Have Fun. That’s an Order.

March 31, 2016 / Features

By Tom Lee

Advertising student Tom Lee on what it takes to get through creative placements.

I’ve never been a fan of offices. Everything’s had its colour muted, dwelling on the white to grey scale. The office mugs are the only concession. I always opted for the gaudiest mug. I needed a splodge of lurid green, pink or purple less than two feet away at all times. I would jitter along the white to grey scale at varying degrees of caffeination.

Then I quit to become an ad student. Now I have thumbtacks and walls where my screen used to be. My Excel sheets were banished forever by fountains of crumpled paper and throwaway ideas. My instant coffee jitters gave way to Sharpie vapour head spins. Now my desk is in Costa.

But something else changed. Now that I’ve emerged from my secluded office corner everything I do passes under the dogged gaze of other people. For me as a yet-to-be-made spinster looking for my first bit of permanent desk space, every day is a pitch and I’m the product.

In my tour of self-promotion I’ve traipsed self-consciously with my packed lunch through every size of agency, blagged my way into boardrooms, agonised over live briefs and had my book dissected by creative directors.

And I’ve seen that the bogeymen of advertising are living, breathing realities.

The hours are famously long. I’ve worked harder this year than in my other 24 combined. Most days I’ll peel myself out of bed at six thirty and collapse into the same position around midnight. Ad dreams are also definitely a thing.

Criticism, though purposeful, is ubiquitous and persistent. There’s no place for the precious or the fragile. It’s easy to be excessively self-critical. You could treat every piece of advice as gospel. You could think an idea to death and yourself to exhaustion based on advice you don’t fully understand. But then someone else will come and say something completely different and you’ll be forced to think again. You will be simultaneously criticised and praised by two people who share a desk. This can happen more than once in a day.

Schedules are shambolic, deadlines change. Creatives’ work is at the disposal of creative directors, account people, planners and clients. One project is the convergence of dozens of people’s expectations. You’ll be tricked into thinking you have the luxury of time only to have a message pop up saying the deadline’s now in forty minutes. The usual workplace mind set of turn up on time, answer your emails, fill your quotas, leave doesn’t apply in adland.

But at no point has any of this resembled office life. And for that I couldn’t be happier.

Every agency comes with an inbuilt sense of fun. If being a creative wasn’t inherently fun it would be much easier to be employed as one.

There’s always a bar and a foosball table, photographs lining walls of pets and errant childhood moments, a deep house playlist and large scale prints of meerkats or Sylvester Stallone delivering bread.

You’re here to regress back to kindergarten, when right and wrong were vague concepts and everyone doodled on paper. But only the hardiest, most lateral, strategic kindergarteners get given jobs. It calls for equilibrium between the discipline of other jobs with the expression of your earliest finger paintings.

Fun is mandatory. If the process isn’t fun your ideas will have the imaginative depth of a refried bean wrap from the Costa you’ve spent the last four hours in.

Fun leads to good ideas. Good ideas take hard work. If you get the fun bit right the work bit will follow. And the bogeymen will become spirits that guide you adeptly, albeit forcefully, through each day.

Keep smiling as idea after idea is relegated to the bin never to be seen again. Take risks and say ‘yes’ to everything with confident stupidity. Laugh maniacally if you have to. Fun’s the only thing there ever really is to lose.

Tom Lee is studying advertising at West Hers College, Watford. Check out some of his work here.

Diary of a SXSW Virgin aka Subservient Glucky

March 24, 2016 / Features

By Alex Gluck

One of WCRS's account handlers travels to SXSW to make Austin slightly weirder.

I was lucky enough to get sent to SXSW Interactive last week.

Before you stop reading because you’ve already ready a multitude of articles
about what everyone learnt / saw / was amazed by this year…

I didn’t just go to be inspired by the conference; my agency WCRS sent me as
Subservient Glucky.  Daily challenges were set during my stay at SXSW via
Instagram photos. WCRS staff, clients and friends were invited to vote by liking
the Instagram posts. At the end of each day (when I would be getting up) the
likes were to be counted and I was tasked to complete the winning challenge. 
Follow @subservientglucky on Instagram and you’ll get the idea...

I’m sure you’re thinking I must be mad.  Perhaps I am.  But it was totally worth it.

Each morning I’d find out what I had to do each day. That was particularly
nerve-wracking. Due to jet lag I’d often wake up in the middle of the night and
have to resist the urge to check the Instagram feed and what options there were
for the daily task.  Fortunately Austin’s motto is ‘Keep Austin Weird™’ so my lion
onesie looked pretty normal next to the woman dressed as a fairy riding a
unicorn horse. The challenges varied from wearing a lion onesie for a whole day,
busking for $5 on a giant piano, getting two-inch-long nails, eating the hottest
taco at Torchy’s and spending a day with two selfie sticks.

By far, the hardest task was the nails. I couldn’t do anything once they were on –
someone had to carry my bag, text for me, order me drinks…it doesn’t actually
sound that bad does it? As an account handler asking anyone to do anything for
me is difficult!

It wasn’t just about being subservient, it was also about the main event…SXSW

Everyone I spoke to before I went said that I would feel completely
overwhelmed, miss out on talks I wanted to see, and that I couldn’t do
everything.  Which is completely true.

On the flip-side, for all the talks I missed, I ended up at others that have inspired
me. Brene Brown’s keynote, Daring Greatly, was a particular highlight. It was all
around being brave, not being afraid of failure and picking yourself up when
you’ve fallen and moving forward.  She made the pertinent point that many of us
have been brought up to be intolerant of failure and think that vulnerability is a
weakness: ‘If you have no tolerance for failure, you will create nothing new’. 

Andy Puddicombe, co-found of Headspace, did a keynote on happiness where the
audience took part in a live meditation. It definitely felt like mindfulness and
self-knowledge were are a theme of this year’s conference.

Gender equality was another hot topic, especially as the tech community is a
male-dominated field and across the globe (in all fields) women are still paid
less than men on average. But there was a feeling that this is all changing, slowly
but surely.  New transport systems (Hyperloop), new transport technologies
(Google’s driverless car), AI, VR, AR, Space – these were all buzzwords that
friends and colleagues were talking about throughout the conference.  

There was always somewhere to be or someone to meet, or something to
eat...Don’t go to SXSW on a diet.

Austin’s food truck culture is unbelievable. We may think we’ve got the food
trucks / food markets down in London, but this is nothing compared to Austin. 
Grilled cheese, kimchi fries, lobster rolls, tacos, tacos and more tacos…and
snowcones. The calories are worth it and taste so good. Although I wouldn’t
bother with Torchy’s tacos (where I did my taco challenge) even if they are
Obama’s favourite. 

Go to the rodeo
SXSW coincides with the rodeo being in town, so it would've been rude not to pay
some respects to old American culture. It didn’t disappoint either. Sat next to
real(!) Texans who could explain why someone had got a penalty for not tying up
a calf properly (yes, it’s true) was an education. Not something I expected from
my trip to Austin, but it gave an insight to Texan culture.

In summary
So this has been my whistlestop summary of SXSW 2016. I’m sure I’ve missed
things out.

The overarching feeling I was left with from the talks, the tasks and the
experience as a whole was that we have to be optimistic about the future
whether that be in the fight against ISIS, to gender equality, to advances in
science and to keeping sane.   

And if I was asked to be Subservient Glucky again, I’d say yes in a heartbeat.  It’s
only a lion onesie after all…

The Road to Production

March 17, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

What did the producers of tomorrow think of the 2016 APA Masterclass?

In February over 100 students, mostly from APA member companies, attended the APA Masterclass – a five-day intensive course for people who are on their way to becoming producers.

Since 2001 the Masterclass has been providing people with all the knowledge and skills they need to produce commercials, from the script to delivery. It has become the industry standard in that time – one of the few qualifications that people respect in a position built upon experience and on-the-job learning.

Previously it has run over a number of short sessions over 12 weeks but this year it radically changed to become more of a boot camp – everything crammed into one week in order to immerse students in the learning experience.

Over the week the students took part in lectures and workshops led by some of the industry’s leading professionals, culminating, as ever, in an exam. Now their exams are handed in we asked some of them to describe the experience.

“It was intense and a great five days,” says Adèle Barach, a Production Assistant at Biscuit Filmworks. “It’s a good way to learn from professionals about the basics.” She admits it was a busy week, but because each lecture was only an hour or so long, it was possible to get the best from each speaker.

No aspect of production is neglected, as Hannah-Clare Gordon, Animation Rep at Agile Films, appreciated. “I definitely think the best way to gain knowledge is through our own practice,” she admits, “making mistakes and learning from them, but the Masterclass provided the best groundwork possible in order to move forward as producers and advance our production experience.”

The Masterclass is an interactive course, not just a series of lectures for students to sit and quietly take notes on. Massimo Paradiso, a Content Producer at Ursus, appreciated the chance to speak to so many top producers and found hearing their opinions and personal approaches particularly interesting. “I guess there’s no definitive way to produce and everyone has their own methods,” he says.

Attilio Gianfancesco, Head of Sales and Marketing at Great Guns, enjoyed the collaborative efforts of the course’s final day, where the students were separated into groups to create a schedule, budget and bid letter for a commercial. “The best part was definitely testing and implementing my knowledge and comparing it with my colleagues,” he says. “It was great to put into practice the previous four days’ content.”

All the students I spoke to agreed that budgeting day was the most intense, challenging but also the most rewarding part of the course. Hannah-Clare adds that the expertise on hand was a great privilege. “It was so useful to have a team of seasoned producers on hand to ask them their advice and the different ways that they would approach a production,” she says.

But despite the experts there to support them, the Masterclass couldn’t turn out producers of the future by giving them an easy ride. Hannah-Clare says it was way more intensive than she had anticipated and Adèle remarks on how tired her brain was by the end of the week, especially as English is not her mother tongue.

“I have to admit it was tiring, but it didn’t destroy me,” says Lea Chukri, a Producer at Short Films. “Being focused for so long can be tough. And for those of us who worked at the same time it was hard to balance. That was the big challenge – not arriving late, making calls during the breaks etc.”

“It was full on,” agrees Massimo. “I wouldn’t call it a holiday. But the diverse range of talks and workshops kept it fresh. Some of the talks and workshops were very interactive and I certainly had fun.”

Different students had their own highlights. Attilio loved the casting session from Tree Petts and Shakyra Dowling. “Their energy was fantastic,” he says. “And James Waller from the Met Police was absolutely amazing and gave a fantastic talk about working with the MPS Film Unit.”

Adèle appreciated the broad span of expertise demonstrated by the tutors. “Being introduced to sectors less widely taught was great,” she says, “learning about subjects such as shooting with drones, data protection, the MPS Film Unit or AdGreen.” She also found it interesting to hear a director’s perspective from Stink’s Keith McCarthy and the informative virtual reality presentation. “Working on a standard 30-second TV commercial is one thing, but we need to realise the industry is moving fast.”

Lea loved the music lecture from Massive Music. “They showed examples and made music rights and royalties very interesting, even at six o’clock in the evening!”

Despite the long trek out to Uxbridge one evening, the trip to ARRI to learn about was very popular with the students I spoke to. “They’re a company who really know how to promote themselves,” says Hannah-Clare. “I left feeling that ARRI was the be-all and end-all for cameras and lights. Maybe even contemporary cinema!” She stressed that pure sales pitches did detract from the learning experience though. “I didn’t enjoy companies coming in and just presenting us with a sales pitch. Those were less beneficial than having small, workshop-like groups to interact with the editors or the one-on-one chat with producers.”

One of the great strengths of the Masterclass has proven to be the camaraderie it fosters between students and tutors and this year was no different. “It was nice to be surrounded by people of the same age with the same interests,” says Adèle. “The networking side of the Masterclass is good as the people I met that week are likely to be the people we will work with in the future.” By the time the booze started flowing at the wrap party on Friday night, some of the most significant relationships in the future of production may have already been built.

Agony Jim: When Will Production Be Free?

March 16, 2016 / Humour

By Jim Watkins

Veteran producer and sage cum digital native Jim Watkins solves your advertising conundra.
This edition: How to cut those pesky and irrelevant production costs.

Dear Jim,

I am a procurement expert. My mission on behalf of my client is complete efficiency and maximum value. I achieve this by demanding that everything my client buys is 15% cheaper each year including, of course, all its advertising and production. I calculate that by the year 2029 my client’s advertising will be virtually free.

It can’t be actually free of course, as due to some arcane mathematical rule it is impossible to get to zero. I’m not an idiot. However I calculate it will cost me less than 5p to make a commercial in 2029.

My question is, given that advertising should be ahead of the game in embracing the future, shouldn’t agencies and production companies move straight to working for advertisers for free now?

Wilf T. Hillingford


Dear Wilf,

You are exactly right. What you are contributing to in your invaluable work is the process of 'infinite growth', whereby companies such as your clients, and with them the economy of our country and indeed all countries in the developed world, will continue to grow year on year, forever.

The costs, side effects or complete logical impossibility of this are, of course, irrelevant. What matters is that growth is good, and benefits us all, however much it may seem not to. As the revered 18th century philosopher and intellectual Dr Pangloss put it, 'All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds'.

You have correctly identified that in the absence of a greater actual demand for your clients' products, growth can be created by shrinking costs ever further, exerting more pressure on suppliers until the last juice is squeezed out of them, at which point their empty husks can be tossed aside and replaced by something younger and riper. 

The trick is not to be distracted by their whimpering or the death rattle as the last breath is crushed from their lungs. These are the sounds of an 'anti-business' cabal determined to stop us marching together into a bright future. 

See you at the party!



If you have a production problem you think Jim Watkins can help with, please email editorial@beakstreetbugle.com, quoting Agony Jim.

Under the Influence: Gary Freedman, The Glue Society

March 16, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

The five key ingredients that make this director’s signature dish.

One of the biggest names on Independent’s formidable roster, Gary Freedman of The Glue Society collective has worked on some of the funniest ads to grace our televisions in recent years, including Doritos’ Dip Desperado – a personal favourite here at Bugle Towers. He’s also got a knack for poignancy, clear in HSBC’s 40-year anniversary commercial, Lift.

Curious about what informs his work, we asked him to choose five things that inspire him. His picks include the ridiculous and the sublime, sometimes simultaneously.

New York

"When I was growing up in the 70s I was obsessed with America; mainly based on TV but also the stuff that people brought back from their holidays there, like chewing gum in lots of flavours and tube socks and a cup with your picture on it from Wet ‘n Wild. It was a place full of stuff you just didn’t have in England back then, which was just a stale white bread sandwich with one slice of ham in it. Someone told me about Space Mountain and described it as a rollercoaster inside a disco, which practically blew my mind.

When I first went to New York around 1990 it lived up to all my expectations and more. It was like being inside a TV. It looked like a movie and it sounded like a movie too. I couldn’t believe it was real; it felt like everyone there was playing a part.

Now I live in New York and have done for eleven years. I’ve grown used to it but it took me a good few years to become anesthetized to being in a place that is so embedded in your subconscious from TV. But every now and then, I can switch mode and see New York as I did back then. It is a place that, to me, still looks like it is in the 70s. A lot of buildings and signage still have that appearance. It’s like going into the future and back in time at once. But mainly it’s the people; all playing their roles, talking loudly and a lot, saying things you only hear people say on TV."

The Coen Brothers

"My work is quite diverse. In the past I’ve felt like this is a weakness. But then I look at the Coen Brothers and I don’t worry about it anymore.

There isn’t a Coen Brothers film I don’t like. Their films are amazingly diverse but they manage to inject their personality into everything they do. It is all just so “Coen Brothers-y”; humour makes its way into dark drama, comedies have dimension and style. Neo-noir-black-comedy-crime-quirky-thriller-drama....or something.

But the biggest thing is their ability to create iconic ‘characters’. Utterly memorable and idiosyncratic characters. To me, this is what makes their films so distinctive.

Making an ad is a far cry from this. But if there is one thread running through my work – and it’s something that I like doing – it is creating characters. I try to eke out a character in almost every commercial I do. Often it’s not apparent in the script or part of the ‘idea’. But it’s something that, as a director, you can really bring to the party. A good character in an ad can really turn it into something memorable. I think people respond to people."

Blackcurrant Tango

"I think this is the best ad I’ve ever seen. Sometimes, on rare occasions, advertising captures the zeitgeist. And this one did it better than any before or since, in my opinion. I don’t know whether this was by design or whether the guys who wrote it were even aware of how resonant it was. But when this ad came out, it just behaved in a way that was exactly how everyone felt at the time.

It’s audacious, hilarious, irreverent, knowing... and at the time, it was actually breathtakingly spectacular. I can still watch it now and be kind of amazed. I like its roughness. I like that it doesn’t quite have enough background extras. If it were made now it would have thousands of digital people and be too big, too slick. It’s perfectly imperfect.

But, like all really great things, it was a ‘lucky’ combination of elements. It just came together; brilliant idea, flawless execution and the perfect public mood to receive it. You couldn’t plan it. Kismet. Sometimes the recipe is just right."

Francis Bacon

"If you want a glimpse into the human psyche look no further. Raw, visceral human emotion rendered physical. The ultimate performance. And it’s static; just paint on a canvas. But alive. It’s quite hard to fathom.

The opening credits to Last Tango In Paris feature Bacon paintings. They look weird and incongruous at the start of a film. But it’s arresting. Anyway, the story goes that Bertolucci took Marlon Brando to a Bacon exhibition when they were making Last Tango In Paris to inspire him. Now picture Brando, his face contorted, eaten up on the inside."


"All music. This is lame but it’s the truth. I think music taps into your emotions more than anything. If you really want to go somewhere, listen to some music, quite loud and you’ll picture things differently. If you’re trying to dredge for a creative feeling, it’s the most immediate way of connecting with something that is vital and authentic.

At other times, I find music can really help me look at things afresh too. I review a storyboard listening to music and it really helps me to see it. The problem of course is that you can devise a piece of work with music in mind, which is great until you get to the edit when music becomes more of a free for all. There is nothing which can affect the tone of a piece of film more than changing the music. And of course, at that point in the process we all have a subjective view on music, as much as we can all dress ourselves in the morning!"

High Five: March

March 15, 2016 / High Five

By Alex Reeves

A celebration of the month’s best-crafted ideas for brands.

Considering the short timeframes and pressures people making commercials work under, it's often quite staggering the level of craft they manage to pull off. This month’s best advertising reminded us of this. A combination of attention to detail, efficient storytelling and sheer flair combine to make films that convince uninterested TV audiences to care about brands.

Brand: Guinness
Title: John Hammond, Intolerant Champion
Production Company: Cherry
Director: Jake Nava
Production Company Producer: Benedict Cooper
Ad Agency:  AMV BBDO
Creative Directors: Steve Jones, Martin Loraine, Dave Buchanan
Creatives: Mark Nutley, Pat Hamill
Agency Producers: Olly Chapman, Trish Russell, Zoe Cunningham
Editing Company: The Quarry
Editor: Scot Crane
Sound Company: Factory
Sound Designers: Dan Beckwith, Jon Clarke
Post Production Company: The Mill

Guinness – John Hammond, Intolerant Champion

Digging up the inspiring story of John Hammond was a smart move for Guinness. The radio DJ and talent scout who “heard no colour line in the music” spent his life giving black artists the chance to have their music heard where others wouldn’t. It’s a welcome continuation of their ‘Made of More’ era, which has given AMV BBDO the opportunity to discover and tell some remarkable human stories. The film itself is vibrant and raw and, paired with Benny Goodman’s raucous track Sing Sing Sing, the nostalgic visuals could sell the spirit of jazz to the most indifferent of philistines.


Brand: Haribo
Title: Pitch
Production Company: Quiet Storm
Director: Mary-Sue Masson
Production Company Producer: Ella Littlewood
Ad Agency: Quiet Storm
Creative Director: Trevor Robinson
Editor: Dave Owen
Sound Company: Angell Sound
Sound Designer: Dave Robinson
Post Production Companies: Big Buoy, Rushes
Colourist:  Simona Cristea Harrison

Haribo - Pitch

This campaign idea has been running for a while now and it’s been charming so far, but there’s something about this latest instalment that’s particularly amusing. The rugby players are brilliantly macho and their performances sync perfectly to the children’s voices. Everything just clicked this time and the result is a joyful, no-frills 30-second commercial.


Brand: Mattessons
Title: The Snackarchist
Production Company: Riff Raff
Director: Megaforce
Production Company Producer: Cathy Hood
Director of Photography: Ben Todd
Ad Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi
Creative Directors: Andy Jex, Rob Potts
Creatives: Mark Slack, Gemma Phillips
Agency Producers: Lindsey Stopp, Sam Rendle-Short
Editing Company: Final Cut
Editor: Joe Guest
Sound Company: Wave
Sound Designer: Jack Sedgwick
Post Production Company: Finish

Mattessons – The Snackarchist

We have a feeling this one will divide people. The script could have been a disaster. Imagine if the ad was trying to make it actually seem cool to eat the meaty bites instead of a more traditional snack. We all know how terrible advertising can get when it tries to make something look cool. But in the hands of genuinely cool French collective Megaforce, the Snackarchist has been brought to life with just the right amount of geeky awkwardness, set off suitably by Lethal Bizzle’s You Ain’t That Dude.


Brand: Samsung
Title: Unpacking

Production Company: 1st Ave Machine
UK Directors' Representation: OB Management
Directors: Asif Mian, Bob Partington
Production Company Producer: David Stewart
Director of Photography: Manuel Ruiz

Ad Agency: 72andSunny Amsterdam
Creative Directors: Carlo Cavallone, Stuart Harkness, Matt Heck
Creatives: Domingo de la Villa, Andy Johns
Agency Producers: Peter Williams, Jennifer Cursio
Editing Company: Cut + Run
Editors: James Rose, Jack Singer
Sound Companies: Factory, Wave
Sound Designers: Phil Bolland, Alex Nicholls-Lee
Post Production Company: MPC

Samsung – Unpacking

Running through some of the most important moments in Samsung’s product history, there’s nothing too ambitious about this ad’s core idea, but the smooth journey it takes us on is testament to the skills of everyone involved in making it. The transitions between products are cleverly conceived, interspersed with well-styled vignettes, and the impressive animation and VFX throughout makes for a smooth ride.


Brand: Sky
Title: Sky Q
Production Company: Biscuit Filmworks (Digital Animation: Neon)
Director: Johnny Green
Production Company Producer: Kate Taylor
Director of Photography: Lasse Frank
Ad Agency: Brothers & Sisters
Creative Directors: Andy Fowler, Aaron Wilmer
Agency Producer: Lois Whittle
Editing Company: Work
Editor: Neil Smith
Sound Company: 750mph
Sound Designer: Sam Ashwell
Post Production Company: The Mill

Sky – Sky Q

To launch Sky’s new service for watching TV on multiple devices in multiple rooms, Brothers & Sisters have decided to go all in on the VFX and with the deft touch of Johnny Green at the helm they have created visual feast in the Sony Bravia school of epic aesthetic delights. It’s very pretty, but has a warmth to it too. It even demonstrates the product quite clearly, which is helpful.


A Pint With… Chris Page

March 9, 2016 / Features

By Chris Page

Head honcho at Jelly and Three Blind Mice on blagging, contemporary culture and his piratical tendencies.

Women are better at arguing. They know what the outcome of an argument is going to be because they’ve thought it through first, like a game of chess. Whereas men just make a series of knee-jerk reactions, shouting unrelated stuff throughout.

You have to surround yourself with people who are cleverer than you. I can blag. But you do reach the edge of blag quite quickly, so you have to find people that can do stuff. That’s how studios are built.

I fell off the edge of education. I got thrown out of college for not going. Then I had to make my own way and somehow still got into the industry that I loved and enjoyed. I wonder now if that’s possible. Companies want specialists straight out of school, not generalists they can mould.

Working in an agency is like being in the navy and working in production is like being a pirate. You’ve got to be agile and resourceful in production because there’s no big formal structure you can sit inside. Your job description can change at any minute. We’ve got people who might be working on packaging designs one week and a short animated film the next.

Outside of my family and work, Fireflies is what I care about the most. Ten years ago I didn’t even have a bike. I was a typical flabby, boozy ad twat who spent most of his time behaving quite badly. You need something that justifies your existence beyond family and work. Now I’ve ridden over the Alps into Cannes three times and I’m heavily involved with the charity. I’m not a surgeon, but I feel like at least I’m doing something to fight cancer.

Cycling is becoming the new golf. It’s a very white, middle-aged man thing. That’s why we’re trying to get young, diverse people from the ad industry interested in Fireflies.

Old stuff isn’t all ‘good’ and new stuff isn’t all ‘bad’. The pop music you like the most is what you liked when you were a teenager. My kids have their own pop music. Most people my age think it’s shit. But if you watch Top Of The Pops 2, it was even worse back in the 80s. It annoys me when people my age deride everything new as being bad.

Countryside politics scare me. Political stupidity annoys me. I go into the countryside cycling at the weekend and see the UKIP posters in the windows. These are nice areas that I’d otherwise like to move to, but the narrow-mindedness of some country folk puts me off.

I am a burglary magnet. I’m constantly being burgled - I live in South East London and it seems that if you’ve got anything decent other people will try and take it. I like to think we’re progressive, liberal people and we encourage our children to be the same, but it’s tough to maintain that attitude when you’re calling the security company for the fifth time shouting “More bars! Bigger alarm! Cameras! Keep the fuckers out!”

Balancing creativity and commerce is hard. My Financial Director’s major frustration is that I don’t really care enough about money. Any commercial success we’ve had has been a by-product of doing good work and retaining our integrity, but it’s hard to prove that that means success.

I like difficult people. You get better work from people who are slightly angular. I find them a challenge. I want to get past the shields. But it’s a fine line. There’s no need to be awkward for the sake of it.

Sometimes the client is right and the creative people are wrong. Our job is to look after our talent and to represent their interests. But there are times where they’re wrong and then that’s a much harder game.

Chris Page is Owner at Three Blind Mice and Jelly.

The Future of Advertising… In One Afternoon

March 3, 2016 / Features

By Don Grant

Don Grant's infernal musings on the APA's concentrated conference.

The Courtauld Gallery is currently displaying Dante’s Inferno, with drawings by Sandro Botticelli, which has a certain resonance with the annual event held at BAFTA and organised by APA and IPA. In the Eighth Circle of Lower Hell, the punishment meted out to Soothsayers, namely False Prophets, Astrologers and Predictors of the Future, is to have their heads twisted around backwards, so that they can only see what’s behind them, not what is in front of them. The speakers at this event could just fall into this category of miscreants, who are compelled to walk backwards through all eternity, their eyes blinded with tears, except that most speakers turned away from the future and concentrated on the past.

Certainly, the first speaker Ian Leslie, a journalist, was firmly focused on the history of advertising as he spoke on the themes of an article he had prepared earlier for the FT entitled How the Mad Men Lost the Plot. His beef was that people don’t know what admen do anymore. It is a known fact that admen themselves don’t know how advertising works. Not for the first time in the afternoon, we were to hear the quote attributed to John Wanamaker, a store owner in the US in the 1920s “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half”.

Leslie pointed out that where the industry went wrong was to embrace the digital era as a means to an end, and an end to wastage and a way of engaging with the audience by precise targeting. Pepsi spent a fortune on wordy social media messages, called ‘Pepsi Refresh Project’, and their sales actually declined by 5%. He came up with more statistics about people not caring about brands and having no allegiances – 72% of Pepsi drinkers also drink Coke, and the way to success may be to reach people not in their target market and that the majority of any successful brand’s sales comes from “light buyers” (or “Lite buyers?”)

Leslie was not the only speaker to mention the John Lewis Christmas ads, but he was the first of the afternoon. These have somehow been held up to be the Holy Grail of ‘content’ and a much-anticipated and over-hyped annual event. Some people find the heady combination of schmaltz, cuteness and a catchy tune a little too much to bear, but, hold on, there were Christmas ads a-plenty, with offerings from Waitrose, Harvey Nicholls, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and M & S, all trying to compete with acknowledged king of the crop.

Dan Wilks from Credos, the industry’s think-tank, was next up to talk about responsibility of advertisers to deliver ‘content’ that doesn’t piss the viewer off, bearing in mind that 74% of the public actively avoid ads, with a further 26% utilising ad-blocking and 42% of viewers not enjoying the ads at all. A staggering 73% think that ads are manipulative, of which a large majority are worried about those aimed at kids, in light of obesity, the watershed and alcohol, even though the rules on advertising to children are some of the strictest in the world – but their research showed that just six per cent of adults were fully aware of the rules and regulations already in place. Privacy is another contentious area, with 72 per cent of respondents viewing mobile-location ads as an invasion of privacy, rising to 77 per cent for SMS advertising. His idea was to build up ‘a mutually rewarding relationship between the advertiser and the consumer, fit for the modern age’, whatever that means.

“It’s super an issue,” Head of Brand Tom Rainsford at Giffgaff, the mobile network owned by O2 owners Telefónica, started off by saying. He believes that there is another way to build on mutuality, and that is one of collaboration, flexibility and, above all, a partnership within which everyone speaks a common language. Getting the right people is paramount to success, and ‘excite your client, right?’ Giffgaff, from the Scottish, which basically means a fair exchange, don’t profess to having all the answers, working with agencies and production companies, and there is an acknowledged risk of failure that one should embrace, both with ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ KPIs, whatever that means.

Dan Phillips, Head of Digital and Interactive at MPC, had an almost evangelical fervour when it came to VR, particularly with the so-called millennials, or Generation ‘Y’, who he sees as the most likely consumers of their product. His talk was entitled ‘Get on board the Millennial Falcon’ and quoting ‘shareconomics’ and ‘cross-platform expectations’, to produce a ‘frictionless marketing experience’. He then went on to throw some numbers about, like Snapchat has four billion views a day, with 30 billion messages being sent on Whatsapp daily, and 20 billion on SMS.

Evan Boehm from Nexus was a little more pragmatic about VR, saying that, once it got going, it was only going to last two or three years, maybe five at the outside. His talk was the one before the break, where delegates could don the VR headsets and look like idiots, swivelling their heads, duckin’ and divin’, gasping and mouthing WOW! This seems to be the inherent problem with VR – it is really masturbatory fodder for your eyes and your eyes only, a bit like watching someone on acid – so where is the pleasure in that? In Sweden, McDonalds have introduced Happy Goggles, whereby happy eaters can simply just tear along some perforated lines in their McBoxes, makes a couple of folds, insert the VR lenses (included) and a smartphone (not included) and then kids can watch some crap whilst eating crap. Another problem, I mean, challenge, is that technology can produce absolutely anything under the sun, and some things beyond it, involving bells and whistles, explosions, destruction on a colossal scale, robots, rockets and indestructible superheroes, but, with barely a storyline in sight, it’s just eye-candy. Last year, Nexus treated us to Made with Code: Holiday Lights, where a bunch of girls were taught how to program dozens of Christmas tree lights ranged on the lawn outside the White House in Washington, inaugurated by President Obama in an initiative to persuade girls to go into computer programming and particularly coding, as a career. This year, we were treated to exactly the same video. 

One of the best aspects of APA’s first Interactive, Digital and Experiential Advertising Showcase, was its acronym, IDEAS, as it was very much a mixed bag of ideas and concepts. After a rather cheesy Coca Cola promotional film, where all participants had to do was to smile a cheesy smile at a dispenser and shazam! clunk! a free can of Coke dropped down. Next up was Nexus, who treated us to Made with Code: Holiday Lights and, if this is the future of advertising, then I am either suffering from dementia or déjà vu - or maybe both at the same time, then I can say, ‘I think I’ve forgotten this before’. Honda’s The Other Side gave the viewer a choice of watching a suburban school run or a high-speed chase merely by hitting the red button, red also being ‘R for Race’. I thought it was a bit odd that they would choose a two-door hatchback as a getaway car after an audacious art heist, but that’s me being picky. There was an elaborate stage show to celebrate 550 years of Kazakhstan from the Production Company Partizan, showing how it all came together in matter of weeks. Framestore produced a Big Bang concept for the opening of the London Stock Exchange in Paternoster Square, in which there were vast amounts of live financial data in real-time, visualised on 500 screens with 200 million pixels, and additional HD video player capabilities, as well as live TV signal playback. Framestore were also involved in two other projects, Marvel ‘Battle for Avengers Tower’, and a VR landscape set up at Sundance Film Festival to promote Merrell Capra hiking boots, involving rock ledges, a suspension bridge with a broken slat and simulated rock-falls. There was more Xbox nougat, with a programme called ‘Glitch - Halo 5: Guardians’, while Samsung came up with an elaborate 360° sound experiment, using sound waves and omnidirectional movement to immerse entire rooms in sound and lighting FX.

Gaz and Leccy (Gas and Electricity, geddit?) are a couple of brand characters, created to promote energy-saving ‘Smart Meters’, and posing as a regular cinema ad, an unsuspecting audience were subjected to role-playing actors popping up amongst them and pyrotechnics going off all around the theatre. Teatreneu also used an audience, but this time they were watching a stand-up comedian in Barcelona and being filmed in the process. The more the people laughed, the more they paid, up to a maximum of €24, but all this monetised humour sounded a bit too serious to be funny. John Hull, a writer, became completely blind in 1983, and for three years he kept an audio diary of his interior world of blindness, comprising some 16 hours of tape and examining ‘the borderland between dream and memory.’ The resulting Into Darkness was by far the most engaging piece of filmmaking of the entire Showcase.

Felix Morgan from Brave talked about the Science of Bravery and how using biometrics can de-risk a campaign by externalising the body’s internal data, through galvanic skin responses, facial coding and eye-tracking. Using audio and UX optimisation and competitor analysis, they can break ‘content’ down into nine emotional zones, namely, Joy, Anger, Surprise, Fear, Contempt,Disgust, Sadness, Confusion and Frustration, which they then monitor. Last year’s Tesco Christmas ad started out upbeat, but ended up flatlining, whereas the John Lewis offering, as previously discussed, ended up as an uplifting experience. Apart from his mantra ‘Winning hearts and blowing minds,’ Felix came up with the the best quote of the afternoon, ‘Focus groups are fucked!’ The big question is why did it take the industry so long to realise that a bunch of people in a front room in Pinner eating digestive biscuits and watching telly, could determine whether one ad would sell a brand better than another.

The last speaker was Mel Exon, Managing Director of BBH, whose rant about ad-blocking was entitled, somewhat alarmingly, Advertising Apocalypse. She said that ad-blocking was bad for business - well, she would say that, wouldn’t she? - but, in the light of how abysmal most ads are these days, it is hardly surprising that the majority of people find them irritating, interruptive and intrusive. Like those poor, tormented souls in the Eighth Circle of Hell, one cannot keep looking back, but it is with a certain regret that the so-called ‘Golden Age of Advertising’ in the 1980s and 1990s, peppered with wit, irreverence, creativity, quirkiness, style and cheeky humour, has gone forever. It’s Hell out there.