Weird Ad of the Month

September 18, 2013 / Humour

By The Beak Street Bugle

We're pretty sure this script wasn't driven by Nissan's market research. Brazil, we take our hats off.

This is one way to get attention. As always with this oddball ideas, it's fun to think about the meeting where the client said "Demonic ponies? That sounds fine. Yep. Completely bang on for our target market." The official, unsubtitled version has over had over 15 million views, though, so it's turned heads. Mind you, that's no good if it's for the wrong reasons.

APA Collection 2013: The Judges’ Preview

September 12, 2013 / Features

By Alex Reeves

A glimpse into the minds behind the showcase.

Tonight, the British advertising industry will converge on One Marylebone, once a 19th-Century church, for a very different sort of worship. The people of Adland will be out in force to celebrate the good work they all do (and to neck a few cocktails along the way too). For a solid hour hundreds of them will sit down to witness the unveiling of the 2013 APA Collection – a showcase of the most inspiring work created by the UK’s production companies and agencies in the past year.

You’ll have to wait until the premiere to find out who’s made it into the final selection, but to whet your appetite we spoke to some of the judges, who tirelessly trawled through the hours of entries to hand-pick the highest quality work for the showcase.

There was a lot to get through, admits Rupert Reynolds-Maclean, an Executive Producer at Independent, “especially as there’s more and more [online] content work getting included [in the entries],” he notes. “It’s not just 30 and 60 second spots anymore.” Now it’s a test of endurance.

“It’s quite gruelling,” says Rob Steiner, Executive Producer at Crispin Porter + Bogusky. He admits it was hard to keep focus after watching dozens of commercials, even though were good. “A bit like watching too much Breaking Bad,” he suggests for a comparison.

Another difficulty was choosing the right critical hat to put on. When you work in advertising and talk about it all the time it can be hard to see things as they are intended – for the audiences they are targeting. “I always try to judge from an audience point-of-view, outside from what’s fashionable” says Leila Bartlam, Head of Film at Havas Worldwide London.

Tim Page, Head of Broadcast at RKCR/Y&R, has a similar method. He ties to bring a fresh pair of eyes and asks three things: “is it grabbing my attention; is it telling me salient points about the product; and is it entertaining me?”

It was tough. One judge amassed six pages of notes, which is a fair bit considering it’s a multiple-choice rating system. But they got through it and were glad to be a part of the process.

“It was really nice to see everything,” says Rupert. “Sometimes when you’re busy you miss what’s come out, so it’s nice to have a little recap.”

Going into the judging this year, expectations weren’t at an all-time high. It’s no secret that production companies and agencies alike have felt their creativity throttled over the past few years.

We’re not in a heyday of advertising, admits Tim. “I think clients aren’t being quite as brave as they could be,” he says. “Or, arguably, some agencies aren’t being quite as brave as with their clients as they could be. Everyone’s a bit financially conscious at the moment. I don’t think anybody’s doing anything particularly wrong or the talent’s not there or we’re all becoming ultra-conservative. I think it’s a confidence thing.”

Before he started judging Hector Macleod, CEO of Glassworks, expected the entries to be disappointing. “Not because anyone’s worse at doing anything,” he stresses, “just because the appetite for risk and adventure is gone and that’s where great commercials come from. In this climate that’s not where people’s priorities are. The big organizations and big agencies have just squeezed their suppliers and as the big flannel gets wringed, we’re the water coming out of it.”

But ultimately Hector, like many of the judges, was pleasantly surprised. “I think this year it’s surprising how much good work there is,” he says. “When you see it all concentrated like that in front of you. It gives you faith. There’s been a lot of good stuff.”

Several judges remember that last year’s Collection was particularly good, but despite that they were impressed with the standard of entries put before them this time around. After watching the whole batch Rupert says he felt invigorated. “I was worried that this year’s work was lacking compared to the year before,” he says, “but I feel like the collection is just as strong as it was for the past couple of years.”

Rob was equally enthralled by the entries. “If I didn’t work in the industry and I sat down and watched those ads I would be very impressed,” he considers. “And despite the fact that I do work in the industry, I sit and watch those ads and I’m still impressed, even knowing what I know.”

Leila’s feelings on the work were more muted. “Whilst I don’t think there are as many good spots as last year,” she says, “the ones that are good are really exceptional.” She admired the work for John Lewis, Three Mobile, Vodafone and Virgin Atlantic, which she thinks displayed a refreshingly high level of craft and she loved how some of these harkened back to a time when creativity in TV advertising was all. “It made me feel very good about the industry,” she says.

Tim points out that the APA Collection serves as a gauge for the industry’s health, but says that he feels the level has dropped this year in terms of stand-out remarkable commercials. “The ideas and the bravery isn’t quite as sharp as it has been,” he says, “but the quality in terms of production is still there and always will be because there are some very good people in this country doing it. The craft around the British advertising industry is still exemplary.”

It is of course important to note that the APA Collection is a decidedly British affair – every film featured has a link to a British company or agency. It’s something for the UK to be proud of.

Tim Stephens, Media Director for the British European Design Group and Consultant to the University of the Arts, London, was not only a judge this year, but also showed off the APA Collection earlier this year at an advertising festival in Siberia, where he says there is a huge interest in British advertising. As somebody who knows various foreign advertising markets well, he thinks we often take for granted the level of quality that the Collection displays as it represents the British industry around the world.

“One expects a high standard,” he says. “In general the sequence of events that leads to the production of commercials in this country is tempered by the fact that people know their markets and know exactly how far to go. In other markets like China they are not aware of where they should pitch in the marketplace, so some of the advertising is really dire and some is extraordinary.”

Rob agrees that the Collection provokes a kind of patriotic pride in him every year. “Each time I see it, it reminds me of how incredible London is a centre of production,” he says. “It also reminds me why an agency like CP+B, who have done well in America, are here – to be in the position where they can buy some of these directors and make these commercials. It’s a hub of incredible talent.”

So what does Britain have to show off about this year? Rupert was glad to see a feast of visually focused film. “I think as we go on we get an increased awareness of the craft,” he says, “and it feels like there are more creatives working with the director on giving something really visually compelling, along with the written word.”

He also thinks this year will follow the trend that’s picked up in recent years for more online branded content being showcased. “It’s really good to see so much content,” he says – as Executive Producer of online film specialists Indy8 he’s particularly interested in this sector. “And especially the level of work that’s going into long-form advertising,” he adds. “It’s good to see that agencies are embracing it as well.”

“In the past it got chucked to a junior director, but I think now [clients and agencies] are just as interested in the bigger name directors getting involved in doing a five-minute film instead of a 60- or 90-second one.”

Clearly, this kind of work does still bring the young blood through, as Hector noticed watching the entries. “That is where people are taking risks more because there are less rules around it,” he says, “and it’s bringing in some really interesting directors.”

The impact of branded content is definitely being felt in many ways, as Leila points out. “There’s a lot of talk about online content and how those films are made for the audience,” she says. “They’re made as stories and what we’re seeing is that TV advertising is emulating that and it’s becoming more about engaging the audience in the story, rather than in a product-led way.”

This is all speculation, of course, albeit well-informed – the judges don’t know what’s got into the Collection yet either and are eager themselves to see what’s made the final grade. But whoever is chosen, one thing is certain. Tonight will be a good party.

“It’s one of my favourite nights of the year,” concludes Leila. “If there’s one thing I don’t want to miss it’s the APA Show. It’s a great night of celebration with all the right people and all the right discussions happening. And the format of showing all the ads is great. It’s one of the best.”

The APA Collection will be premiered at tonight's APA Show at One Marylebone, which begins with a drinks reception at 7pm.

Signed: Ernest Desumbila

September 12, 2013 / Signed/Unsigned

By The Beak Street Bugle

A striking director born from Balearic hedonism.

Like so many directors, Ernest Desumbila got into making films through chance. Mind’s Eye’s latest signing started his career as a graphic designer working for brands like Nike and Vueling, but it was when he began designing for the infamous clubs of Ibiza that his love of cinema got a chance to flourish.

Branching out from his graphic design gig, he soon began directing promos for Amnesia’s club night, Matinée. That kicked off a new career for him directing music videos, where he developed his skills. His latest film for Amnesia – a commercial for a fantastical energy drink called Ibizious – has earned over a million views on YouTube, which has got to count for something these days.

Watch some of his work here:

High Five: September

September 6, 2013 / High Five

By Alex Reeves

A lesson from the masters.

You might recognise one or two of the directors’ names in this month’s selection of the best advertising. We’ve got some real heavy-hitters here, bringing their talents to bear on the scripts that everyone wants. Have a watch and see if they do the scripts justice.

Brand: Audi
Title: The Ring
Production Company: Academy
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Production Company Producer: Simon Cooper
Director of Photography: Barry Ackroyd
Ad Agency: BBH
Creative Directors: Matt Doman, Ian Heartfield
Creatives: Simon Pearse, Emmanuel Saint M’Leux
Agency Producer: Ruben Mercadal
Editing Company: The Quarry
Editor: Paul Watts
Music Company: Soundtree
VFX Company: MPC

Audi – The Ring

Jonathan Glazer is the man behind some of the most memorable commercials of all time, including Guinness Surfer – voted the greatest TV ad of all time by the British public – and his talent for depicting strong, inspiring characters shines through in this dramatic boxing scene. Focusing on the unsung hero of the referee, it’s a strong analogy and the film makes the message about the advertised product very clearly. It’s excellent, but you wouldn’t expect less from Jonathan now would you?

Brand: Barclays
Title: Love is Tough
Production Company: Blink
Director: Benito Montorio
Production Company Producer: Josh Barwick
Director of Photography: Steve Annis
Ad Agency: BBH
Creative Director: Nick Gill
Creatives: Vix Jagger, Ric Hooley
Agency Producer: Peter Montgomery
Editing Company: Stitch
Editor: Andy McGraw
VFX Company: MPC

Barclays – Thank You

This is an interesting one when you consider its audience. It’s a bit of a tearjerker, around the concept of love, made for football fans. That’s daring, considering the vast majority of advertising around sport goes for a sort of blokey pub humour approach. While many undoubtedly object to a bank speaking as if they own the Premier League, they’ve forked out the cash to make sure only they can make an ad like this.

Brand: John Lewis
Title: Things Matter
Production Company: Blink
Director: Dougal Wilson
Production Company Producer: Ewen Brown
Director of Photography: Lasse Frank, Toby Howell
Ad Agency: adam&eveDDB
Creative Directors: Ben Priest, Ben Tollett, Emer Stamp
Creatives: Simon Lloyd, Christine Turner, Rory Hall, Steph Ellis
Agency Producer: Sophie Smith
Editing Company: Final Cut
Editor: Joe Guest
Music Company: Finger Music
Sound Company: Factory Studios
VFX Company: MPC

John Lewis – Things Matter

It’s a John Lewis ad directed by Dougal Wilson. Expectations are obviously high. And of course it lives up to every one of them. Tremendously accomplished filmmaking, brought together by impeccable VFX work and, as always, it’s completely adorable, which is actually quite amazing when you consider we don’t see an actor until 27 seconds in. In these sentimental, family-based commercials, the soundtrack is always vital and Nina Nesbitt’s cover of Fleetwood Mac is bang on the money, tying the whole job up with a nice little bow.

Brand: Marmite
Title: End Marmite Neglect
Production Company: Outsider
Director: James Rouse
Production Company Producer: Benji Howell
Ad Agency: adam&eveDDB
Creative Directors: Pete Hayes, Rob Messeter, Mike Crowe
Creatives: Nick Sheppard, Tom Webber
Agency Producer: Chris Styring
Editing Company: Work
Editor: Art Jones
VFX Company: Framestore

Marmite – End Marmite Neglect

This is a great commercial because it went to the perfect director.  Documentary-style, serious-faced comedy is exactly what James Rouse does best and he evokes some very funny performances here. At the root of the laughs is a home truth we know all too well but have probably never thought about. It’s not flashy. There are no stunning visual effects or flowery copywriting – just a good idea executed with absolute competence.

Brand: NBC
Title: An American Coach in London
Production Company: Moxie Pictures
Director: Martin Granger
Production Company Producer: Claire Jones
Ad Agency: The Brookyln Brothers
Creative Director: Guy Barnett
Agency Producer: Tina Lam
Editor: Joseph Dillingham
VFX Company: The Mill

NBC – An American Coach in London

This is a comedy gem and, having already earned over five million views, it’s up there with the all-stars of branded content – proof that good quality does the business when it comes to going viral. The writing is so funny it could easily run as a regular sketch on TV and the performance from comedian Jason Sudeikis is just brilliant. Of course it’s already dated thanks to that Gareth Bale gag, but that’s not really the point.

Directions to Direction: James Rouse

September 2, 2013 / Features

By Alex Reeves

The story of one man’s meandering journey into direction, featuring (among other characters) a tightly packaged Ukrainian powerlifter.

James Rouse is a unique comic talent in the advertising world. The Outsider director’s films never demand a laugh, but they get one anyway. He calls it “comedy with a straight face,” never deriving humour from a joke because when people write jokes for commercials it can all get a bit try-hard very quickly.

Since he started directing ten years ago he’s directed films for prominent brands like Axe, Oxfam and McDonalds, racking up an admirable raft of all the awards you’d expect.

His Walk of Shame ad for Harvey Nichols’ 2011 Christmas campaign is a particular highlight on his reel, while his two most recent jobs – his oddly controversial Marmite commercial and a viral for Samsung featuring a cute baby (how could he go wrong?)  – have been gaining him quite some attention and provoking chuckles across the nation.

How did he end up here? Well, James made quite a natural career progression, really, starting with a degree in Hotel and Catering Management with French at Middlesex University. OK, not that natural. But it’s fine because he would have hated the life of a hotel manager.

“It sounds bizarre,” says James, “the reason I went into hotel management was [that] I thought, at the age of 18, it would be a creative thing to do.” He had dreams of designing his perfect hotel, choosing the ideal furniture, the right colour scheme and crafting a brilliant menu. “Of course it’s not like that at all,” he says. “It was a massive error. I hated it.”

His early professional life didn’t stray too far from the world of catering, though. He got a job working for Pepsi, which he hated. Still in his early twenties, he was doing retail sales for Walkers crisps. And even though he had his own red Citroen company car, it wasn’t long before he packed it in and changed tack.

That’s when he did a course in advertising to become a creative. Studying for a year at the School of Communication Arts, he got a portfolio together and went out to start a new career as a copywriter. Working at respected agencies Euro RSCG and DDB, he contributed to some high-profile accounts, but he didn’t find himself well suited to the life.

“I was sitting in a grey box, he says. “I’d been working with Joey [his creative partner] on a VW press ad, which was supposedly the Holy Grail. I’d been working for a week to work out how to tell people that the new VW Golf had air conditioning. I’d had enough. It was a long time to be in a box with one guy all day, every day, talking about air conditioning. And that’s supposed to be a really good account to work on.”

Changing tack. Again.

He decided the creative profession wasn’t for him and went off on another professional tangent, setting up his own company, called Soup Design, where he says he “used the principles of advertising to make dull household objects interesting.” Examples included a placemat (the purpose of which is to protect your table from heat) with a picture of an electric hob on it and a clothes hanger that’s designed to look like a noose – so you can hang your clothes in two ways at once.

Soup Design did pretty well. Their designs were internationally acclaimed, sold all over the world, featured in lots of magazines and their placemat was even exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art. But James still hadn’t found his calling.

“I’m not a very good businessman,” he confesses, “so I eventually got bored and frustrated doing accounts and really dull stuff. I really enjoyed the process of designing objects, but once I’d designed them and got them on prototype I kind of lost interest. I guess it was the ideas I was interested in.”

Next James became a creative director at a brand-building company, but soon had his first child with his Mexican wife. Realising his son would be able to speak a language he couldn’t, James spent nine months in sunny Spain learning the language. It sounds hard but he did it for the good of the family, of course.

He returned to Britain with a bit of a strange CV. “I had this broad creative background,” he says, but he thought it was probably about time he got himself a proper career. “I’d fucked around for quite a long time now.”

A stroke of luck

Suddenly a career landed in front of him. A mutual friend introduced James to Ed Robinson, co-founder of online video specialists The Viral Factory, who had just set up shop. “This was at the dawn of the idea that you could watch a film on the internet,” says James. “It sounds bizarre now.”

Ed had a brief on the table from Trojan Condoms to make some online videos. The aim was to raise awareness of the largely American brand in the UK. “It was one of those briefs that probably wasn’t going to go anywhere,” says James. “They had very little money, although at the time it was an extraordinary amount for a viral – 50 grand.”

Ed wanted James to help write the scripts and James agreed, but only if he was allowed to direct it. “I did it on a complete whim,” he says, “as a gamble to see where it takes me.”

Amazingly, Ed agreed. “I salute him for that,” says James. “He had a lot to lose.”

They presented the idea of the sex Olympics, which is just what it sounds like – competitive sporting events with added shagging. The client would never go for it, they thought. It was too full-on. And then they said yes.

Naturally, The Trojan Games needed nudity to work. “I’d always dreamed of doing a shoot with naked women,” James says bluntly, “but the reality is that it’s not titillating, ever.” In fact, it’s quite stressful. He learned this pretty quickly.


James had no idea how these things worked. Before the shoot, his 1st AD told him he had to go and inspect the merkin. He didn’t ask what that meant (it’s a pubic wig, designed to preserve the modesty of apparently naked performers). “I walked into the room and there’s a naked girl there – or she looks naked to me because it’s a really good merkin. And the guy says ‘what do you think?’ I said ‘um, fine?’”

Unfortunately, it wasn’t just his own embarrassment that James had to deal with. The people who had been cast for the films weren’t actors, but real athletes. And they hadn’t been told that they were going to be naked until about a day before the shoot.

Halfway through shooting the first scene, the Ukrainian powerlifter starring in it quit, saying it was degrading. James could sympathise. “He wore a pair of silk tights cupping his balls into a little pouch,” he remembers, “and he had a naked woman (except for the merkin), sitting on his crotch.”

Just hours into his directing career, James was facing the nightmare of a walk-out. He still remembers how he talked the powerlifter round. “I said ‘I’m not hiring you to be naked. I’m hiring you to put in a fantastic performance to entertain people, make them laugh. I’m hiring you to make this amazing film and the fact that you’re naked is just a facet of allowing you to do that. You will never be remembered for being naked.’ And he isn’t. He’s remembered for being fantastic. I don’t think any of his mates are laughing at him because he’s naked. They’re laughing because he’s got a woman on his cock. And how great’s that? Nobody knows he was having to go on stage with his balls in a silk pouch.” … Until now. Oops.

After that close call, James had to make sure none of the other athletes were going to walk out too, because they certainly had justification to. “If the weightlifter had his dignity robbed then the judo guy’s properly got his dignity robbed,” says James. “I was expecting him to wear a strap-on cock.

“I was shitting myself saying to this guy ‘we’re bringing out this prosthetic penis.’ He took the prosthetic penis, put it on his head and said ‘can I have a picture taken with it?’ At that stage I knew it was OK.

“If you play through the judo for about three frames when he goes onto his back you do see the strap-on cock fall onto his chest – it was a very proud moment.”

"Copious stealing" 

If getting the cast members to comply was a hard job for James on his first shoot, all the actual shooting must have been quite a challenge, especially as he’d never directed a film before, but he dealt with it pretty well.

“As a first-time director it was comparatively easy,” he says “because I’m quite good at being anal about detail. I just looked at Olympic footage and [copied] exactly every single camera angle they’ve used in Olympic weightlifting [or gymnastics, or judo]. Just copiously stealing the Olympic style. The directors of the 2000 Sydney Games are the ones who should actually have the Gold for the Trojan condoms campaign.”

He means the Gold Lion the films won at Cannes in 2004 – an amazing achievement for someone who’s never directed before, even if he is modest about it. He’d hit the ground running it seems. And it wasn’t just critical acclaim he received. The films did phenomenally well with the public, getting shared around the world. The figures are difficult to be precise about (this predated YouTube by three years), but James is confident that it’s one of the top ten most successful commercially made virals of all time.

Reaping the benefits

That was his career sorted then. “Since then I’ve never stopped working as a director,” he’s happy to say. James signed to Outsider and has never looked back. But despite all his acclaim, he still had a lot to learn.

His second shoot was just as daunting as the first, except this time he didn’t have an existing film to copy. All he had to do was direct a scene where a mum and son walk into a newsagent’s and buy something. “Now I could do it with my eyes closed,” he says. “I can’t even imagine why it was so difficult because I know it so instinctively, but I couldn’t work out how. I remember literally getting a headache.”

With his latest viral video for Samsung getting shared at an impressive rate, James has forged a coherent career for himself that can be traced back to that first crucial job that taught him so much.

He thinks himself very lucky for landing that job and maintains that, while his background as a creative helps him understand the industry better, luck is the most important factor in becoming a director. “If you set your goal to become a director from 18 I think it’s really fucking difficult,” he says. “There are many people out there with more talent than I have who haven’t been in the right place at the right time. It’s chance encounters and making the most of it.” His final word of advice? “When someone puts something in front of you, just say yes.”

Unsigned: Abbie Stephens

September 2, 2013 / Signed/Unsigned

By The Beak Street Bugle

Prepare your eyes for a banquet.

Since graduating in 2009 from Central Saint Martins with a First class BA in Graphic Design, East London-based Abbie Stephens has been slinging her directorial gun for all sorts of people. She’s made films for Vice Magazine,, MTV, Nike, Playstation and The Discovery Channel, experimenting with madcap animation and motion graphics techniques alongside live action. She’s also worked on some interesting music videos along the way.

Her graphical training shines through her films, each of which has a strong aesthetic and a distinct vibe.

Her films have repeatedly made it into the hallowed halls of the Vimeo Staff Picks channel – a great place to go if you want your faith in quality filmmaking bolstered – and with some respectable award nominations to her name, it’s only a matter of time before she starts picking up gongs.

Watch some of her work here: