’s week in Cannes. Last year I concluded that connecting on a human level was vital to the industry and I stand by this. One thing that makes Cannes unmissable for so many is that, amidst all the depravity, people’s jobs and status become irrelevant and, for one week, they are just people – pathetically intoxicated people.

You can bump into the industry’s most respected figures in Cannes – people who are normally far too busy to have speculative meetings – and you can put the world to rights over a glass of lovely, sickeningly acidic rosé. And that is a valuable thing.

I came back from Cannes loving it, but in the way that you love a family member or a close friend – choosing to ignore a few negative traits because you know that your relationship’s worth more than that. It’s an extreme environment, but it has to be. See you back on the Croisette next year.

 

 

How was your Cannes this year? Tell us in the comment section below.

Ads of Ice and Fire

June 25, 2013 / Features

By Sigtryggur Magnason

Ever wondered what the ad industry is like in Iceland? Sigtryggur Magnason is just the man to tell you.

Girl on a Horse
From the Geysir Shops campaign from E&Co.
Design: Einar Geir.
Photo: Ari Magg.

So. Iceland. A big island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. A three-hour flight from London. A five-hour flight from New York. It's the place where Kate left Tom, where Reagan met Gorbachev, where Kiefer met girls, where the midnight sun and the hot springs glow.


Advertising in Iceland.

Where do we start? It's not a big business in the international picture. Mostly because of the tiny population of 330,000 people. The population, therefore, is both a challenge and an advantage. For the last few decades there have been two strong media: The Icelandic Broadcasting Service (RUV) has been the main channel on which to deliver TV commercials to the nation, with some of the programs having up to 30 per cent of the population viewing. The main channel for print is the Fréttablaðið newspaper, with reading numbers around 60 per cent six days of the week. This media environment is quite unique compared to other countries and makes the battle to reach the consumer different.

The conventional media is thus strong. At the same time we see the younger generations using media in a different way. Iceland has one of the highest internet penetration rates in the world and the use of social media is more common than in most other countries.  More than 80 per cent of Icelanders over the age of 13 use Facebook.

Exit: Broadway. Enter: Chekhov.

In 2008 Iceland had a cardiac arrest that we call the Crash. It was a dramatic ending to a fun economic boom. After the glamorous Broadway-musical life of 2007, the Crash of 2008 brought us to a more Chekhov-like world where everyone was moving to Moscow. That of course changed the advertising world. The budgets became smaller and many important brands had to re-invent themselves. The trust people felt for financial institutions plummeted from 90 per cent to 5 per cent, and people’s faith in politics fell too. It was not only the budgets that were lower; the commercials could no longer get away with looking expensive and flashy. Advertisers and agencies went back to their cultural roots. Nature, old poetry, culture, traditional clothing etc. were more visible in advertising in Iceland after the Crash.

Did you order the helicopter?

A commercial is a commercial. The viewer sitting at home does not take into account whether the budget of the commercial he's watching is 10 million ISK or 100 million ISK. That is the brutal reality. Icelandic creatives have to find solutions to make campaigns and commercials that they can be proud of and, above all, sell. A low budget is therefore never an excuse. Did the viewer like it and, more importantly, did he act according to plan? The aim is to make people want what you want them to want. The BIG commercial is not made in Iceland at the moment. The focus is on the personal life and the practical life. The wow-factor is not a helicopter shot any more.


Be clever, not rich.

Of course the size of the nation affects the business of advertising. The budgets are smaller than in international campaigns. That probably makes Icelandic ad people focus more strongly on key messages and makes it more important to find clever solutions. However, it is important for brands, both Icelandic and international, to make Icelandic commercials. The emotional power of TV commercials somehow fails when you watch a German family drive through Munich, speaking Icelandic, but with the words and the movement of their lips out of sync (although this would probably be a nice idea for a commercial). TV commercials have, actually, been an important part of Icelandic television. They are a creative interpretation of everyday life in Iceland and over the years Icelandic drama and comedy series have been very rare.

Inspired by Iceland.

As mentioned before, the small budgets demand stronger focus. One of the cases that supports that statement is Iceland's reaction to a big economic threat in 2010, one and a half years after our Crash. It was the eruption of the volcano that no-one could pronounce [Eyjafjallajökull]. It was a shock to Icelanders and could have been a huge blow to one of Iceland's most important industries. A 30 per cent drop in tourism in Iceland was expected. That was the beginning of a campaign called Inspired by Iceland. It focused on showing that everything was all right in Iceland and using the attention the country got from the eruption to activate the friends of Iceland all over the world. We wanted to harness the people power. This campaign and the following campaigns Íslenska (The Icelandic Advertising Agency) made for Promote Iceland, in collaboration with The Brooklyn Brothers in London, won the Euro Effies, a Gold Lion in Cannes in 2012 and two Bronze Lions in 2013, to mention a few awards, and has increased the number of tourists in Iceland in a very crucial period in the history of the Icelandic economy.


My brand wants to be your friend

The power is shifting in advertising. With all the online media, the general public now has more power than before. Instead of one-way traffic from the advertiser to the consumer, the consumer has a powerful tool to make way for his experience and his opinions. This shift can be difficult for many brands. For a brand it is important to engage. It is not enough to show beautiful pictures of beautiful people. They have to decide their own characteristics, how they speak, how they react, not only in the commercial slots on TV. Their voice is supposed to be heard on demand on Facebook, on Twitter and other online mediums. That takes a different kind of thinking – a different kind of courage. Branding has never been as important as now. Brands have to connect to people in new ways. They have to be leading and at the same time listening to their consumers. Respecting the consumer and bringing him a unique experience might make him will fall in love with your brand.

Sigtryggur Magnason is Associate Creative Director at the Íslenska Advertising Agency.

www.islenska.is
sigtryggur@islenska.is

Directions to Direction: Si & Ad

June 13, 2013 / Features

By Alex Reeves

How Si & Ad, two in-house creatives at a record company, rose to become quite famous commercials directors.

Directing commercials is a trade, not a profession. You don’t have to be chartered by the Institute of Short Videos About Stuff You Can Buy to be allowed to practice your craft. And if you look at the top ad directors, none of them have a BA in Consumerist Propaganda. Some of them might have gone to film school, but in no way are those directors winning all the big scripts while the unqualified pretenders scrape up the leftovers. It’s a bit more random that that.

The routes to becoming an advertising director are varied and diverse, so we thought it might be interesting to explore them, speaking to some of the most talented directors out there to explore their histories and how all their paths managed to converge in a single occupation.

First up are Si & Ad – Academy’s experts in sweet, performance-led commercials. They recently directed the touching Robinson’s Pals, sure to make dads across the country pretend to have something in their eye.

They were also behind Thinkbox’s adorable Harvey & Rabbit ad and the surreal and strangely dark Morrison’s Christmas commercial for 2012. But their most definitive work to date is probably their Match.com sing-along spot – the one that prompted people across the country to give Godfather III another chance. While it might be a little soppy for some tastes, the pair picked up a heap of awards from Cannes Lions to the British Arrows for it, many of which surround us as I sit in Academy’s rather intimidating meeting room with the bearded duo.

The walls are encrusted with metal the production company has won over the years for the commercials and music videos their directors have crafted. Now one of the behemoths of production, Academy have built much of their reputation from nurturing talent from the music video world, bringing the sense of cool that comes with directors like Jonathan Glazer and David Fincher into the bosom of advertising.

Si & Ad, whose surnames are apparently irrelevant, fit into this legacy perfectly. Academy discovered them while they were working in music videos, but the road that led to their career in commercials was pretty unusual.

Growing up, neither of the duo aspired to being film directors. They didn’t run around their neighbourhoods with handheld cameras getting their siblings to play 1920s mobsters and neither of them went to film school. Ad got a degree in maths, and Si studied graphic design.

Free CDs and gigs

They first met in their jobs at a record company. Ad started on reception, not out of any particular passion for the music industry, but mostly because it meant he could get free CDs and live music. “Gigs every night,” he remembers. “It was good fun.”

After a while in the job, he started working in a more esoteric corner of the business – in a tiny creative department responsible for a quirky new medium called the internet. “There was a guy in the press office there who was interested in the internet,” he says. The web was a bit of an oddity back then, before there were even images on it. This online enthusiast set up a new department and got some graduates from the Royal College of Art involved. “I used to hang around with these guys,” says Ad. “I learnt to do coding and stuff.” In time, Ad got the job of creating websites for the label’s bands and filling them with content.

Later Si joined the team and the pair hung out with bands as in-house creatives at the company. Ad had learned the basics of web development and by the time Si started, the web had grown into a space where you could be more visually creative, allowing him to apply his skills in design and photography.

Some of the bands were interested in creating interesting online content, others weren’t. Most of the music industry didn’t really understand this new medium yet. “There was no pressure,” explains Si, “because it was at a time when record companies didn’t see the internet as a tool.”

“Or as a threat,” Ad interjects. “They didn’t realise how important it was going to be.” What this ultimately meant was that he and the team he worked with had almost complete creative freedom to build interesting websites, unhindered by the ideas of company execs.

Forays into film

Sometimes, when bands were more open-minded, the team made video content to include on these websites. “The bands found it a creative thing that they could feed into,” says Si. “So we spent lots of time with lots of bands getting content together and just hanging out with them.”

That was when they discovered the extent of their passion for filmmaking. “We were doing a few record sleeves, website design, behind the scenes, music videos,” explains Ad, “- all sorts of creative stuff and we just thought, out of all of those, the one we like the most is the film.” They started getting quite inventive, going further than straight interviews and stretching to making behind-the-scenes, documentary-style films.

On top of this they soon took it further and started funding and making their own music videos. Working at a big record company meant they had access to the sort of resources you need to do this, many years before cheap cameras democratised filmmaking. “If you’re a young director now trying to make music videos it’s really hard,” admits Ad, “because record labels put out a track to 30 or 40 directors, so you need to make friends with bands. When we were working for a record label we were literally meeting bands every day.” These young artists normally wouldn’t have music videos made for there songs, but Si & Ad saw them as opportunities to make more films and have some fun, which was increasingly becoming their main interest. “We’d just get in our car, drive down somewhere and make a music video for them,” says Ad.

Honing their craft

This happy arrangement continued for a while. Budgets were low, but they were developing their directing talents and having a great time in the process. The bands were getting great value for money. They were getting onto MTV for miniscule prices. “I think we did one for six pounds,” Ad laughs. Imagine this period in their career like the training montage in a Rocky movie. They were running around being prolific and honing their abilities, but they didn’t know when that big fight was going to arrive.

Eventually it came out of nowhere, in bizarre circumstances. “We properly became directors because of 9/11,” says Ad bluntly. The boy band Blue were shooting a music video in New York with the famous skyline as their backdrop. “They were just about to turnover when the first plane went in,” Ad recounts. The job was ruined and the label in charge of the video were thrown into a state of turmoil.

Si & Ad were working in the office next door to this label at the time. Every day they’d check in with their neighbours to see how their search for a new director was coming and every day they’d jokingly offer to do it themselves. “They were calling all these big pop directors,” says Ad, “most of which were US based and no one wanted to get on a plane.” The label brushed the boys off politely, saying thanks but they would get one of the big name directors they normally used. Eventually the label failed to get any of their star directors on the job, so the young upstarts next door ended up taking the job by default.

The pair suddenly jumped from shooting unknown indie acts to directing a big, glossy pop video for a chart-topping boy band. They had a budget they’d never been anywhere near before and no idea what any of the crew did, but they worked it out eventually. “We didn’t know what a gaffer or a DoP was,” says Si. They were amazingly undaunted facing this new world and even came up with some innovative tricks. “That was the job we invented the shot list on,” says Si with wry smile. He elaborates: “We came up with this great idea where we write all our shots down and call it a shot list. Then we discovered that everyone does that.”

The song went to number one, earning them some healthy exposure. With their work being seen by millions, they suddenly realised they could make a lucrative career doing what they loved doing.

They soon got signed to Academy, where they made it their aim to shake off their history in pop videos and do something a bit cooler. The problem is once you’ve shot boy bands singing with wind machines and gold necklaces, Radiohead aren’t going to be that interested. “All the video producers thought we were tainted, tarred with this pop brush,” laments Ad. “They said you can’t take a showreel of pop videos to Thom Yorke. They’re not going to buy it. So we basically spent four years reinventing ourselves.” Si shakes his head and chimes in, “I still don’t think Thom Yorke will bite.”

Once they’d built up a solid body of promo work, Lizie Gower, Managing Director of Academy, told Si & Ad that she saw something in them that she thought might be harnessed to make commercials. But they’d never shot anything as short as a 60-second, let alone 30-second, commercial. They needed to prove they could tell a story in under a minute. They made a very short film about a young man’s morning routine called Street Dream, proving that they could work in short timeframes. “That got passed around to agencies and they loved it,” says Ad. “The idea actually got made into an advert and won a few awards and stuff. That started interest and we started moving up the ladder from there.”

The progression from music videos to commercials is a well-trodden path, but it seems to be dying out somewhat. Si & Ad can recognise this. It was easier to make the jump back then, by their reckoning. When they were shooting pop videos, people still watched them on TV and YouTube didn’t exist yet. As a consequence budgets were bigger, so clients and agencies knew promo directors could be trusted with the kind of money they were dealing in.

With ambitions to direct feature films in the future, they look set to take the track many of the great promo directors – Glazer, Gondry, Jonze – have taken. “Hopefully we’ll follow in their footsteps,” says Si. “We’re a few steps behind, but quite a few people at Academy have done that.” With the budget chasms opening between the different steps on this journey, it looks as if this approach is becoming increasingly rocky for young filmmakers. Si & Ad could be the last great ad directors to break through from music videos. Which is sad, because as their work proves, promos are a brilliant training ground.

High Five: June

June 5, 2013 / High Five

By Alex Reeves

Our favourite advertising this month is doing something a bit different.

Novelty is a useful tool. Although in these fast-paced digital times you could say it’s a little over-valued. But in advertising, marking yourself out as different from your competitors is a vital tactic.While putting together this monthly chart of the top video advertising, we noticed something - that the really great content is about not only doing something different, but doing it with vision and skill too.

Product: Bombay Sapphire
Title: Room 8
Production Company: Independent Films & Indy 8
Director: James W. Griffiths
(Based on an original idea and outline script by: Geoffrey Fletcher)
Production Company Producer: Sophie Venner
Director of Photography: G. Magni Ágústsson, ÍKS
Ad Agency: Gravity Road
Editor: Michael Aaglund
Sound Design: Martin Pavey
Post Production House: MPC

Bombay Sapphire, Room 8 (from the Imagination Series)

Once Bombay Sapphire made the decision to make imagination one of their brand values, they had to walk their talk. Rather than making a pretentious 30-second TVC, they went with the idea of the Imagination Series - a competition where entrants interpreted a script from Oscar-winning screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher in the most imaginative way possible. The entries where whittled down to five winners, including James W. Griffiths’ mind-bending entry. You can see the rest here. It’s an interesting approach to promoting a brand and certainly much cooler than all those booze ads depicting impossibly glamorous parties.

Brand: First Direct
Title: Unexpected 
Production Company: Outsider
Director: Dom & Nic
Production Company Producer: John Madsen
Ad Agency: JWT
Creative Director: Jason Berry
Art Director: Kevin Masters
Copywriter: Miles Bingham
Agency Producer: Sian Parker
Editing Company: Final Cut
Editor: Struan Clay
Sound Design: 750mph
Post Production House: MPC

First Direct, Unexpected

Remember when commercials for banks used to extoll the virtues of professional integrity and clever ways to make your money go further? Yeah, we don’t really get those anymore. Now we have platypuses talking in inconguous northern accents about their leftfield interests. Like so many banks today, the message is “we’re not like other banks,” but the randomness of this ad genuinely stands out from the rest of the category. It’ll grab people’s attention and despite its blatant attempts to be zaney, Barry’s got a sophistication to him that’s somehow reassuring.

Brand: giffgaff
Title: Don’t Be Scared
Production Company: Partizan
Director: Matthias Hoene
Production Company Producer: Russell Curtis
Ad Agency: Fallon
Creative Director: David Dao
Creatives: Adam Bright, Mark Nicholson, Mat Fox
Agency Producer: Tracy Stokes
Editing Company: Hagon
Editor: Alex Hagon
Sound Company: Wave
Post Production House: Big Buoy

giffgaff, Don’t Be Scared

It looks like Matthias Hoene been typecast as the go-to zombie director since his recent feature flick Cockneys vs Zombies. There are worse genres to get stuck in, especially as zombies have been having a bit of a renaissance in TV commercials of late. Simultaneously taking up the whole ad break on three channels when it aired, giffgaff’s epic is another light-hearted approach to the zombie myth in the legacy of Shaun of the Dead. Full of clever visual gags, it’s good bit of fun that’s perfect for the budget mobile service’s target audience.

Brand: Channel 4
Title: Mating Season
Directors: Chris Bovill, John Allison
Ad Agency: 4creative
Creatives: Chris Bovill, John Allison, Molly Manners, Alice Tonge
Agency Producer: Nicola Brown
Editing Company: Final Cut
Editor: Dan Sherwen
Post Production House: MPC

Channel 4, Mating Season

We don’t know exactly how it went down, but we hope this idea began with the image of a giant tortoise sticking his head through a glory hole. That’s certainly the image that stays with you. MPC submitted this for our considerartion and their VFX really brings Arthur the tortoise puppet to life as he searches for love in the modern world. It's a rip-roaring adventure as he descends from the more sophisticated kinds of dating into a dark sexual underworld and through to one devastating hangover. It’s a journey that Channel 4’s audience will easily identify with.

Brand: Vodafone
Title: Lake
Production Company: Academy
Director: Frédéric Planchon
Production Company Producer: Simon Cooper
Ad Agency: Grey
Creative Director: Nils Leonard
Creative: Jonathan Marlow
Agency Producer: Angela Eleini
Editing Company: The Assembly Rooms
Editor: Sam Rice-Edwards
Sound Company: Factory
Post Production House: MPC

Vodafone, Lake

It’s rare that you encounter a commercial as elegant as this. The idea is so simple the script could barely be more than a few words and yet it feels like it completely deserves the 60 seconds it takes up. Following his recent Vodafone spot, The Kiss, director Frédéric Planchon proves that less is more, allowing the beautiful location of the tranquil lake to do all the work.