ADCAN: The Awards Show with a Conscience

April 29, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

The initiative that’s turning the ambitious advertising industry into an engine for good.

Brydon Gerus and Dan Heighes are optimists. Which is just as well, because they’ve undertaken something huge. The pair work at TBWA\Media Arts Lab by day and are Co-Founders of something new and rather bold - the ADCAN Awards

“Put simply, ADCAN is a creative platform for good,” explains Brydon. It’s a simple concept: a free-to-enter competition in which aspiring filmmakers enter 30-second ads they’ve created for one of the initiative’s selected charities, who have each set a brief. This year the charities are Open Cinema, Engineers Without Borders UK and Learning Through Landscapes.

The films will be judged by industry-leading production companies Nexus, Partizan and Rattling Stick and a winner for each brief will be announced at an award ceremony packed full of industry figures for the young directors to rub shoulders with.

Yes, there will be an award show, but winners and shortlisted filmmakers will get something more useful than a trophy to put on their shelf. They also get exclusive access to seminars, workshops and industry professionals to further sharpen their talents.

ADCAN is built on an ‘everyone’s a winner’ kind of framework, based on some problems Brydon and Dan noticed having worked in the ad industry. The first is that good causes and charities are always desperate for more exposure. With limited funds and lofty ambitions, communicating with the public effectively is vital to improving the world.

There are 180,000 charities registered in England and Wales alone, and how many of those have commercials or online videos that you actually see? While Oxfam, Greenpeace, Cancer Research UK and other heavy-hitters get onto our screens, there are a multitude of good causes out there that could never dream of being able to afford a film to help them raise awareness.

Secondly, there are hordes of young filmmakers out there franticly trying to break into creative careers in advertising. But Directors need to build a good reel before anyone will give them a chance. “Ours is an extraordinarily difficult industry to enter, and for upcoming filmmakers even more so,” says Brydon, who was lucky enough to win an award as an aspiring Director himself a couple of years ago. He hopes ADCAN will “provide upcoming creative talent a platform to break into the industry and be nurtured by top talent.”

The third part of the puzzle comes from the insatiable appetite the industry has for finding the best new talent. Production companies are constantly on the look out for new names to keep their rosters fresh, but where should they start in the vast sea of aspiring filmmakers? ADCAN helps them find Directors that have proven they can communicate a message in 30-seconds – a skill that many don’t get the chance to demonstrate.

Serving as the cure to these three ills, ADCAN hopes to encourage a seismic shift in charity advertising. But there’s an additional problem that they want to address. As members of the advertising industry, Brydon and Dan don’t like the image problem their business has earned as a callous, amoral engine of consumerism (i.e. Bill Hicks syndrome).

“Advertising doesn’t have the best reputation,” admits Dan, “yet it’s full of hugely talented and generous people. The two of us wanted to change this perception, whilst doing some good. ADCAN stands for ‘advertising can’ – it’s a platform for good.”

One source of conflict in ADCAN’s founders is that in trying to prove the advertising industry can be good, they have to host an award ceremony – not the most sympathetic kind of event, as they recognise. “The reality is that agencies and Creatives spend a disproportionate amount of time, resource and money entering and attending award shows,” admits Brydon, “where the brightest brains habitually gather to kill large portions of those brain cells in exchange for bookshelf hardware.”

So yes, there will be an award ceremony – it’s necessary to attract the right level of talent – but they stress that it must be about more than trophies and after parties. “We’re an initiative and a community beyond [the awards],” says Dan, “and that’s a key aspect that sets ADCAN apart.”

Changing perceptions for the better is a strand that runs through this whole project. One is the perception that charity ads are all miserable orgies of grief – images of poor African children with distended bellies and flies in their eyes begging us to reach for our wallets. As guilty as that makes us feel, it’s not always the best way to help raise funds for the good work the charities do.

ADCAN wants to fight this tired stereotype – one he doesn’t see as accurate. “The most exciting thing we can do as human beings is make a difference in our short time on earth,” says Brydon. “This is why some of the most interesting creative work has been done for good causes. However, the overall perception and majority of advertising is overwhelmingly depressing, sad and ineffective.”

There’s another misconception ADCAN wants to tear down too – that charity ads are for established Directors and Creatives who have the time to pour into them. Brydon and Dan want to see young people recognise the potential charities and good causes pose for young Directors wanting to build their reels. “Anyone can shoot an arty music video, a quirky spec spot for toothpaste and a short film that’s not that short,” says Brydon. “Creating a piece of communication for a real client that moves, touches and inspires people in 30 seconds is an insanely important skill to have.”

It may sound cynical, but ADCAN doesn’t rely on anyone donating their time on a purely volunteer basis. Everyone gets something from it. The charities get a free ad, the Directors get training, experience and exposure and the advertising industry gets access to exciting new talent.

In the past, people may have seen this sort of work as an altruistic duty, but Dan doesn’t think it has to be. “In the past people have seen charities as something they should do rather than an opportunity,” he says. “And we know there’s certainly a large number of people who want to direct, so by focusing the charities with a real brief and giving the Directors creative freedom they have a true opportunity to showcase themselves and create some exciting work, which will hopefully go a long way to changing people’s perceptions.”

If the talent is out there to make the most of that, ADCAN can provide a lot of support. As well as the aforementioned production companies, they’ve got post-production house The Mill on board, Work for editing support, Wave for help with sound design, Arri Media on cameras and creative firebrands Dave Trott, Mark Denton and Ben Kay helping out too, it’s an all-star programme. Brydon was surprised that, while it’s been a long process setting ADCAN up, he says getting those big names signed up “has been by far the easiest part of the entire process.” More proof that even the citizens of Adland have hearts.

The free-to-enter competition is now open and ADCAN will be accepting film submissions until 30 June 2014. Brydon and Dan have been amazed at the response it’s had so far, with interest from around the world. While entries are only open to UK residents this year, it proves there’s space for this thing to go global.

Brydon is encouraged it’s been so popular from the start. “I believe it’s because at the end of the day smart people simply want to create things,” he says, “and be part of genuine and honest systems that contribute toward pushing the human race forward, in whatever container that may be.”


Update: After much consideration ADCAN have decided to extend the entry deadline to midnight, Monday 14 July.

Henry Vs. Trott: The Big Bravery Debate

April 25, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Industry luminaries Steve Henry and Dave Trott ponder the bravery drought in advertising.

The concept of bravery has repeatedly been rearing its head of late when people complain about the advertising industry, so when we saw a panel at Advertising Week Europe featuring creative giants David Droga (who chaired the panel), Sir John Hegarty, Steve Henry and Dave Trott, we couldn’t resist attending to try to get to the bottom of why.

What did the panel draw as its conclusion? Well, it didn’t, really. Each luminary from the panel had a different vision of what bravery is, who exactly should be brave and how they should go about it. One thing they did seem to agree on though is that bravery is vital to great advertising.

After the panel we caught up with Steve Henry and Dave Trott to see if any enlightenment could be distilled from the seminar.

One thing Steve was sure of was that bravery in the industry is waning. He’s noticed a rise in agencies conceding, telling Clients only what they want to hear. “Increasingly it’s getting like that,” he says, “which is a disaster for the industry because we’re losing the notion of bravery and risk-taking and pushing for stuff.”

Drawing parallels with the world of finance, Steve points out that risk is vital to making anything special. “They say we need to take a risk to do anything interesting,” he says. “If you’re going to invest your money with a financial investor you’ve got to take a risk. Otherwise you’re going to get two per cent and they’re going to say I ‘I could have stuck it in a building society for that, so why am I paying you?’ You have to understand and manage risk.”

In Steve’s talk he proposed that the biggest challenge facing bravery in the industry is the bloated approval process that has become the norm. “The approval process is a disaster,” he told us after the talk. “Creatives are coming up with ideas and then there are committees of people sitting around trying to work out what’s wrong with the idea. It’s just going to kill everything, knock the edges off everything and then research knocks the edges off and you end up with shit.”

As Sir John made clear in his piece on the subject that Clients are the ones who need to be brave. It’s their brand so they’re the ones who suffer if a campaign fails. That noted, Steve believes it’s an agency’s role to instil that bravery. “You need principles and passion that you believe in,” he says, “[principles] that you persuade Clients to love. Agencies too easily blame Clients and actually agencies need to have bravery, principles, integrity, passion and then Clients will buy into that and trust these guys.”

Which brings us on to Dave Trott’s viewpoint. It’s somewhere between the other two – that it’s easy for Creatives to be risky. The hard part is convincing clients to buy that risky idea. That’s way Dave says brave ideas need brave Account Managers to sell them.

“The trouble at the moment is there aren’t any Suits that are any good at making it happen,” says Dave. “Clients don’t want bravery. Suits don’t want it. Planners certainly don’t want it.” The result, he proposes, is that only the Creatives want a brave idea and when they’re surrounded by people trying to kill that bravery, they can’t be bothered. “It’s too much work,” he says.

If we’re agreed that the industry needs more bravery, “it has to start with the Suits,” he says. “The Suits have to be able to sell it to Clients and the Suits have to be able to convince the Creatives that they can sell it to the Clients. Once that exists then of course the Creatives can be brave. Coming up with ideas is the easy bit, but Creatives can’t sell them.”

Dave reminisces about a time when brave Account Managers faught on the front lines for Creatives. “It was the Account Man’s job to make the Clients braver,” he says. “They were really proud that they would educate and train a Client; explain why he needed great advertising.

“Nowadays they just say ‘what does the Client want?’ And then brief the Creatives to do that. And then blame the Client.

"Well it’s not the Client’s fault. It’s like a dog. If you ask a do what it want it wants to tear the sofa to bits. Someone has to train the dog. That’s the Account Men’s job.”

That’s not to say Dave’s blaming the Client. “Why should a Client buy bravery,” he asks. “It’s dangerous. It’s risky for him. It’s not what everyone else is doing. Clients haven’t been trained in advertising. They’ve been trained in marketing.  But they think advertising is a sub-set of marketing. No it isn’t.”

Advertising is about standing out from your competitors, he stresses, and good Account Managers need to explain the value of the risk the Creatives want the Client to take in order to stand out. Dave is frustrated with the obvious point that, as he sees it, nobody understands. “Marketing is the right answer,” he says “and nobody gets: the right answer is the wrong answer because everybody’s got the right answer. So everything looks the same.”

Steve and Dave don’t precisely agree. They wouldn’t be great Creatives if they all said the same thing. And of course, it’s all conjecture. But it’s not blind conjecture. The dirth of bravery is a frustration at the heart of the advertising industry and everyone’s got an opinion. Thankfully, here are some pretty provocative ones, but will anyone take their advice to heart? We expect the Account Managers will have something to say about this.

Signed: Temujin Doran

April 24, 2014 / Signed/Unsigned

By The Beak Street Bugle

Not many branded content directors have shot in both the Arctic and Antarctic.

A self-shooting director, adept at making limited resources go a long way, Temujin Doran’s passion for film began while he was working as a projectionist at Screen on the Green in Islington, London.

He honed his craft making short films in his spare time, even editing some of them in the projection booth. He also gained some rather unique experience serving as an expedition filmmaker to both the Arctic and Antarctic. Pretty cool, right?

His reel has earned him a smattering of praise already, including nominations for two Vimeo awards, not to mention work for clients including Land Rover, Intel, Nokia and Lego.

Now signed to content specialists Indy8, we look forward to seeing more of his filmmaking littering our social media feeds.

Watch some his work here:

Under the Influence: Graham Rose

April 23, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

What inspires the Director behind so many classic commercials?

Everyone knows Graham Rose’s commercials. Having started his career as a Creative at in what many would consider the glory days of advertising, he moved on to direct some of the most legendary ads this country has ever seen, from Hamlet Photo Booth to Heineken Extreme Prejudice. And for many years he was one of the names above the door of legendary production company Rose Hackney Barber.

Decades on he’s still in the ad directing game, represented by Believe Media and still making people chuckle. We wanted to know what inspires him in his work to this day, so we asked him to name five of his biggest inspirations.

“I’ve had plenty of heroes over the years and I’m not sure to what degree they’ve influenced my work,” says Graham, “but here’s a few memories of exceptional people that stand above the rest. It’s hard to define why but I think they all shed a highly individual perspective on the human condition and uncover truths from our dark side. I like that stuff.”


Eric Morecombe

“I grew up in the sixties and along with millions of other TV viewers I fell instantly under the spell of the greatest TV comedy duo Morecombe and Wise. The brilliant Eddie Braben had written a sketch that became the defining moment of their career and British comedy – a ‘special’ arrangement of Grieg’s Piano Concerto conducted by André Previn featuring Eric Morecombe on the piano.

The entire 12-minute sketch is one single ‘live’ take and is a virtuoso performance by Eric, Ernie and a superbly straight-faced Mr. André Preview. Eric, in serious concert pianist mode, presents Previn, in front of his orchestra, with the sheet music...

Eric: ‘Now I do hope sir that you understand all these squiggly lines’
Previn: ‘Yes, I think so, yes’

Eric: ‘Oh good, because the reason I ask is, the second movement is very important to me. You see in the second movement...not too heavy on the banjos.’

Here’s a piece from one of the unforgettable bedroom sketches.

Ernie’s in bed knocking out another play ‘what he wrote’ and Eric is next to him reading a comic.
Ernie: ‘Look if you’re sitting in a draft why don’t you close the curtains?’

Eric gets out of bed, and walks over to the curtains just as an ambulance races by with the sirens wailing.

Eric: (Looking out) ‘He’s not going to sell much ice cream going at that speed, is he?’

That’s genius. For years after I used to try and get Ronnie Holbrook, my producer, to get me a special hotel room number on location shoots so that I could come back at the end of the day, waggle my imaginary glasses up and down at the receptionist and say ‘234 please, little Ern’. Oh how we laughed in Almeria. Well I did.”


Dr. Strangelove

“Stanley Kubrick: a remarkable director and his black comedy on the sixties ‘Cold War’ is still a masterpiece for many reasons. It was made soon after the Cuban Missile Crisis, a confrontation between Russia and the US over Soviet missile sites, blatantly satirizing the very real fear of nuclear war that existed then. Its impact lies in the way Kubrick handles crisis with comedy.

It stayed with me for a long time and I suppose was part inspiration behind the way I approached my own nightmare-comedy ‘mRs mEiTLemIeHr’. We built and shot a lot of my film at Shepperton Studios – it felt inspiring to know that Kubrick had created Dr. Srangelove along with his sci-fi masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey on those same stages.

Kubrick had great vision. The design, lighting and mood of Dr. Strangelove runs contrary to it being a comedy. It looks and feels like a suspense drama and the characters are cleverly played on a fine line between dark reality and sharp satire. Its razor-sharp humour intensifies the madness of the situation. Kubrick’s casting in this film is superlative.

The jewel in the crown of this movie is Kubrick’s casting of the brilliant Peter Sellers, playing multiple roles as President Merkin Muffley, Group Captain Mandrake and the ex-Nazi scientist Dr. Strangelove. Five stars for the Pentagon War Room set design by Bond movie production designer Ken Adam and the atmospheric black-and-white cinematography design by Gilbert Taylor, although I suspect Kubrick had more than a hand in it.”

Peter Sellers

“This guy was in a league of his own. The performance by Peter Sellers in the final scenes of Dr. Strangelove as President Muffley’s scientific advisor, fighting to control his Nazi arm is a rare and unforgettable cinematic gem. For me, his comedic brilliance never diminishes no matter how many times I watch him. Sellers apparently improvised his uncontrollable Nazi arm. The final moments of the film are Seller’s legacy.

Dr. Strangelove tries to deliver a solution to the aftermath of nuclear war whilst struggling his arm as it throws random Nazi salutes and tries to strangle him. His sense of physical comedy combined with his ability to transform himself into unique character creations was unmatched.

Collaborating with Blake Edwards, the creation of Inspector Clouseau is another Sellers masterpiece of character and comedic accident-prone mistiming. The Pink Panther movies still hold nuggets of pure Sellers gold, each demonstrating how a simple idea can build comedy tension and take us to an unexpected, hilarious punch line. One of my favourite Clouseau scenes is from The Return Of The Pink Panther.

The scene starts with Clouseau having been demoted to walking the beat in Paris. He turns a corner outside a bank and interrogates a blind accordion player about the legalities of playing in a public place without a ‘leesance’ while the bank is being robbed behind his back.
The bank manager runs out, pulls a gun to take aim at the escaping thieves when Clouseau clobbers him across the back of his head with his stick.

Watch the video above right through to the dialogue pay-off with Herbert Lom, Clouseau’s Chief of Police.”


Joe Sedelmaier

“Revolutionaries are few and far between in the advertising industry and no matter how ‘creative’ and ‘original’ the industry likes to think of itself it still finds it hard to buck trends, throw out the rule book and start again. However, when Joe Sedelmaier came along comedy ads changed forever.

If you’ve not heard of JS check out his stuff. He was the master practitioner of his own unique ad revolution.
You wont find cool, young aspirational trendies, lovely mums or ‘real but nice’ slice-of-life casting in Joe’s ads.

‘WHERE’S THE BEEF??’ bellows a tiny, grisly eighty-year-old lady at burger joint servers in search of the beef. This old girl kicks the crap out of McDonalds in the hilarious Wendy’s burger campaign of 1984.

In a Southern Airlines spot for ‘one class’ travel, an unsuspecting businessman is delighted to find himself in the middle of a Roman Emperor-style champagne orgy as he boards an internal US flight until the snotty stewardess reads his ticket and tells him; ‘Second cabin please’. He walks through a curtain and is confronted by a cattle truck-style cabin filled with shivering Russian peasants and chickens.
Sedelmaier’s immaculately positioned wide-angle lens and off-the-scale casting became the house style for the US award winning FedEx campaign.

If I had to award the greatest campaign of all time it would be tough choice between FedEx and Hamlet Cigars. Watching John Moschitta’s breathtaking performance in the fast talking man spot it’s hard to believe the film’s not speeded up. My favorite lines from the spot:

Secretary: ‘There’s a Mr Schnalliver to see you’
Boss: ‘Tell him to wait fifteen seconds’
Secretary: ‘Can you wait fifteen seconds?’
Businessman: ‘I’ll wait fifteen seconds’

My favourite spot from this campaign shows a day in a lifetime of disappointments of a depressed, downtrodden boss. My description will not do it justice, you’ll have to watch it.”


Life of Brian

“The funniest film of all time. British comedy reached its zenith when the Pythons created this ball-bustingly brilliant religious satire about Brian Cohen, who was unfortunate enough to be born on the same day and next door to Jesus Christ and is subsequently mistaken for the Messiah!

Unsurpassed since 1979, there’s not an unfunny moment in the whole film. God bless George Harrison for putting up the money to make it.

Brian is at his wits’ end, chased by a mob convinced he is the Messiah.
Mob Leader: ‘HAIL MESSIAH’
Brian: ‘I’m not the Messiah’
Mob Leader: ‘I say you are Lord, I should know I’ve followed a few’
Brian: ‘Please listen I’m NOT the Messiah...Honestly’
Woman: ‘Only the true Messiah denies his divinity’
Brian: ‘WHAT! Oh Alright I am the messiah’
Brian: ‘Now FUCK OFF’
Mob Leader:How shall we fuck off O Lord?’

This genius comedy stands the ‘laugh-out-loud’ test of time. Who can’t laugh at the mention of the Bigus Dickus scene, the ‘Welease Wodger’ scene, ‘He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy’ scene, the ‘We’re the fucking Judean People’s Front’ scene, the ‘Blessed are the Cheese makers’ scene, ‘What have the Romans ever done for us’ scene and finally the most cheerfully upbeat crucifixion ever filmed.

Altogether now... ‘Always look on the bright side of life...whistle, whistle, whistle...’"

Translating The Simpsons

April 11, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

French animation legend Sylvain Chomet tells the story of his unexpected guest spot on The Simpsons.

A few weeks ago, two sides of the animation diaspora collided in an unexpected way – a couch gag for mainstream staple The Simpsons directed by French art-house animation director Sylvain Chomet. A beautiful example of 2D animation, the introduction to the hit sitcom has been causing a stir online ever since it hit screens and brought an unfamiliar aesthetic to the beloved cartoon.

Now the production company behind the film, Th1ng, have made a behind-the-scenes video revealing the painstaking process behind it. Given the popularity of John Lewis’ 2D adventures at Christmas last year, it seems the craft of hand animation still hold the mystique it always did.

We asked Sylvain how this strange marriage between him and the famous yellow family came about.

Sylvain’s relationship with The Simpsons has a long history. “I knew The Simpsons since the beginning,” he says. “Matt Groening and I came up the same way, from short film.” While Sylvain was taking his short film The Old Lady and the Pigeon around the world on the festival circuit, Matt was doing the same with his earliest incarnation of The Simpsons – a prototype vastly different from the family we know and love today.

The Frenchman notes that his career and that of the The Simpsons’ creator have followed a similar trajectory, from authored short film, through to TV and film. Although it’s fair to say Matt’s success has been a little more mass-market than Sylvain’s.

While he was working on his 2010 feature film The Illusionist at a studio in Scotland, Sylvain met Harry Shearer, the voice of Mr Burns, among many other characters in the show. Harry said he was a huge fan of The Triplets of Belleville and asked what his next film is.

It could be coincidence, but Sylvain next returned to France to receive a surprise from his yellow American friends. “Someone asked me how it feels to be in The Simpsons,” he recalls. “I said ‘what are you talking about?’” It turns out The Simpsons had made a spoof of the French animator’s most recognisable work – The Triplets of Belleville – they called it The Brothers of Beauville. Sylvain was very flattered. It was quite funny, he thought.

Recently he got the chance to return the homage The Simpsons had given him when the team called him asking if he’d like to direct a special couch gag for the beginning of an episode. They’d been doing this for a few years with other famous artists and directors including Banksy, Guillermo del Torro and Bill Plympton so it was an honour to be asked.

Of course he agreed. While it wasn’t a commercial project, Sylvain wanted to produce it through Th1ng. He contacted Executive Producer Dominic Buttimore, who he’s worked with for over 25 years, to ask for his collaboration. “It was going to be our 50th birthday,” he says, “so as a nice present to him, we were going to do The Simpsons.”

“We set up a call,” says Dominic. “I went over to where Sylvain lives in the Ardèche in France. Sylvain spent the weekend thinking up an idea and then we had a call to chat with [Executive Series Producer] Al Jean.”

Sylvain asked what they wanted for the couch gag. ‘Do whatever you want’ came the reply. It was very freeing, admits the director, but also very scary. Having worked in commercials, having a Client tell him something like this was a shock.

The idea flowed easily. Confident that they chose him for his unique style, Sylvain took a straightforward approach. “I’m French, I’m in France. I’m going to do the French version of The Simpsons in my style,” he decided.

Acknowledging that The Simpsons is built upon caricatures and stereotypes, Sylvain overloaded his couch scene with French clichés – snails, an accordion, froi gras. An official portrait of French president Francois Hollande hangs on the wall, as does a picture of a different boat to the familiar picture – a sinking SS France. “There are a lot of little messages like that,” says Sylvain, “because it’s not going very well in France and everybody is depressed. So I said ‘let’s have fun with that’ to show we still have a sense of humour.”

“It went really fast,” he says. “I don’t think I even made sketches and sketches. I just drew them and they just appeared to me like that.”

He passed the terrifying freedom he was given on to his team of animators at Th1ng. Having devised model sheets for the characters and drawn the backdrop he passed it on to trusted hands. “I said ‘enjoy yourself and have fun,’” says Sylvain. “It’s very unusual and it’s good for them because if you do commercials you have to rework things and take the advice from everybody into account. It’s pure animation.”

Sylvain felt comfortable giving his team at Th1ng this freedom because of the level of trust he has for people like Dominic and Lead Animator Neil Boyle. “At one point I was almost going to stop animation,” he admits. With such a unique style, it was difficult to find a team who could do it for him without too much supervision. “But because of Dominic and Th1ng I realised I can do my own projects and not be concerned with the technique. I just go with the creative stuff and trust the people who are animating it, which is brilliant.”

The only problem Sylvain recalls was to do with reconciling his style with that of Matt and The Simpsons’ animators. Sylvain’s characters don’t have round eyes like the Simpsons, so he had trouble making them recognisable while retaining his aesthetic. His solution was to give them all glasses – a bit of lateral thinking that makes a big difference.

In the weeks since the episode with the gag aired it has seen massive popularity on YouTube, for which Sylvain is grateful. At the time of writing it’s had about 5.5 million views and still rising. He and Dominic agree that this is partially because proper 2D animation is a rare joy to see these days, with a level of visible craft that still impresses.

“The internet is coming of age,” says Dominic. “Once upon a time it was a place you’d put up cheap things that were funny. That’s still an element of it – a cheap, funny gag like your cat getting stoned or whatever it might be, can still work – but there’s a need for seeing quality stuff online. It cuts through because so much stuff is not that great.”

Martino Gamper & Haim Steinbach

April 10, 2014 / Arts and Culture

By Don Grant

Don Grant reviews a pair of art exhibitions in disguise as IKEA product displays, or is it the other way around?

Martino Gamper: design is a state of mind &
Haim Steinbach: once again the world is flat
Serpentine Galleries
Until 21 April 2014
Admission free

Back in the late 1980s, posters advertising the V&A used the coy slogan ‘an ace caff with quite a nice museum attached’. The new Sackler Gallery has a ‘caff ’ called The Magazine, in deference to the old gunpowder store from the Napoleonic Wars, to which it is attached. You can get away with anything, it seems, if you chant the mantra ‘traditional meets the modern’, a bit like parking a Lamborghini Veneno in the courtyard of a Palladian villa in Veneto.

So here we have a wannabe rural villa in the neoclassical style in Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park with one of those cheap stackable plastic chairs you find in pub gardens parked alongside. But, let’s venture inside. This is an exhibition, curated by Gamper, about shelving - mostly shelving with objects on them.

Some shelves have no objects on them and they are none the worse for that; designs by Alvar Aalto, Franco Albini and Ettore Sottsass of the Memphis Group, and Gamper’s own, could easily be stand-alone pieces, although Vico Magistretti’s beechwood Nuvola Rossa contains objects selected and curated by Andrew Stafford, including indicators from an Austin A30, some string found at Brick Lane market in 1985 and a door release switch found amongst the demolished ruins of James Turrell’s 1999 Cornwall eclipse inspired installation, The Elliptic Eclipse. And so on. Wire whisks, wooden spoons, Ron Arad’s ping-pong paddle, a heater knob from a Peugeot 205, a cigar mould, a bell-shaped knitting needle gauge, yellow packing foam and, on an off-the-shelf IKEA shelving unit, a display bristling with tools.

There were über-trendy, goth attendants at every turn, as it would have been only too easy to trouser a bicycle light bracket found in London in the late 1990s or a zinc die-cast model of the Eiffel Tower. Somehow my tendency to purloin, liberate or simply steal an object was dampened by a lack of desire to own virtually any of them, apart from a few books and records collected by Simon Prosser to fill Dieter Rams’s natural anodised aluminium, powder-coated, pre-treated, mild steel 606 Universal Shelving System. A collection of bricks adorning Andrea Branzi’s laminated wood, ash wood, and crystal Gritti Bookcase was collected by Maki Suzaki from Carl Andre’s assistant in New York and brought back in his luggage, instead of the 36kg of reference books he had purchased at Strand Book Store on Broadway. Without a trace of irony, he states in the catalogue, ‘ This is why to me, they are not bricks, but books I have not read yet.’

I entered another, smaller gallery and liked quite a few of the objects on display, even to the point of pocketing one, but I then realised I had wandered into the shop.

Across the bridge that spans the short distance between the two galleries is, according to their web-site, ‘a theatre that interweaves history, art and adventure’. In the original gallery, and running concurrently with Gamper’s show, Haim Steinbach was displaying, amongst other things, objects on shelves. Also utilising everyday objects, Steinbach’s interest is in the fundamental practise of collecting by exploring the placing of objects on shelves. Déjà-vu, or what?

He abandoned Minimalist painting in the seventies, some pleasing examples of which are on display, and started to create works using linoleum. He also invited the public to lend their salt and pepper shakers to be displayed within his installation of modular building systems, i.e, shelves. Somewhat portentously, his participatory gesture reactivated the salt and pepper shakers within a new context and made the connection between the private and public sphere. He had also borrowed some perfectly nice Victorian doll’s houses from the V&A Museum of Childhood and displayed them high up in the gallery, out of reach, and almost out of sight. With a last glance at an Ajax cleaning can on a wood and plastic shelf, and a kitsch Little Orphan Annie plaster figurine atop another shelf made of Spiderman masks, I left and felt I had shortened my own shelf-life by a couple of hours.

Originally published in Kensington and Chelsea Today.

High Five: April

April 9, 2014 / High Five

By Alex Reeves

Keep your cross-platform strategizing. Good video ads like these do the job on any screen.

As we know, the advertising industry watches a lot of YouTube videos. But it’s important to remember we’re not the general public. For the most part, people still watch a lot of TV – an average of about four hours a day. And the brilliant thing about our five favourite ads this month is that they work on any screen. That’s good video content. They’ll make you look up from your tea-making if you’re in front of the telly and you’ll want to share a link to Twitter if you’re watching on your phone on the way to work.

Brand: Channel 4
Title: Grand National
Production Company: 4Creative
Director: Keith McCarthy
Production Company Producer: Tabby Harris
Director of Photography: Tat Radcliffe
Ad Agency: 4Creative
Creative Directors: John Allison, Chris Bovill
Editing Company: Stitch
Editor: Tim Hardy
Post Production Company: MPC

Channel 4 – Grand National

Here’s Channel 4 in their element, repackaging an unfashionable sporting event to pump it full of youth, excitement and punk rock. By going back to the origins of the steeplechase in 18th-century Ireland, they’ve unearthed exactly the right kind of story and told it with finesse. Keith McCarthy’s stylish direction squeezes every drop of testosterone out of it and with Brooklyn punks Cerebral Ballzy soundtracking the spot, it makes the race look almost worth setting aside any animal rights concerns for.


Brand: Cravendale
Title: Barry the Biscuit Boy
Production Company: Blinkink
Directors: Andrew Thomas Huang, Joseph Mann
Production Company Producer: Benjamin Lole
Director of Photography: Matt Day
Ad Agency: Wieden + Kennedy London
Creative Director: Sam Heath
Art Director: Ben Shaffery
Copywriter: Max Batten
Agency Producer:  Lou Hake
Editor: Simone Ghilardotti
Music Company: Tin Drum
Sound Company: Wave

Cravendale – Barry the Biscuit Boy

Kids called Barry in playgrounds across the country will now have to suffer this opening line. Like most things Wieden + Kennedy London put out these days, it’s heaps of fun. Pooling the talents of rising animation stars Andrew Thomas Huang and Joseph Mann to direct the live-action, stop-motion puppetry has paid off, ending in a film that delights and amuses. And with that screwball soundtrack/voiceover to set it off, this one’s sure to stick in your mind.


Brand: Save The Children
Title: Most Shocking Second a Day Video
Production Company: Unit9
Director: Martin Stirling
Production Company Producers: Elliott Tagg, Geoff Morgan, Irene Lobo
Director of Photography: Jacob Proud
Ad Agency: Don’t Panic London
Editor: Alex Burt
Sound Company: Factory
Post Production Company: Smoke & Mirrors

Save The Children – Most Shocking Second a Day Video

In an age where it only takes a matter of hours for an agency to spoof the latest viral video, it’s surprising that no brand (we can think of) has done one of these second a day videos yet. It’s fortunate this was harnessed for a worthy cause. Literally bringing the Syrian crisis home, it’s a harrowing piece of filmmaking. Let’s hope it does its job and saves lives.


Brand: Vodafone
Title: The Call
Production Company: Academy
Director: Marcus Söderlund
Production Company Producer: Medb Riordan
Director of Photography: Barry Ackroyd
Ad Agency: Grey London
Creative Directors: Vicki Maguire, Jonathan Marlow
Agency Producers: Ange Eleini, Joe Arojojoye
Editing Company: Trim
Editor: Tom Lindsay
Music Company: Manners McDade
Sound Company: 750mph
Post Production Company: Electric Theatre Company

Vodafone – The Call

This ad functions on the basis of the argument: “if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.” And with a solid fact to back it up, it seems like a good strategy. Everyone respects the emergency services, no matter their age, class or political standpoint, so the idea fits well with the broad audience Vodafone need to engage. Directed by a lesser helmsman than Marcus Söderlund, this script could easily have fallen flat, but of course it doesn’t. It’s executed with simplicity and flair.


Brand: Weetabix
Title: Egg
Production Company: Outsider
Director: Chris Balmond
Ad Agency: Bartle Bogle Hegarty
Creative Director: Dominic Goldman
Creatives: Gary McCreadie, Wes Hawes
Agency Producer: Glann Paton
Editing Company: Stitch
Editor: Leo King
Sound Company: 750mph

Weetabix - The Egg

This is a challenging product to advertise. A protein-laced liquid breakfast is an unconventional start to the day, but undeniably very convenient for some people. In a bold move by BBH, they’ve decided to face this oddness head-on in this series of ads, comparing it to other, less convenient odd breakfasts. With Chris Balmond directing and Peter Serafinowicz delivering the deadpan voiceover, it has a uniquely British tone to it. It’ll ring true with anyone who’s ever traded a good breakfast in for another press of their beloved snooze button.

Are Brands the Broadcasters of Tomorrow?

April 7, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Advertising Week Europe raised many questions about branded video content. Here’s our attempt to summarise them.

Listening to the whole gamut of experts Advertising Week Europe had to offer, there’s no doubt YouTube’s power has reached a zenith in 2014. Self-made video stars were held up as shining examples of brand building throughout the four-day conference, and there was a pervading sense that when it comes to engaging audiences, enterprising teenagers in their bedrooms are putting brands to shame.

But that looks set to change. One theme that repeatedly found its way into the seminars and panel discussions was that with the audience opportunities YouTube presents, there is a valuable opportunity for brands to become broadcasters in their own right.

As CONTENTed founder Moz Dee said in the digital media company’s ‘futurecasting’ address on Monday, brands will soon start to morph into media channels, creating and commissioning quality video content online that fits with with their brand values.

CONTENTed suggested if Guinness, for example, take this path, their channel won’t be called Guinness TV, but will be influenced by the values and ethics of the brand. They cited BT as a vanguard of the movement – a brand that until not long ago was about putting wires through people’s walls. Now they have BT Sport – a premium video station in its own right.

Clearly, this transition isn’t easy to make though. And speakers noted that if brands want to build themselves into media owners, they must be prepared to make sacrifices in the short term. Examples like industry poster children Red Bull and Nike show that building this can take years and in the short term it won’t pay off as much as TV advertising, but once the audiences are there, the payoff is worth it.

On Tuesday Christine Beardsell of ZenithOptimedia's Newcast division backed up this prediction, advocating a three-pronged strategy for brands, splitting their attentions between the familiar paid and earned media and adding in the relatively unfamiliar concept of owned media. Demonstrating how YouTube is perfect for this, she presented the options brands have here: to promote – recycling the brand’s video from elsewhere (as long as it’s appropriate), to produce – creating new ‘native’ content that feels at home on YouTube, or to partner – utilising the audiences and equity of established channels (those beloved YouTube stars again). She admitted that some brands just shouldn’t go there though, and so also offered a fourth ‘p’ – pass – as an option.

This sort of argument divided speakers throughout the week at BAFTA. While some heralded the death of mass media in favour of ‘my media’, the value of channels curating the best content undeniably still has its value.

What sort of video content works online in 2014 though? Among the many bases covered in the Future.Video panel discussion, the panel pointed out the value of more niche content, as is being pioneered by channels like Vice. They also rejected the common idea that TVCs don’t work online, citing the viral success of P&G’s heart-wrenching Winter Olympics ad - an example that demonstrates the successful combination of emotion and a slightly longer-form approach. Online advertising is growing up.

The panel agreed, brands should remember when creating this content is that the audience are your distributors now, so make your videos as shareable as possible – everyone wants to show that they’re human, funny, interesting people, and by enabling people to do this you can get your content in front of more eyeballs.

Naturally, marketers don’t just want more people thinking about their brands; they want harder results. But out of the many discussions, one idea seemed universal – YouTube is a great place to collect data. If you have millions of people watching your branded video then you have access to masses of information about those people.

As Dominique Delport of Havas Media noted in his discussion with Morgan Spurlock on Tuesday, the problem with these video content projects is scale. While a single TVC on a Saturday night can guarantee an audience of millions, working to get the same on YouTube can be a struggle. That is certainly an issue that will take some time to resolve, but the most promising result is that TV and YouTube will eventually co-exist harmoniously as different routes for advertising, each with their own merits.

YouTube is nine years old this year and the fact that the advertising industry is still giving it a lot of airtime at events like Advertising Week Europe shows that we’re still a fair way from mastering it.