The Diversity Summit

June 30, 2015 / Features

By Alex Reeves

How do we turn words into effective action creating a diverse industry?

“We can all feel very smug that we got up for a nine o’clock talk,” joked APA Chief Executive Steve Davies in his introduction to the APA and CFP-E’s Diversity Summit in Cannes last week. And it would be easy to criticise the event as a self-indulgent ego massage for people who make advertising for a living. But what’s harder, and more worthwhile, is to listen to the messages of the six speakers and work on translating them into tangible progress towards equality in the ad industry.

Undoubtedly, there is much progress to be made. As Steve pointed out, advertising is a business in which most people consider themselves liberal and without conscious prejudice, but funnily enough, most of them are still also white, middle class and male. Talking the talk is no longer enough. Action is needed.

Tom Knox

In that vein, Chairman of DLKW Lowe and IPA President Tom Knox took to the stage to discuss the importance of advertising as a force for good as well as for money: “the values as well as the value” of advertising, as he put it. Diversity is a large part of this.

People are worried about discussing these issues, he observed, because they are concerned about their companies looking bad. But honesty and transparency is the best way to start. Companies like Google have led the way by publishing their admittedly less than perfect employment diversity data and Tom insisted that the advertising industry should follow suit, if only to get a solid baseline on which it can build.

The current IPA census data shows that at the beginning of people’s advertising careers the gender split is neutral, but only about 25% of the most senior roles are taken by women. The Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) percentages are at about 13% across the IPA membership, which isn’t representative when you consider how many of those agencies are in London.

He revealed that the IPA would publish a league table on the gender splits and BAME percentages of agencies. They also hope to include some salary data, to reveal unfair pay gaps. “I was surprised by the degree to which this has caused a bit of a stir,” he said, but he insisted agencies must be brave.

He explained that it is not an exercise in shaming those that have the lowest number of women in creative roles or ethnic minorities employed etc., but of establishing a benchmark. We expect the same low levels of both to be shown across the industry, so there is no reason for any agency to be concerned about being poorer than the average.

Despite people’s worries, the IPA intends to go ahead with publishing these figures. Once they’re out there, targets can be made, he said. “We must move the dial up.”

Finally, Tom stressed that “this is not just do-gooding.” Employment diversity is vital to making sure the industry is relevant to diverse audiences. It is the only way to succeed as an industry.

Kat Gordon

Kat Gordon, founder of The 3% Conference focused on the small acts everyone can take to promote gender diversity in advertising. Considering the significant consumer power women have, she noted how unproductive it is that they make up such a small percentage of top advertising professionals. When she founded the conference, 3% was the percentage of US creative directors who were female.

“Advertising does not have a recruitment problem,” she said. The portfolio schools are graduating more young women than men. The problem is that they got lost along the way in their careers.

One of the fundamentals of her movement is a document called 50 Things – a list of small ‘microactions’ to move the industry towards diversity.  They are manageable actions that can help to change the culture of an agency to be more welcoming to women.

She also evangelised for the power of ‘manbassadors’ – men who support gender diversity by championing women from their privileged position. “The differences between the genders don’t need to be remedied,” she said. “They need to be celebrated and accommodated.” Engaging men is a big part of the 3% mission.

Kat was the first of the speakers to mention mentorship, which became a huge theme of the summit. She suggested that men in leadership positions are often reluctant to mentor women in less senior positions because they worry about how it would appear. “It seems unsavoury for an older man to invite a younger woman out for lunch.” This needs to change and it is the responsibility of successful men to mentor young women who have the talent to succeed. “You have to get over the fact that people might wink behind your backs,” she said.

Beyond that, an important method is to make successful women in the industry more visible in order to inspire people. “If you’re a female creative director I think it is your obligation to jury an award show,” said Kat. “We cannot complain that it’s mostly male jury here at Cannes if you didn’t throw your hat in the ring.”

Thankfully, things are moving in the right direction. Kat noted that a lack of diversity is seen by agencies as a badge of irrelevance. “If you show up to a pitch with an all white, all male team, clients know what their customers look like and you don’t look like you understand their customer base.”

Sally Campbell

As the co-founder of Somesuch, who won the first Glass Lion this year for the Sport England This Girl Can campaign, directed by Kim Gehrig, and represent six female directors, Sally Campbell is one of the foremost champions for female creativity in film production.

She identified the trouble of keeping women in the industry. Motherhood is the clear difficulty here, because of the pressure that’s put on women to work long hours and to travel so much. “There has to be some kind of action to ensure women can be mothers as well,” she said. She suggested more mothers being brave enough to demand time to be mothers, to normalise the fact that women can work in advertising and have children at the same time.

Moving on to class and racial diversity, she admitted “we really suck at that.” Having told her story in a rather self-deprecating way as a series of mistakes and failures, she ended with a point: “A reinvented myself and you all believe me. And the reason you all believe me is because I’m white and middle class. Even though I was a fuck-up, ultimately I was a safe fuck-up because I have the white, middle-class thing to fall back on.”

Those who don’t have those privileges have far less chance of succeeding. “What if you don’t even know that there are fantastic jobs in advertising for you?” she asked.

The answer isn’t complicated, but it is hard. Sally insisted we all have a responsibility to look around at less privileged communities and do our best to help people from them in starting careers.

With the APA, Sally is working with councils in London on creating an internship scheme, encouraging every company in the industry to take between one and three interns a year from underprivileged and minority ethnic backgrounds.

But it has to be done the right way. “We can’t give them a job as a runner,” she said. “If you tell me to make you a cup of tea I’ll make you a cup of tea. If you say that to someone from a pretty rough background they’ll tell you to fuck off and make your own tea and you won’t see them again.”

The important thing is to discover the role that best suits their temperament and interests – 3D VFX for a kid who plays video games (“and maybe smokes a bit of weed”), working with a director for a kid who’s very creative, or alongside an executive producer for a bossy kid. “It’s about ensuring that that kid is learning and knows that they’ve got a chance because there is a job for everyone in this industry.”

Michelle Matherson

Production talent executive Michelle Matherson spoke briefly about how she came to end up in her current job at Shiver, the factual production arm of ITV Studios, detailing how she had to be pushy and determined to get there.

Many companies tried to focus on diversity years ago by recruiting people from minority ethnic backgrounds, but one problem she pointed out was that they didn’t last because as soon as these recruits made a mistake they lost their jobs. “For most companies that was it,” she said. “They did their bit, it didn’t work out and that was that.” The responsibility is to nurture, support and mentor young people and to bear with them when they make mistakes. She noted the importance of letting young people “fuck up occasionally.”

At ITV all the executives receive ‘unconscious bias training’ in order for everyone to question their perceptions. We all have biases, she said “and once you know what your particular bias is, that’s when you can start to address it.”

Another initiative ITV use is MAMA Youth, a training programme to equip young people from BAME, disadvantaged backgrounds with the skills to go into TV and the media. At the end of the course people like Michelle look at the people it has helped and cherry pick the best for their companies. Michelle did it herself a few weeks ago, proving that these kinds of works are creating a more diverse industry.

Finally, she admitted that we recruit naturally in our own image, but that in order to make any progress we have to take chances with some people.

Henrik Eriksson

As Chairman of Commercial Producers for the Swedish Film & TV Producers Association, Henrik Eriksson has been on the frontline in the fight against the gender imbalance. As a producer who runs a production company, his focus is naturally on the lack of female directors – a struggle that goes back many years.

“Almost all commercials are directed by men,” he stated. Less than 10 per cent of directors are female. From that starting point, the Swedish associations decided to introduce an award to their Roy Awards show to give to the person, organisation or company who has made the biggest difference to getting more female directors working.

“Nothing really happened,” Henrik admitted. “There was a lot of talk in the media and the industry but the numbers were still the same.” He admitted it was boring to have to hand out the prize year after year without seeing much concrete change.

In 2014 Henrik’s association came up with a new approach – a new pitch recommendation called One of Three, meaning every pitch for an advertising film must include at least one woman. It was launched last Autumn together with the Swedish Association of Communication Agencies.

The impact is yet to be seen. “We should talk again in five years to see what’s happened,” he said, but production companies began signing female directors to their rosters as soon as they found out about the new guideline.

Henrik next moved onto ethnic diversity with a story:

We won the pitch on this film for a French agency and an international client.

We were planning to shoot the film in Stockholm. We were told to have a very clear presentation in all details so we went down to Paris for the PPM. Two hours before the client arrived we went through all the slides – a massive folder – we showed the location pictures, casting, editing examples, photography, animatronics, everything and the last slide of 50 was just a big screen of 50 mugshots of extras to show how we create Paris in Stockholm in the street. It was a mix of people, exactly how it looks when I look out [at the audience] now.

The account director on that slide said ‘It won’t happen. You can’t show that slide.’

‘OK. You don’t want us to show the extras?’

‘No. The client will not accept it.’

‘Why is that?’

‘He doesn’t want the black people to be in the film.’

That’s a really tough comment.

‘We don’t agree with you but secondly for the film’s purpose we need to have diversity in this film. If we take them out it’s going to look like Finland.’

It went to a big discussion in French and my French producer was talking for ten minutes. This was really tough, hardcore French. I didn’t understand it. But ending in English as the last sentence saying ‘It’s because of you French advertising films look like shit. We will not shoot the film if we don’t have these people in the film.’

‘Great. Then you’re not shooting the film.’

Five minutes before the PPM starts.

‘Can we leave that subject and take out that slide just for five minutes? And take the subject again after the client’s left?’


The client arrives and he’s black.

Henrik pointed out that these moments still happen and they are why diversity is so important to fight for. “Whatever we create will become a reference for how the world looks like.”

Trevor Robinson, OBE

Being a black man marks Quiet Storm’s Founder and Executive Creative Director Trevor Robinson out from most top creatives. He took to the stage as the Diversity Summit’s final speaker to tell his story.

He grew up in Clapham, the youngest of four kids. He described the area as quite rough, but he was lucky to have the protection of his older brothers. “My mum was amazing. She looked after us and worked really, really hard,” he said.

With nobody around him working in a creative job, his decision to go into a creative industry was a surprise. “The only icons I was really aware of were fighters or footballers,” he said.

When he suggested to the careers officer that he wanted to do something creative – to be an illustrator or a fashion designer – “she smiled and said ‘maybe think of another career. Maybe a bus driver or something?’ I got quite angry about that, but used it to form an ‘I’ll show them’ attitude.”

The insecure, bitchy environment he found when he got to college confused him, having grown up somewhere that “if somebody didn’t like you they’d just punch you in the face – very instant and very honest.”

After being on the dole for a long time, Trevor and his creative partner Al Young – “a seemingly aggressive Scottish man” – would repeatedly get rejected at interviews. They didn’t even get a placement. His only theory is that they made people uncomfortable.

Eventually they got into HHCL, who allowed Trevor and Al to make the ads they’d like to see. Out of that came their famous Tango ad. “That is totally a little Scotsman and a black guy having a laugh,” he said. “I think if you get the right people in with the right mindset you can do things that will really resonate with people.”

People are comfortable with people that are like themselves, he observed, but he felt his background allowed him to bring something different to the table. He attributes his success to being able to see things differently, and from a perspective closer to the people advertising is addressing.

Quiet Storm’s creative department is as female as it is male, and the agency contains many different nationalities. “We’ve got all sorts of people working at our company which I think makes us an incredibly strong agency,” he said.

“I thought when I first came in the gates would open,” he said. “I felt positive about the industry changing because I thought it made sense bringing the most talented people from whatever diverse backgrounds and you will get something different and powerful and will resonate.”

But as Head of Diversity for the IPA and later as the Chairman, Trevor got sick of everyone patting each other on the back without anything changing. He began to feel frustrated with the lack of progress.

He went back to his school and got kids to come up with an ad on the subject of knife and gun crime. This became the film competition Create Not Hate, the winning film of which was directed by a young ex gang member. Trevor’s very proud of the project. “I felt it was one of the best projects I’ve ever done in advertising.”

With this positive attitude towards taking action on diversity, the advertising industry can make an impact on its gender, ethnic and class profile. The overarching message from all the speakers is that change won’t come from one far-reaching initiative or campaign, but through the combination of everyone who cares taking the actions available to them, no matter how small.


The APA has some practical measures to announce that will enable APA members who are concerned with these issues to contribute to improving them. Details will be announced shortly.

A social history, no matter how you view it

June 18, 2015 / Features

By Jacqueline Holmes

Advertising is a unique tool for understanding the past.

Advertising has become a great barometer and record of our social change and history over the decades. Whether in print or on TV, ads and commercials have mirrored society reflecting the changing settings, fashions, language, products and attitudes which have enticed consumers, offering an insight into how we Brits lived our lives. 

A BBC TV Washes Whiter series, first broadcast in 1990, explored these changes in depth tracking the changing face of British advertising. Researchers collected thousands of TV commercials on a variety of formats from numerous agencies across the industry with only a fraction making the final cut. The entire collection however, was then transferred onto 1-inch videotape. In 2007, the BBC donated the 110 VT 1 inch tapes to The History of Advertising Trust (HAT), an archive regarded as a national treasure collected over the last 40 years and home to the industry’s archive. 

Thanks to the HAT charity’s expertise and equipment donated by the local ITV Anglia studio, the unique collection of ads from the Washes Whiter series is now preserved and being digitised by HAT. Programmes from the BBC series can be seen on YouTube:

The first in the 5 part series is entitled She’s Not a Moron – She’s Your Wife – a well-known comment attributed to advertising executive David Ogilvy 1955. Ogilvy suggested that customers should be treated more sympathetically, in softer tones and regarded as intelligent customers and not patronised.

She’s Not a Moron… focused on the changing role of women in society and the emergence of a new, post-war domestic environment. In the first half of the 20th century, cinema advertising – the forerunner of TV commercials – had  been mainly aimed at men and the war had seen women taken out of the kitchen and home to work in the factories and on the land.

Now, with the war over, TV commercials were produced to appeal to the female customer. They focused on products that could help women fulfil their new roles as they adjusted to being the homemaker, a mother and a good wife. Commercials were aimed at the woman at home in charge of their own domestic bliss! They showed how women could take pride in their housework – their families’ clothes were whiter – think cleaner – than the next person’s, which was the mark of a successful mother and wife. Even with the introduction of frozen foods and cake mixes, a frozen pie still had to be baked just right and an egg added to the mix to create a perfect sponge.

The thousands of Washes Whiter commercials from 1955-89 along with the British Arrows Archive of more than 25,000 award-winning TV commercials from 1976 to the present day are now available through the History of Advertising Trust. They provide a fascinating moving-image record of advertising right from the start of commercial TV in 1955.

These ads are held alongside records, documents, artefacts and images of various organisations, brands, agencies and campaigns charting the history of advertising back to the 1800s. The HAT Archive is regarded as the largest archive of British advertising in the world, reflecting changes in our social history and providing a unique resource for advertisers, broadcasters, researchers and students.

Washes Whiter was an early success story for HAT Archive and the charity continues to acquire, preserve and, very importantly, provide access to other collections from the industry and operate an efficient and reliable service to ensure they are preserved and accessible. The HAT Archive has featured in other ‘ad inspired’ series including ITV’s Ade in Adland, the BBC’s Back in Time for Dinner and a wide variety of other TV and Radio broadcasts from game shows to factual and foodie to footie docs. Take a look at HAT and prepare to be inspired!

Under the Influence: Brian Williams

June 17, 2015 / Features

By Alex Reeves

What inspires this Irish graphic designer turned director?

Now a director making commercials for major international brands like Adidas, the BBC and Lexus, Bang’s Brian Williams gets his acute visual awareness from his earlier career as a graphic designer. But what sort of experiences and ingredients does it take to make a director like him? We asked him to talk about his five biggest influences to see if we could work it out.

A Playful Upbringing

The atmosphere I was brought up in was amazing. Looking back on my early life and how my mum and dad were into the arts really fed through to every decision I made after that.

Everything was about playtime and imagination for us. We were a very lucky Irish family in that we got to travel a lot as kids. We were basically like gypsies on the road in a tent across Europe for a month, which is very unusual in the ‘70s and ‘80s. There was always that sense of adventure and that fed into the movies we watched.

My mum and dad were massive movie buffs. They just adored cinema. And they were kind of mainstream. I’d love to be able to wax lyrical about watching Fellini and whatever when we were young. We weren’t. It was Clint Eastwood, the Marx Brothers. Ice Station Zebra is a really particularly influential film on me.

The Lord of the Rings was a long time from being out in the cinema, but I’d read the books and loved them, so I made myself a ringwraith costume and I was wandering round the sand dunes in Cork scaring people. It was a fairly scary costume. I’d bought my first Bell and Howell Super 8 camera. I filmed myself murdering my family when I was 10 and we submitted it to BBC Screen Test.

Two months went by and eventually a BBC letter headed envelope came through the letterbox. Obviously, it was a very polite ‘what is wrong with your son?’

I just thought this kind of life was normal. I’d build a robot and enter it into competitions or build a city out of found objects and the whole family would be stepping over it for a month. They just accepted it.

At that time my dad was into amateur dramatics. I got involved in doing the lighting on The Plough and the Stars when I was about 13. This old ‘60s style man with polished shoes and Brylcreemed hair had taught me how to do lighting. It was coming up to the big launch of The Plough and the Stars and he dropped dead. It was a big shock but the show must go on and they turned to me and said ‘you know how to do the lighting board. Will you continue on with it?’ I said ‘OK, but I’d like to make some adjustments.’

There’s a famous battle scene in it and I took a lot of the lights down and put them underneath the grannies’ seats at the front. It had a spectacular effect when the battle scene was raging and the lights were going off in the auditorium. Unfortunately I did manage to melt somebody’s tights to the seat. They went a bit on fire.

When the review of the Amateur Dramatics Society ended up in the Evening Herald a week or two later it never mentioned my name, which I loved, but it did say ‘the lighting was very experimental.’ I was thrilled at that.

That period for me was such a fantastic playground. I was a sponge and I was being given all these amazing things to see and do and play with. Some might say I was indulged, others might say encouraged.


2000 AD

My brothers were reading very normal comics and I remember seeing [2000 AD] on the top shelf. I think Dan Dare was on the cover in the early days. I got into it when it was very young, just as it was moving away from that ‘60s, idealistic science fiction stuff and into stuff like Harlem Heroes – basketball with jetpacks – and Flesh – farming dinosaurs in the future.

I was captivated by the stories at first, but as I grew up the art became far more important to me. That’s when I began to mimic the style. I’m not an expert on the history but I think it was Brian Bolland doing Judge Dredd and a guy called Mike McMahon and I’d never seen anything like it. And I’d never seen anything as violent. I thought that was fantastic.

It’s punk, basically. I was too young to realise it was punk but it was. In a strange way many of the themes and looks that were created for it were cyberpunk before cyberpunk became cool.

The art of 2000 AD was always very considered but it had this very well thought out punk attitude in terms of stylisation of the characters, they could be bald with warts. I’ve always loved that idea of standout faces. If I’m looking at Marvel all the faces are normal, acceptable type people, whereas there were really super ugly heroes in 2000 AD.

There were a slew of characters I thought were amazing. My desktop background is actually still Rogue Trooper. There was Strontium Dog. What really changed things for me was Nemesis the Warlock. I think it was only Kevin O’Neill who did most of the Warlocks.

It was so edgy, so different. It showed a science fiction world in such a completely different way. They shredded the rules, coming out of an era of optimistic science fiction, where aliens were the bad guys and spaceships were rounded and clean. Way before Neill Blomkamp was dirtying up spaceships with graffiti, 2000 AD were doing it in the ‘80s.

I would be doing paintings of Nemesis the Warlock and hanging it on the wall at school. And bear in mind this is the ‘80s and it’s a Christian Brothers school. It was very unusual. 2000 AD wasn’t pop culture at that stage. Nobody realised what was hanging on the wall at the Christian Brothers school.


Syd Mead and Blade Runner

I saw the film and was obviously blown away. I couldn’t believe it. I started buying all the books and magazines, everything I could possibly buy. I remember coming across Cinefex magazine, buying a subscription and coming across the drawings of Syd Mead.

I absolutely adored his style because he had this quite architectural style, which is beautiful to look at, and fine pen work with those beautiful markers. It was super futuristic just in the way he drew and, having come from 2000 AD, it was something completely different again.

I got into the films on a totally different level then, even further, because of his work, buying books and drawings of his.

I began to do paintings and drawings of Dublin retrofitted like he’d done in Blade Runner. That’s what my portfolio was full of when I went to art college. I remember redesigning the Evening Press in a future Irish setting, because he had done USA Today for the film. I was just consumed by the world.

I loved the lighting and the cinematography. I didn’t even know I was looking at cinematography. I just knew that light is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It was only really years later that I honed in on Jordan [Cronenweth] and his work. Sure, Ridley Scott is a master, he was the ringleader, but those two particular guys, Jordan and Syd, and [special effects supervisor] Douglas Trumbull. Lets face it: they’re the triplet that were utterly key in making something that was so unique.

Ridley Scott was from an advertising background as well and to actually include advertising in the film as a huge component, that was utterly unique as well.

It was the everyday that we see around us. He didn’t change everything like science fiction had been doing. It was just taking the everyday and pushing it forward slightly and that was what Syd Mead’s job as a futurist was. He was grounded as being an industrial designer. It was a stroke of genius.


Vaughan Oliver Vs. Peter Saville

The two influences from that period for me would be Vaughan Oliver at 4AD versus Peter Saville at Factory Records. Two very different aesthetics.

Vaughan Oliver for me is kind of summed up by the music, whoever it may be on 4AD. I just found those album covers wonderful. And this is before Photoshop. By the time I was doing work like this as design or as a live-action director, I had the ability to do incredibly layered textural pieces, so it was a massive influence for me.

But then you look at Peter Saville and his restraint, his minimalism, his attention to detail and type and it was just a completely different story.

Basically my early career was very Vaughan Oliver, very OTT, very textural, then later in life I worked with another designer who was very minimal and I began to be influenced a lot more by his design style and that would be the Peter Saville style.

I found that the results were a hint of chaos and a hint of restraint. My work improved. And that fed straight into how I direct and what I like still to this day.

I was shooting something the other day and thinking ‘that is very, very busy coming through the lens to my eye. How do I frame up so that I’m not being greedy here?’ And that means sacrificing somebody’s work. Maybe your own. But the result is often more satisfying.


Dark 80s Music

My early taste was somewhat dubious. When I was very young I was given Cliff Richard to listen to. So my first record was Cliff Richard. My second record, however, was Kraftwerk - Autobahn.

It all ties in that we would be driving with our tent and a little trailer behind us on the Autobahn in Germany, listening to Autobahn on the cassette recorder, with my mum going ‘It’s a little bit monotonous, but I kinda like it.’

That then fed into all the other things I loved. I never went the rock route. It was always this electronica-influenced stuff. Caberet Voltaire was hugely influential, both visually and their whole attitude seemed to be quite unique.

Dif Juz – one of the loudest bands I’ve ever heard. They were like a heavy metal Cocteau Twins. Obviously Dead Can Dance, D.A.F., Shreikback, the list could go on and on.

All of those were the soundtrack to that period. There was a darkness to all of that. And there was a darkness to the films and the stuff I watched. I guess it’s the same as why the Swedish and Danes are so good at dark noir – they would always say they have a really happy life so they don’t mind looking at the dark. I think there’s something in that, without getting too wanky.

I was able to indulge all those things and have a great time doing it, but I felt very comfortable around music that was dissonant and dark. I think there’s a big streak of melancholy that goes through me and in a strange way that atmosphere informs the kind of commercials I like to make. I always like light and shade in film and I love a sense of warmth, but put it in jeopardy and you maybe have some magic.

Have a look for these influences on Brian’s reel.

An Exciting Life Samuraised

June 16, 2015 / Features

By Alex Reeves

An unlikely advertising evangelist's adventures, from the Paris suburbs to every corner of Japan.

Growing up a hippie in the uneventful suburbs of Paris, Jean-Christian Bouvier had a burning wanderlust. But nobody would have guessed that over 40 years later that desire for adventure would see him touring to the remotest islands of Japan showing commercials from around the world to paying audiences.

For over ten years the APA Collection has been a part of Jean-Christian’s travelling show. That’s why the trade association have chosen him as the champion of their recent ad for the APA Show, which you may have seen in Campaign.

Depicting Jean-Christian rowing across a tempestuous sea, the copy reads:

Every year without fail, Jean-Christian Bouvier rides the waves of the East China Sea to show the 41 inhabitants of a remote Japanese island the latest APA Collection…

Also shown in New York, Paris, Milan and 385 major cities around the world.

So how did he end up in such a bizarre position? It began when he finished school and realised he didn’t want to work for a bank or an insurance company. Mostly, he wanted to see the world. “I was a kind of hippie,” he says, but he was more dedicated to travelling than your average ‘70s globetrotter. The French word for it is routard. “I’m more of a routard than a hippie. The hippie would stop in Kathmandu. The routard would go further to Japan.”

He left France and trekked for the best part of year until he was in Japan. On his arrival he fell in love with the country. Having travelled through some of the poorest countries in the world to get there, the exotic environment, paired with a good standard of living was enchanting. He felt at ease there. But Japan had other draws “Like everybody, I fell in love with a young Japanese woman,” he says. “It’s not original, but it’s true.”

Once he’d returned to Paris (on the Trans Siberian Express, no less) real life kicked in. He soon took his first teaching job in Vietnam, travelling there in the midst of the war. France still had national service and Jean-Christian saw the chance to avoid going into the army by teaching there. He was posted to the French high school in Saigon, where he taught a mixture of French ex-pats and middle-class Vietnamese children.

The best part of his year there was the teaching itself. “I really loved it, especially with the cute Vietnamese classes,” he says. He remembers once asking them to write an essay on whether they prefer chopsticks or a knife and fork. “The answer was all about the nice feeling of the chopsticks in hand. The way you could choose the food and delicately pick it up and pride of their culture – all written in almost perfect French.”

It was 1975. For weeks everybody knew the North Vietnamese (Bodoi) Army were advancing on Saigon. Jean-Christian listened for the rockets at night. “I learnt that the rocket you hear is not for you. You only hear the ones that go above you. The problem is you wait for the next one, the one you will not hear coming.”

As the South Vietnamese regime disintegrated, his life got very strange. “Life was getting more and more surrealist,” he says. As the piastra (the local currency) lost 99 per cent of its value, Jean-Christian suddenly became rich thanks to the US dollars in cash he kept under his pillow. He bought hundreds of LPs by the boxes and his first Japanese Nikon cameras with several lenses. “In the evenings we would discuss the rumours and wait and wait and wait, drinking excellent French wines bought on the street for almost nothing,” he says.

“It was not a very glorious way to be a part of it, I know,” he admits, “But to my defence I don’t know what else we could have done.” Till the end they kept on teaching as if nothing was going to happen. “The policy was to stay, to hope for the best and be ready for a new Vietnam when the war is over.” He couldn’t bear to abandon his Vietnamese pupils.

“The last months were surrealist; the last days (or last weeks?) were hectic!” The young teacher watched as American helicopters evacuated embassy staff and South Vietnamese allies. One crashed not far from his home. Soon he and his colleagues were the last foreigners left in Saigon.

Finally the Bodoi Army rolled into the city, meeting no resistance. Jean-Christian’s enduring memory of it is silence. No cheering or shouting. The people of Saigon watched the tanks and trucks loaded full of exhausted, young soldiers pass through the streets. “I think for most people it was a feeling of relief: ‘Whatever happens tomorrow, it’s finished. The war is over.’”

One week later he went to see a Russian film in a theatre downtown. Watching newsreels of the Bodai Army entering Saigon, he was appalled to hear that the resigned silence had been dubbed over with rapturous cheering.

By the end of July he had returned to France and was soon reunited with his extensive record collection, as well as his Japanese girlfriend. It wasn’t long before they got married and soon their first son was born. He had to get serious. “I decided that I had to work to satisfy my mother and my young wife at the time and the easiest way was to be a teacher,” he says.

Still infected with wanderlust, the plan was to teach French around the world, staying for a few years in a country before moving on to another. “Teaching French would allow me to keep travelling,” he thought.

The first post he landed was in Fukuoka, a large city in the south of Japan. The plan was to stay for two or three years and move on to teach in another country. But he didn’t stick to the plan.

Coming from a small flat shared with his mother in the Parisian suburbs, he appreciated his new life in quite a big house in Fukuoka. The city was big, but not sprawling, a 20-minute drive from beautiful beaches and impressive countryside. He was contented and his career as a routard was postponed for the foreseeable future.

Originally he taught French Literature, which indulged his self-confessed inner snob. “I was very happy teaching French Literature in a department of Japanese students who couldn’t really speak French. But at least they were studying literature!”

With few teaching hours, Jean-Christian had a lot of freedom. He did a lot of windsurfing, reading and began translating Japanese texts into French. “I wanted to have an intellectual link with my country,” he explains. He translated children’s books, detective stories, theatre, the books his fluency in Japanese allowed. In ten years he had translated almost 50 books.

After 14 years he moved to a smaller university. Sadly, they didn’t care about French literature so he had to teach French as a foreign language. As he was a foreigner they also asked him to teach a class in Japanese called International Communications. When he asked what it was and they said they didn’t know. It was a new class and he could do what he liked with it. Baffled, he accepted the challenge.

A fan of theatre, Jean-Christian started doing things in the new class like comparing productions of Don Giovanni from around the world. He’d gather ten versions and show his students the same song performed ten different ways.

This is when advertising crashed into his life like a freight train. “Up to this point I’d had no contact with advertising at all and, I’m sorry to say, no interest in it either,” he says. But he found a VHS tape that changed his life. It was full of old Japanese commercials and it intrigued him. Many of them featured famous foreigners. One that stands out for him is Orson Welles advertising Nikka Whiskey. “I was amazed to see that a genius like Orson Welles would do advertising,” he says. Another featured famous man’s man Charles Bronson advertising a men’s cosmetic brand called Mandom.

Realising they could be useful tools for examining culture, Jean-Christian started including commercials in his classes. “It was a real hit when I started to use advertising,” he says. Classes of 30 or 40 students grew to over 200. It worked too well in his opinion. “I thought my Don Giovanni classes were better than my classes on advertising!” he says.

It was a revolutionary idea. People studied commercials in Japanese universities, but it was always in marketing departments. Jean-Christian’s classes were the first to analyse ads from a cultural perspective, using them as windows on the societies that made them.

Having started out with no interest in commercials, Jean-Christian soon found himself in the role of a specialist, writing about advertising in magazines and always looking to expand his collection of vintage commercials. This led him to Jean Marie Boursicot, the first man to convince people to pay to watch commercials as part of La Nuit des Publivores – Night of the Ad Eaters – a six-hour late-night marathon of commercials from around the world, interspersed with music and other entertainment.

Jean-Christian asked if he could buy some of this huge collection for use at his small Japanese university. Boursicot refused, but noted that nobody was running the show in Japan. If he wanted to start exhibiting it in Fukuoka he could have the collection.

Jean-Christian returned to Japan thinking he’d have to look elsewhere for commercials to use in his classes. Then on his 50th birthday he received a surprise. Five of his friends, all teachers from Fukuoka, clubbed together and gave him an envelope full of yen to bring this crazy ad bonanza to their city. He was overwhelmed.

Protective of his tapes, Boursicot brought them personally to Japan and CM Festival was born in Fukuoka, showing 500 commercials from the most obscure countries, from Montenegro to Angola, punctuated by live music, magicians and circus performers. Running from 11pm to 5:30am, the night is full of drinking, laughing and pachi-pachi-clapping, a celebration of all cultures from around the world coming together through advertising.

It was an immediate success in Fukuoka and after only two years managed to sell out a 1000-seat theatre in Tokyo two nights in a row. What began as a hobby was fast becoming a big commitment. Jean-Christian started to travel around Japan with his show, still supporting himself through teaching.

After six years CM Festival became his full-time job. It was around this time that he went to London, met APA Chief Executive Steve Davies and arranged to include the APA Collection in his festival. The existing show had a good spread of weird commercials from non-western countries, but fewer from more developed industries. “We needed to have the best produced commercials,” says Jean-Christian. “It’s an important part of the show. We still have funny commercials from all over the world but the APA Collection has the quality.”

Favourite British commercials among the Japanese audiences include those made by Japanese brands like the very famous Honda Cog and Sony Balls. “They were amazed that a Japanese company would make such wonderful commercials and not show them in Japan,” says Jean-Christian. “They are still surprised.”

The festival now travels to every corner of Japan and audiences vary from the party of 150 Dentsu employees who come to the Tokyo show every year to the locals of Miyako Jima, a small island in Okinawa with only one 100-seat theatre left.

No matter where Jean-Christian and his mad show goes, audiences are overwhelmingly made up of normal people from outside the advertising industry who just enjoy the show. “Some people are groupies who come every year,” he says. “It’s funny and unusual and there’s an old Frenchman who runs the show with a lot of young, energetic musicians and stuff. We don’t make money on food and drinks. We try to make people happy. And it works. Many people come again. I do it because I love it.”

If you want Jean-Christian to tour your work around Japan, entries for the APA Collection are now open.

High Five: June

June 8, 2015 / High Five

By Alex Reeves

Proof of the incredible image making that goes into advertising.

We think these five ads are the best of last month. There’s a smart idea at the core of each of them, but what makes this lot particularly special is the amazing film craft. They’re visually stunning – testament to the skills of the people who made them.

Brand: Cravendale
Title: The Milk Drinker
Production Company: Riff Raff, Canada London
Director: Canada
Production Company Producer: Cathy Hood
Director of Photography: Arnaud Potier
Ad Agency: Wieden + Kennedy London
Creative Directors: Larry Seftel, David Day
Creatives: Thom Whitaker, Danielle Noel
Agency Producers: Emily Rudge, Helen Whileley
Editing Company: Trim
Editor: Dominic Leung
Music Company: Woodwork Music
Sound Company: 750mph
Sound Designer: Sam Ashwell
Post Production Company: MPC

Cravendale – The Milk Drinker

Remember the Southern Comfort beach guy? Here’s his non-alcoholic counterpart who looks like he just stepped off of Wes Anderson set. Wieden + Kennedy have been taking Cravendale to some pretty weird places in recent years and this film continues that record while introducing the particular flavour of nonchalant, charming cool the East London agency seems to do so well.


Brand: Coco De Mer
Title: X
Production Company: Rankin Film
Directors: Rankin, Damien Fry & Jo Hunt, Trisha Ward, Bronwen Parker-Rhodes, David Allain, Vicky Lawton
Production Company Producers: Clark Jackson, Lauren Havard, Ada Almeida
Directors of Photography: Eric Zimmerman, Matthew Taylor, Marcus Autelli
Ad Agency: TBWA\London
Creative Director: Walter Campbell
Creative: Sean Doyle
Agency Producer: Natalie Spooner
Editor: Nick Gilberg
Music Company: Platinum Rye
Sound Company: Wave
Sound Designers: Simon Carroll, Peter Salmang
Post Production Company: MPG

Coco De Mer – X

If sex sells, you’d think advertising luxury lingerie and sex toy boutique Coco De Mer would be an easy job. That said, consider how bad this film could have been if it was done poorly. Huge cringe potential. Thankfully, TBWA have enlisted the vision of Rankin, an expert in sexy image-making. But it’s more than just sexy. It’s weird, intriguing and arty (some might say pretentious, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for such a brand), a vibrant, exciting piece of film.


Brand: Greenpeace
Title: A Song of Oil, Ice, and Fire
Production Company: Partizan
Director: Martin Stirling
Production Company Producer: Ella More O’Ferrall
Ad Agency: Don’t Panic
Creative Director: Richard Beer
Editing Company: Final Cut
Editor: Steve Ackroyd
Sound Company: Pure Soho
Sound Designer: Jason Peacock
Post Production Company: Smoke & Mirrors

Greenpeace – A Song of Oil, Ice and Fire

Greenpeace never pull any punches in their advertising. In response to Shell’s imminent threats to drill for oil in the Alaskan Arctic, this film highlights the horrific effects such actions could have. Director Martin Stirling has taken classic paintings and corrupted them with the dystopian scenes of pollution and destruction that companies like Shell leave in their wale. Paired with the right soundtrack these images communicate a poignant message. Hopefully it will change minds and help protect the unique environment and wildlife of the Arctic for a little longer.


Brand: Honda
Title: Feeling
Production Company: RSA Films
Director: Johnny Hardstaff
Production Company Producer: Annabel Ridley
Director of Photography: Martin Ruhe
Ad Agency: Wieden + Kennedy London
Creative Director: Scott Dungate
Creatives: Ben Shaffery, Max Batten
Agency Producer: Michelle Brough
Editing Company: Work
Editor: Art Jones
Music Company: Nate Connolly
Sound Company: 750mph
Sound Designer: Sam Ashwell
Post Production Company: MPC

Honda – Feeling

We all know everything looks better in slow motion. Wieden + Kennedy and director Johnny Hardstaff have taken this idea to its logical conclusion in their latest ad for the new Honda Civic and they’ve pulled it off with flair. The idea is focusing on the minute details in ideal moments of driving pleasure. They could have done it in simple freeze-frames, but this incredible super slow-mo approach, paired with exquisite visual effects from MPC, makes it a visual feast that improves with repeat viewing. A unique commercial that chimes harmoniously with Honda’s usual tone.


Brand: John Smith’s
Title: Cow Master
Production Company: Somesuch
Director: Nick Gordon
Ad Agency: adam&eveDDB
Creative Directors: Aidan McClure, Laurent Simon
Creatives: Ben Stilitz, Colin Booth
Agency Producer: Cara Geraghty
Editing Company: Trim
Editor: Dominic Leung
Music Company: Soundtree
Sound Company: Factory
Sound Designers: Anthony Moore, Jon Clarke
Post Production Company: MPC

John Smith’s – Cow Master

It’s been a while since John Smith’s last took to our ad breaks with Peter Kay’s perfectly judged endorsements and they’re back with their new agency adam&eveDDB and a completely different tone. This mockumentary style is a little bit more intriguing than their simple pub gags of their past, but the underlying honesty and humour is still there. It’s an absurd idea, but Nick Gordon’s realisation of the script makes it almost believable.

Not the Usual Archive Material

June 1, 2015 / Features

By Jacqueline Holmes

Physical relics from Kleinman's iconic Smirnoff ads.

Models of sexy girls and a weather-beaten Spitfire don’t bring to mind historically important archives but they sit comfortably in the collection held by the History of Advertising Trust (HAT).

There are shelves of books, cutting files, film clips and databases – all you would expect to find when researching but there is also the unexpected. There are some classic ‘props’ used in commercials housed in the stores. These help to tell the whole story of a campaign and bring it to life.

Amongst these are two ceramic models of modern women, in striking red and black, shown as break-in-two Russian-styled dolls. They represent the image of the £3m campaign created for Smirnoff Red in 2004.

JWT London for Smirnoff Vodka went back to the product’s Russian roots for the ‘not the usual’ campaign, which included the customary matryoshka – Russian nesting dolls.

Tapping into the era of tales of espionage and spying, the commercial shot in Russia, features a beautiful woman who, seemingly innocently, is in a grey Moscow queue to buy a loaf of bread. But there are more twists and turns than in a Bond adventure.

In an office she breaks open the loaf and inside is a key which fits a safe. Inside the safe is a microchip but the alarms are sounding and the guards appear; she leaps from the window and runs off leaving a divided shell of herself behind.

Again she seems cornered but then she slips out of her skin leaving the two halves. Now it is clear each time she is close to capture she sheds a shell that gradually becomes smaller. Eventually she slips down a drain cover.

The film ends with a man buying a traditional rounded tourist souvenir matryoshka. On a plane he opens his brief case, then the doll and there inside the centre is the microchip.

The drinks trolley appears with a bottle of Smirnoff and ends with the tag, ‘Not the usual’.

Purity is the theme that brought the concrete model of Spitfire to HAT Archive.

Hovering over the doors to HAT’s offices is the very Spitfire that was spewed from the sea in the 2007 Smirnoff Vodka TV ad. The concept for the commercial was the triple-distilled purification process Smirnoff goes through to create their ‘pure’ vodka.

The ad, directed by Daniel Kleinman, was part of a £5m campaign which began with an online presence, then a 60-second cinema commercial (first shown during a screening of The Bourne Ultimatum), followed by a nationwide launch on TV. Digital agency AKQA also created an online game to complement the package.

The Sea, again created by JWT London, shows the sea purging itself of all the junk found on the ocean bed. Once clean, a bottle of Smirnoff appears.

The film, shot in New Zealand, with further scenes filmed off the White Cliffs of Dover and at Pinewood Studios, opens with a Russian fisherman at sea. He throws an empty drinks can overboard. The sea responds. It dramatically rises and throws ashore an incredible collection of debris deposited over the centuries. This includes the Spitfire, a Spanish galleon and a washing machine.

The ocean is cleansed and on the pristine sea bed are the words ‘ten times filtered’, ‘triple distilled’ and finally ‘clearly Smirnoff’.

Produced by Rattling Stick for JWT’s client Diageo, the special effects were created by FrameStore CFC, also credited with sequences in Harry Potter and Bond films.

These unusual artefacts preserved at HAT within the JWT Archive reveal the skill and creativity behind the craft of model making for TV commercials such as these.

For more infomation about HAT see