Do we need to cry before we buy at Christmas?

December 18, 2014 / Features

By David Beattie

Brands have made a tradition of making people cry at Christmas, notices VCCP Creative Director David Beattie.

Every year I dabble with trying something new for Christmas. Maybe I’ll ditch the turkey in favour of another dry roasted meat. Maybe I’ll get all my shopping done early and avoid the last minute dash around Oxford Street. Maybe I’ll pace myself and not drink myself into a coma at every Christmas party. Maybe I’ll go somewhere hot and pretend that Christmas doesn’t even exist. But every year I have the same answer… I love my Christmas and it wouldn’t be Christmas without the traditions I have built up over the years. And for me, that includes the annual competition from advertisers to make the nation cry. And this year’s annual dropping of the ‘feelings bomb’ has been no different.

 
So, with the party season already taking its toll, the last minute shopping panic already setting in, and as I begin to prepare for a day of reindeer jumpers, copious amounts of food and drink and a snoozy Christmas afternoon – I asked myself do we need to cry to buy this Christmas.

Once again I looked to John Lewis to kick off the tear fest and they didn’t disappoint. Monty the Penguin’s heartfelt story of companionship hit the top of my cry-o-meter (sad soppy git that I am) and the production value was nothing short of what I have come to expect from a John Lewis Christmas ad. The warm and cosy feeling I expected was achieved. However, unlike last year’s Bear and the Hare story, it lacked the element of the unexpected that I was craving. Greedy, I know. And normally that wouldn’t matter, especially over Christmas where change for me is usually sacrilege. But I felt myself wanting more.

And ‘more’ for me was what Sainsbury’s delivered. Their tribute to fallen soldiers was both emotional and unexpected. The story was beautifully brought to life and - maybe because of my love for the beautiful game - hit me in the heart like a tonne of bricks. On first viewing I was a little taken aback. A famous but untold WW1 war story being used by a supermarket to sell its brand over Christmas… I wasn’t sure if it felt right at first. But on second, third, tenth viewing it was perfect. The story needed to be told and I for one thank Sainsbury’s for telling it. It was handled with the care, attention and all the love it deserved.

And the tear fest kept on coming. Boots has pulled on the heartstrings also, showing a family waking up in the early hours of Boxing Day so that they can celebrate it with their mum, a nurse who comes back from her night shift. A lovely story that brings to life the fact that people are the most important aspect of any Christmas. With many years of having to share my mum with her work on Christmas day, it really hit home.

Not all of this year’s ads needed to be new. The sound of Coca-Cola’s ‘Holidays are Coming’ and Toy’s R Us’ ‘Magical Place’ adverts being re-run are also a tradition I couldn’t live without. They have been a big part of growing up for me and every time I see them, or more specifically hear the music, it always reminds me of the excitement I felt around Christmas as a child. For me, it also proves that not everything has to be a heartwarming story and that a classic can create the same emotion - as long as you have a relationship with it previously.

But is all this crying really necessary? Sparkle, glitz and celebration are also powerful tools to use over the Christmas period. Marks and Spencer’s ‘Follow the Fairies’ and Argos’ ‘Get set for Advent’ are both great examples of how you can create excitement around a brand over Christmas without having to pull on people’s heartstrings.

Beautifully put together, Marks and Spencer’s ‘Follow the Fairies’ was pure sparkle - reminding me that luxury is a huge part of gift giving for Christmas.

And Argos’ ‘Get Set for Advent’ was a great example of how advertising can help people reappraise a brand through injecting a little energy and fun into its communications - even if I do miss their laminated book of dreams during the festive season. 

With all that said… talkability - or populating culture as we call it at VCCP - is a great indicator of how effective any advert is. So for me the ads that have created the most buzz – be it your parents discussing it over dinner, or friends chatting about it down the pub, people sharing it on Facebook or even the news and TV programmes referencing it as a feature story – are the ones that have succeeded, and the tearjerkers get the most coverage all the time.  Do we need to cry before we buy? Well, only time will tell, but if people are talking about it it’s cut through and thus half the job is done. I for one have made our annual dropping of the ‘feelings bomb’ a part of my Christmas tradition, and hope that advertisers’ competiveness to make the nation cry the hardest lasts for a very long time to come.     


David Beattie
Creative Director at VCCP - and Christmas softy

Do You Need a Penis to Direct Ads?

December 15, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

The Swedish One of Three initiative reminds us of the terrible gender imbalance in the global ad industry.

The Swedish advertising industry recently made a bold move for equality. Five years ago a survey found that out of 130 commercials directors in Sweden only six were women. By 2014 little progress had been made. The industry has responded by introducing the En av Tre (One of Three) initiative, which states that for each pitch between an advertising agency and production companies, at least one in three directors should be a woman. This was written into the Swedish production and agency associations’ joint pitch guidelines in October, setting a new standard.

In exploring the issue it feels like I’ve spoken to half the London advertising industry and I’ve encountered every opinion from “fucking brilliant” to “the most sexist thing I’ve ever heard.” Thankfully, while Sweden’s choice of solution divides opinion, everyone recognises the problem the ad industry faces.

The Swedish guideline is a radical reaction, but in the face of the inequality it’s hardly surprising. While advertising is a business that prides itself in being trendy and creative, its demographics tell a different story.

Joi Persson runs Swedish production company Folke Film and recently signed a second female director to his roster. He supports the initiative. “I think it’s good,” he says, “and, sadly enough, needed because it will be very hard to change, especially when the commercials industry is pretty conservative. You pretty much need to be a guy [who is] a friend of some other guy who works as a copywriter or art director.”

This boys’ club culture is global and the UK is no exception. Out of all the directors listed on the rosters of Advertising Producers Association member production companies just nine per cent are female. That's pathetic.

Toby Moore, a Creative Director at Wieden+Kennedy London, has only worked with one female director in his ten years in advertising. “That’s just strange,” he says. “But not so strange when I’ve never worked for a female ECD. And when our houses of parliament, sporting fields and boardroom tables are dominated by men.”

Feminism has taken some blows recently, resulting in a worrying trend for people starting sentences with “I’m not a feminist, but…”. But even the misogynists of Adland should be able to support One of Three’s sentiment because diversity is good for advertising. “Film, which relies on diversity of vision to keep the medium vibrant, needs more women directing that vision,” says Toby. “Without female directors, the medium suffers.”

Lindsey Clay, Chief Executive of Thinkbox, think it’s slightly more nuanced. “It’s not saying that just because you have a male director you will get a skewed, misogynistic view of women,” she says, “because that plainly isn’t true. But variety and diversity of point of view is a good thing and you get insights and reflections that you wouldn’t get from men.”

Of course directors should be selected on merit. A creative agency should choose the best director from the options available to bring their script to life. But when you look at the numbers, it seems impossible that this is the simple reality of how things currently work. Are nine out of ten scripts really best served by a male director?

The advertising industry is in some respects very meritocratic. Kai-Lu Hsiung, Managing Director of Ridley Scott Associates estimates that their runners are 50/50 male and female. “Ridley jokes that it’s like film school here sometimes because you find out quite early on what [aspect of filmmaking] they like. More of the women this time around want to start directing. So that’s a healthy thing, rather than going into wardrobe or something.” With no formal training required for many positions, the doors are open to anyone with the passion and intelligence for it. And the female voice is being heard in advertising, with women succeeding at every level – just not enough of them.

“We have to be very mindful to make sure we get a variety of people in [the ad industry] from different backgrounds,” says Kai. “It’s not just people you know. We’re trying to look for talent from all walks of life. That’s what keeps the business interesting and varied.”

Deputy Executive Creative Director at Grey London, Vicki Maguire, is familiar with the well-rehearsed arguments of this discussion. “Every time we have this debate in our office everybody trots out ‘it doesn’t matter who does the work as long as it’s good,’” she says, “but studies have proven like employs like. If you recognise what’s good within your department and you employ like then you are just going to dilute that influence pool.” She remembers when she first started at an agency “it was full of Oxbridge blokes and Northern men made good. So it wasn’t just gender. It was geographical as well.” We’ve made some progress since then, at least.

In a rational world, advertising would have no diversity issues. But people aren’t rational. Neuroscience has shown us that decisions are made on more of gut feeling and, since we are naturally clannish in nature, an industry built in sexist times by men selects men to continue the sexist business. This makes it tough for women at various levels. Firstly, in finding representation, secondly, in being chosen to pitch on scripts, and, thirdly, in winning those jobs.

To be clear, this is not the overt sexism of the Mad Men era, and we can be thankful for that. Much of it is subconscious. We have a set of norms that inform our decisions; ideas in our head of what a director (or copywriter, editor etc.) looks like. It seems likely that this influences how we evaluate people. Unfortunately this means everyone adds to the problem, even female creative directors who want to end sexism in advertising.

Another obstacle for women in advertising is the way their behaviour is perceived. To succeed as a commercials director you have to have a lot of meetings, which require confidence and leadership skills. Some people I spoke to suggested that traits that would be respected in a man are met with disapproval in a woman. It’s become a cliché that women with powerful roles are cast as “bossy” where no man would receive that label, but there’s truth to it. The way our gendered society creates men and women shapes our personalities.

Maybe girls don’t aspire to become directors, some of my interviewees suggested. “There’s a lack of ambition,” says Joanna Bailey, a director at Bare Films, “because maybe they’ve been brought up to believe that that could never be theirs.”

Lay on top of this the fact that female directors are often pigeonholed into a softer style and end up shooting ads for domestic and beauty brands – a force that’s hard to resist. “I did a lot of beauty advertising when I was younger,” remembers Sara Dunlop, a director at Rattling Stick, “and the odd ad comes through that’s great, fresh and new, but in that world it’s very difficult to do creative advertising. It’s too specific, like ‘what does this cream do?’ It hasn’t developed at all. For me it’s the scale of idea I want. And if you look at my reel it isn’t girly.” That involves saying no a lot, which she admits is hard. “Once you start saying no it’s like 21s. You keep turning over the cards and if the next card isn’t as good you’ve got to keep going.”

None of these obstacles are great for gender diversity in advertising. And, as the Swedes have concluded, the balance seems unlikely to tip on its own. Their answer has been the One of Three initiative, encouraging advertising agencies to at least consider female directors. “It gives them a way to change their bad habits and traditional ways of working,” says Henrik Eriksson, Chairman of Commercial Producers for the Swedish Film & TV Producers Association, who brought in the initiative.

Nothing like One of Three has been attempted in the advertising industry before, but similar examples of affirmative action are worth looking at. The Rooney Rule, introduced in 2003 to America’s National Football League, made it obligatory for teams to interview ethnic minority candidates for head coaching and senior roles. Within three years, the proportion of African American coaches had jumped from six to 22 per cent. 

Sweden have a track record for this kind of approach. Four of their major political parties have gender quotas to make sure men and women are represented equally. And they’re almost there on that front, with 45 per cent of seats in their parliament occupied by women.

Whether this is the right course of action for advertising remains to be seen. “It’s different with politicians,” says Kai. “You understand the fact that it’s reflecting society and therefore their opinions are important, whereas when you’re talking about creativity, it shouldn’t be about your sex. It should be about whether you’re a creative person.” Piling regulation onto the industry is a blunt instrument, and opinion is fiercely divided on the subject of positive discrimination. It’s suddenly a disadvantage to be a male director.

Some suggest a more subtle approach, based on encouraging and educating people on gender and celebrating the best female directors as role models. Daniel Bergmann, Chairman and EP of production company Stink, says he would love to see the outcome of One of Three, but he wants more initiatives in education and business to support female directors too. More female voices on award juries, opinion columns and at conferences. “There is a lot of positive focus on female business leadership,” he says, “but I feel there is definitely a gap for more contribution in these areas from female minds.”

No director would want to be given a script to pitch for on the basis of her gender. Benefiting from sexism is isn’t satisfying. “In pitching, [female directors] have got a better chance than a male, just by their sex. Is that fair?” asks Matthew Fone, President of Riff Raff. “Not really. But how else do you kickstart this? You have to go to this extreme level to make people aware. Natural progression just doesn’t happen. Why is that? It’s stupid.”

Unfortunately it’s easy to foresee some women being brought in on pitches as tokens now this new initiative is in effect. “If you feel like you’re just pitching and pitching, never in with a chance and just there because you’re the token woman, I think you’d feel pretty bad,” says Kai. Most of my interviewees agree. It’s a situation sure to leave a bad taste for all.

“I want to be there because my showreel’s good,” says Joanna. “I really don’t want to be there because of my gender. But on the other hand I absolutely recognise that it’s an issue. I love it when women come into the office and are good and I really want to see women do well.”

From a business perspective, some have speculated it could end up wasting production companies a lot of time, effort and money if their female directors keep pitching without converting those chances into work. And since directors’ treatments became the behemoth they are today, that could be a significant blow.

Another worry I heard from several my interviewees was that there wouldn’t be enough supply for the demand One of Three creates. They say the top flight of female directors are already working hard. Sara already spends a lot of time treating on scripts. “There’s definitely pitch fatigue if you’re doing treatment after treatment. And not being genuinely considered after that would be worse.” How will they find time to fit any more pitching into their schedule?

The hope is that production companies will stock this new market by finding and signing new female talent. With more chances to get on pitches, a more diverse roster has business advantages. We’re already seeing this take effect in Swedish production companies, who have known about the guideline’s introduction for months and responded by signing women to their directing rosters. “It’s a good opportunity to secure producers’ position of investing in talent,” says Henrik. “Suddenly producers are thinking ‘if I don’t have a female on my roster I won’t see some of the work in the business.’”

The obvious criticism here is that, again, those women are just tokens, signed on the basis of their gender rather than on merit. That’s true, and many of them will lack the talent to win jobs. As a production company owner, Joi accepts this risk. “That’s a responsibility that the production companies and agencies have to take,” he says. “We have to do it, as I see it.” Some producers will learn the hard way that quality still counts.

“Personally I wouldn’t want to be the nominal women that gets the job just because she’s a woman,” says director at Teepee Productions Nicole Volavka. “But putting someone on a pitch isn’t giving them the job. It’s just giving them a chance. A lot of the time I don’t think women are getting those chances.

“I think if you started to allow more women onto the pitches through positive discrimination, you might find that there’s a whole army of women who want that job very much more than the guys and will go all out and deliver a phenomenal pitch.” It feels likely that the quality will eventually come through as the new system stabilises.

Eventually. That’s the key to the One of Three philosophy. The change will cause problems and difficulties, but the need for gender equality is so deep that the Swedish ad industry is willing to work with them. These are all short-term problems set against a sexist tradition that predates advertising and a more equal, stimulating future.

Vicki recognises the trouble of strong-arming equality, but believes it will ultimately achieve a new, better equilibrium. “Once you’ve forced women into those jobs or at least got that balance right, then like any industry the good stay and the bad drop out. So first of all it’s good for gender and then it’s good for the industry.”

Once a proper gender balance is achieved we shouldn’t need guidelines like this. By the law of averages, more women pitching should translate into more directing ads. And not only for tampons and dresses, but for sports brands, cars and alcohol. “There will be a number of jobs where it was always going to go to Ringan [Ledwidge] and the other people are just pitch fodder,” Lindsey admits. “But there are the ones where they totally expect it to go to Ringan, but then suddenly they get a leftfield, completely different treatment that they weren’t expecting and it really suits them. They get a really good vibe from that partnership and [the female director will] get it.” That should help women build more interesting reels, which will bring them further success. And eventually, eventually, we should have prominent female role models for aspiring directors to admire. Then there should be more female directors.

Of course all this is hypothetical. My interviewees consistently expressed an interest in what kind of effect this change will have. Advertising will be watching the Swedish market closely, because whatever happens, the industry can learn from it.

Daniel is fascinated to see the outcome. “If exposed well and supported by agencies accepting scripts – from sport, automotive, and alcoholic beverages to fashion, music and luxury – then there is no reason why the balance between male and female directors going for roles for any brand cannot be achieved. If it is going to help drive change and impact on a global level, the initiative needs high exposure.”

Henrik believes this could be the beginning of a global shift towards equality in advertising. “If it becomes bigger than this, I think it can start a change, he says. “Not only in Sweden. I think we can improve other countries.”

A short recommendation in a regulatory document isn’t a revolution by itself, and the ad industry won’t reach its gender diversity promised land for many years. But having spoken to a cross-section of its professional population, one thing is clear – everyone is glad we’re talking about female directors. And they’re keen to make sure the conversation continues. After all, as one (obviously male) copywriter once wrote for his client, it’s good to talk.

Blurred Lines: The Designer-Director

December 4, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Tom Hingston talks us through his unique flavour of graphic-influenced directing.

We hear it all the time: a new epoch is dawning. With the advent of the Information Age, everyone has had to re-evaluate their position in the world. Roles and priorities have shifted so drastically that many of our old definitions seem futile. The labels we put on people seem limiting in the face of the range of tasks we now perform in our working roles.

Tom Hingston is the embodiment of these blurring lines. The foundation of his career was as a graphic designer, but in recent years his work has spilled over into what we used to call directing. With his studio behind him (aptly dubbed Tom Hingston Studio), he’s represented on RSA Films’ Design roster. His position raises the question – what do we call his job?

The reality of today’s multimedia, multiplatform world is that creative briefs are never as simple as the posters, print campaigns and TVCs of the past. “There are so many other channels that need to be considered,” says Tom. With RSA – a company with a strong filmmaking pedigree – recently launching a dedicated roster of graphic designers, including Tom, it’s easy to see how these worlds are colliding.

So where does designing end and directing begin? Tom doesn’t bother making this distinction between visual channels. “For me, a contemporary visual designer is someone that can work in both print, digital and moving image. I think anyone working in this kind of area and taking a contemporary approach should be able to transfer their skillset and visual sensibilities to any one of those areas.”

Tom’s keen to stress that being able to work across media is nothing new. His design heroes – people like Robert Brownjohn and Saul Bass – were some of the graphic design greats, but they worked across disciplines too, working on projects from film to furniture.

Robert Brownjohn’s title sequence for From Russia with Love

 

The key difference is peoples’ attitudes to this jack-of-all-trades approach. Technology and converging media have gotten us used to people with multiple talents. It’s easier to learn various skills now and the equipment is not nearly so prohibitively priced. Creative hardware and software isn’t exclusive to individuals or organisations with deep pockets anymore, meaning normal people can make professional quality film, design or music from their bedrooms.

One effect of this democratising change is that clients have opened their minds too. “In the early years it took quite a lot of persuasion for clients to accept that you could do a bit of digital, or more moving image, even though your background is predominantly print,” remembers Tom. “I think that’s changing. Clients are much more open to the idea that one agency has the skillset to look after all aspects of a project.”

Tom didn’t grow up with ambitions to direct film, but was always interested in the visual arts. “For as long as I remember I’ve always wanted to do something visual. I think when you get to your early teens you realise that you’re not going to be able to have a job just drawing stuff, so the next best thing is graphic design.”

He studied graphic design at St Martins and when he left he went to work for Neville Brody, the original art director of The Face and Arena magazines, where he stayed for three years. Designing for clients from Sony Playstation to Deutsche Bank and working on film titles for Michael Mann, he describes it as a sort of pupillage. And it was the ideal place to learn. “It was really mixed and diverse projects and that definitely had a massive influence on me. You should strive not to be pigeonholed. Creatively it’s so much more interesting and rewarding to work across very different areas. And what you find is that if the breadth is that wide then all those things feed into one another.”

Saul Bass’ title sequence for Casino

 

When Tom got around to setting up his own studio 18 years ago, the backbone of his professional beliefs and ambitions had been formed. Diversity of styles and mediums became a central tenet of his work.

He produced some applauded work for prominent clients, but wasn’t content with always keeping his design static. “I always felt that there were certain projects where you’d have an idea and when you saw it in print it was frozen in this moment in time. You had aspirations for it to be more than that and moving image allows you to do that because you’re dealing in time as well. There’re more possibilities, greater depth.”

Title sequences were his first step in his transition from static design to moving imagery. Tom agrees it certainly didn’t count as proper directing, but it was certainly a stepping stone. “If you’re a graphic designer with a typographic strength, which I always was, the idea of that leaping off the page and moving is really exciting.”

It was also helpful due to the fact that it meant working with directors, often for months on end. Collaborating with people like Anthony Minghella, Joe Wright and Anton Corbijn, Tom gradually gained an understanding of filmmaking. This was one of the vital periods in giving him the confidence to make himself into a director. “You get more and more comfortable with the idea that maybe that’s something you could experiment [with] or try,” he says.

Having art directed stills for many years, collaborating with photographers to create visual worlds and campaigns, Tom’s foundation of skills was already strong before he first got behind a video camera. “I definitely see directing moving image as an evolution of that process in many ways,” he says. “A lot of the aspects of collaborating with a photographer or DOP to create something visual are incredibly similar.”

His first time working on film was for two Dior commercials in 2004, working with photographer Nick Knight. “That was the first time I was sat behind a camera, albeit with someone else.” He remembers the confidence he gained by being privy to the whole process during and after a live action shoot like that. “Your confidence grows, your ambition grows and the next stage is doing that on your own.”

That moment eventually came around in the form of a unique project for Nokia. They wanted films to display on the interior walls of their flagship stores around the world. “Each store had a kind of inner skin that was pixel based. They commissioned a whole series of image-makers and young filmmakers to create ambient content that would go onto these screens. It was a great project because it didn’t need to be branded, just whatever you produced needed to encapsulate the values of the brand.”

Tom and the studio produced three films – two live action and one animated. He didn’t see himself as a true director yet, but he was building confidence.

Since then Tom Hingston Studio has worked on more title sequences, campaign films for Farrell, Mappin & Webb, and three music videos – one for Robbie Williams and two for David Bowie. Tom really went in at the top when it came to his music video career.

The studio also worked on a huge project for British audio brand Naim that encapsulates everything this hybrid of designer-director promises. The brief was to bring their branding up to date and to create a dynamic, cross-platform launch for Naim’s first wireless system, mu-so. This included the brand website as well as a campaign film – the biggest commercial film project Tom’s worked on to date.

It was a massive job, entailing six months of development from the studio, working in collaboration with Davy Evans, the designer behind the most recent campaign for the xx. “It’s developing a really distinct, strong and contemporary visual language for a brand,” says Tom. The film is halfway between a music video and a graphic design project, “performance but with a strong graphic sensibility. Even the way the dancers were lit was very graphic, treating the form as a piece of design.”

The designer-director fusion is a welcome asset to the diverse landscape of commercial filmmaking, and Tom feels there’s a unique contribution to be made by filmmakers like himself. “Whatever I do will always have a really strong language and look. Colour and composition are both inherent in design and it’s a sensibility that you definitely take into filmmaking. I guess the difference between me and someone who’s come straight out of film school is that they would do something much more narrative based and the focus would be much more about the characters and dialogue and all of those strengths.”

That said, Tom’s keen to expand those parts of his work too. From his Farrell film to his work for Naim, he’s enjoyed working with performance. And says he’d like to do more storytelling with his films, rather than the pure aestheticism he often gets commissioned to do.

The vision of graphic design has often produced work that we’re happy to gaze at in awe, and while designers turning a hand to filmmaking may not be new, we should celebrate that it’s becoming more common in advertising. With companies like RSA opening dedicated design rosters and visual communication flowing more freely between platforms, we’re likely to see a lot more designer-directors like Tom.

Jumping the Fence: Josh Tenser

December 1, 2014 / Features

By Josh Tenser

ACNE London’s new Executive Producer knows that the walls between agencies and production must fall before interactive projects can reach their true potential.

So the Beak Street Bugle kindly asked me for my thoughts and opinions on the differing challenges faced by agency and production company producers making digital work.

For my part, I’ve been making websites and other interactive products for 18 years, either with my bare hands in the early days or by leading productions, teams or departments as a producer.

I’ve just joined ACNE London as Executive Producer and in the past I’ve held management roles in production at both ad agencies and production companies. From production director at Work Club to Head of Production at Stink Digital and most recently as Head of Interactive Production at BBH London.

At heart I’m a hands-on producer, I make things with and for people. I love craft. I love my medium and the ingrained ability it has to allow you to keep learning.

Over the past ten years most traditional creative agencies have tried to embrace interactive production. To diversify their output, to achieve revenue growth, to stay relevant, to deliver integrated campaigns.

I think it's always proven to be very difficult nut to crack as "digital" is still in its infancy compared to TV production. There just aren't the people around in agencies with decades of experience creating technical products, in anywhere near the same numbers as there are folks who are brilliant with TV. To compound this the technology landscape continues to shift making our world an ever moving feast.

Something I’ve observed many times is that often, very technically-minded people find it hard to flourish in an agency culture that deals in a much more abstract world of ideas and brands.

With that in mind I’ve always worked hard maintaining my technical and production skills but at the same time taking jobs where I get complete immersion in what it means to work in a world-class ad agency. I feel lucky to have had an eclectic career where I’ve been able to blend these two worlds.

In terms of challenges we face, this merging of worlds - technical and creative - needs absolute trust between agency people and production people.

The agency needs to intimately respect the complexities of interactive production. Things that look simple, that you take for granted like the apps on your phone or a blog you follow, can often take years of iterative development to become the pleasing product that’s used as a reference in a creative deck.

Agencies must try not pull the production company into a risky place of ambiguity and unrealistic expectations with their clients as advertising deadlines rarely support the ability to develop an Instagram or Tumblr.

Conversely, the production company has to respect the enormous amount of work agencies invest in getting their opportunities green-lit and that, whilst they are brilliant at certain things, they also need support and flexibility from the companies they work with. Working upstream as part of their team with full transparency is what agencies need from a true partner.

Enabling the environment for this process to flourish is the most satisfying part of my job and I always try to break down barriers between agency and production teams. I feel in a good position do this having spent so much time running productions from both sides of the fence.

I think the most destructive attitude to have is an "us and them" mentality. A successful job in an ever complex, constantly shifting medium requires a "one team" process. Dropping too much responsibility, expectation and general problem-solving downstream will break the product and everyone suffers – all the way though to the client. The same is true in reverse - not being proactive and transparent and not pushing knowledge and expertise up the chain starves key stakeholders of the information they need to make good decisions. Not communicating rigorously at all times risks delivering a product that's way wide of the mark of the commissioning parties' expectations.

Breaking down the divisions between the industry’s silos is particularly relevant in my new role at ACNE. ACNE itself is a collective – a diverse and brilliant talent pool making everything from high end fashion to kids toys with an ad agency and integrated production company sat in the middle of it all. Their mentality of collaboration, mixed disciplines, great talent, transparency and hard work is completely my style and that's what we'll aim to bring to every project we take on.

I think the key take out for me is collaboration and a shared vested interest in making the best work across everyone involved in the project.

Under the Influence: Olly Blackburn

November 26, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

The Great Guns director digs down to the bedrock of his inspiration.

Looking at Olly Blackburn’s body of work, it’s clear the Great Guns director takes his influences from a broad spectrum of experience. From his big-screen exploits in the horror and thriller genres and recent rural teen drama Glue to his work in commercials, he’s a hard one to pigeonhole.

And when we asked him to name five of his biggest inspirations, his responses reflected these eclectic tastes. “I think every field is inspirational in its own way when you have real masters doing it,” he says. “And each one has a different lesson to tell. All these things, when I first saw or heard them, my mind turned into a supernova, but most importantly every time I re-watch or re-listen to them my mind still turns into a supernova. They all have that freshness and those inspirational qualities.”

PlayStation, Double Life

“To me a great piece of art that’s beautifully done, there’s no difference whether it’s a painting, a photograph or a film. And advertising can be great art. I was at film school in America – at NYU. I had this very inspirational writing teacher called Yvette Biro, who was very European and artsy. The first thing she showed me when I first got there about the art of making a great short film was a reel of classic British ads from the 80s and 90s.

Delivering an idea in 30 or 60 seconds is an art. And especially in this country we’ve proved to be amazing at it. When I was growing up all these ads would come out where your jaw would drop. There are so many of them. All these things like Guinness Surfer, the Vaughan and Anthea ads, Tarsem’s ads. Every time one of those came on it was this moment – this event. It was just beautiful filmmaking.

There’re other great ads; almost too many to go through. It could have been another ad on another day. But that ad for PlayStation by Frank Budgen – there’s something about that I will never forget. When I saw it for the first time I was speechless. It’s the simplicity and the humanity of it.  All great ads I think are very simple concepts. But as we all know getting to simplicity is one of the hardest things to do. When you join the dots between these very real, very strange people with what they’re talking about, which is this escape into a complete virtual world, it’s the whole package – an amazing piece of storytelling.

The storytelling in that ad is so profound, particularly through the casting and the location. Everyone remembers that strange kid saying ‘I’ve conquered worlds’ and he’s in this kind of wasteland. And just that three seconds of image suggests so much story. You could almost create a whole world around that image.

It’s not like I’m always thinking of that, but there are lessons to be drawn from it about casting and visual storytelling that are sunk deep into my bedrock.”

Beastie Boys, Sabotage

“The trouble with Sabotage is it’s almost impossible to describe. It just is. Its genius just exists and it’s almost impossible to break down.

It’s sort of crack cocaine. Whenever [Sabotage] gets played on TV you just have to sit and watch it. It’s the energy. It’s the humour. It captures that really gonzo, high-octane, crazy vibe.

The whole thing is funny because it’s such a pitch perfect piss-take of a 70s cop show – the fake moustaches and the guy dressed as the bellhop and the movements they do. They know their genres so well and they’re just sending it up immaculately. And it’s kickass.

That energy does [influence the way I work]. You want to capture that energy. And there’s something about that video that’s so spontaneous and instinctive about it. It feels like not much thinking happened. They just did it. And they’ve got it 100 per cent right. I think in filmmaking that’s what you’re aiming for.  Sometimes that can be very hard. Sometimes you can have people interfering with you.

What you’re really aiming for is to be able to get to those situations where you’re a group of people who’ve all got chemistry and every situation is instinctive and spontaneous, with your actors, with your DOP, with everyone all working as an organism. And that’s what that video says to me. Be like a shark. Keep moving forward. Don’t stop to think and let the creativity happen.”

The Clash

“The Clash is just, for me, the greatest band that ever existed. And the reason why is that, first of all, they both played incredible music and they looked fucking great. So it was the double-whammy. Secondly they lasted five years and they were like this meteorite. They didn’t outstay their welcome. They didn’t turn in to U2 or the Stones. They just delivered incredible shit then they exited the stage. They knew the great lesson, which is timing: when to take the stage and when to get off.

The other thing is that although they were punk rock they had this amazing eclecticism. And in the five years that they were making music as the original Clash, they did reggae, they did electro-funk, they did sort of soul music, RnB. They just had this incredible breadth and appetite and yet made it all sound like their own, which I think is extraordinary.

My commercials are completely different to the films that I make. The films that I make are very dark thrillers and horror films and I hope to make more films in different genres. But I feel that I have a lot of different interests and a lot of appetite and creatively I want to explore a lot of things. And that’s one of the great things about The Clash.

I wish I could have that rock and roll spirit. They represent the true spirit of rock and roll.

And they also wrote one of the great songs about advertising, which is Koka Kola off the London Calling album.”

Don McCullin

“We live in a visual medium and a photographic medium. A lot of commercials directors do photography. A lot have come out of photographic backgrounds. I love photography. I’m not a professional photographer.

Another day it could have been a different person but Don McCullin has always been one of my loves ever since I was a kid. I got given a book of great press photos.

There’s something about the way he captures the moment and the way he captures a face that gets to some kind of truth. He has a very famous [photograph] of a shell-shocked soldier in Vietnam. There’s something about that picture that just gets beyond anything you could express vocally.

The other thing I love about him is he shoots these very gritty things and there’s this kind of huge epic resonance to his eye to the way he frames, the way he shoots – I call it the ‘everyday epic’.

I’m British at heart. Almost all the commercials I’ve ever made have been in Britain and have all been about showing Britain in a very poetic, cinematic way. And a lot of that is inspired by Don McCullin and people like him and the way that his eye is trained.

He shoots beautiful black and white and I haven’t shot black and white for a long time, but whenever I try and shoot black and white that’s always the reference I give. This is how black and white should look.”

Night of the Hunter

“My favourite film changes each day, but there’s a certain core amount of films that are the supernova going off in your brain. First of all it’s one of those films that when you watch it, it’s so influential that you’re like ‘oh, shit, that came from this film!’ It’s full of stuff. You’ll be amazed at how much comes from that film.

When it opened it was a disaster. No one wanted to see it. It was too weird. Charles Laughton, who directed it, was an actor. He never made a film again after that. But it’s only just grown in influence ever since.

That [river boat] sequence is just unforgettable. It’s one of the most poetic moments in cinema. It captures the essence of fairy tale, of darkness and of dreams. It’s about these children fleeing a psychotic preacher and someone sings a song over the top as they float down this river [while] you see these frogs and rabbits in the foreground.

The reason I chose it is because it’s another one of those things where creativity is unforgettable in life and ever since I’ve seen it I’ve never forgotten it. It has a resonance that goes beyond time. It summons up a series of feelings in you about childhood and storytelling and darkness and light that just seem to break beyond the screen.

There’d be very little way you could directly connect it with the commercials I’ve done but there’s something about the visual storytelling and the poetry in it which I think does factor into [my work]. If you’re delivering an idea in 30 or 60 seconds each frame has to have a logic and humanity and poetry to it. You need to figure out where that lies. And it’s in casting people with rich faces that tell stories and being able to get the performances out of them, even if it’s just looking into the camera. It’s understanding where the innate soul of those five seconds is. All these things are about that. There’s an instinctive, innate soul about them.”

Have a look for these influences on Olly's reel.

Some Thoughts from Roman Coppola

November 14, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Titbits of wisdom and conjecture from the visionary filmmaker’s appearance at Ciclope festival, including his unique point system.

He’s one of the coolest members of Hollywood’s most creative family, a polymath equally talented in directing, writing and producing. Working across music videos, commercials and feature films, he also runs production company The Directors’ Bureau. Roman Coppola recently swung by the Babylon cinema – a delightful art-deco spot in Berlin, just round the corner from the former Communist party HQ (now Soho House Berlin) – to share his experience and wisdom with the brightest sparks of advertising gathered for Ciclope festival. In case you missed it, here are some highlights from his live interview to intrigue, and hopefully inspire.

On The RC Point System
With characteristic confidence, Roman revealed how he decides which commercial scripts to work on by sharing his tried and tested point system.

In case you can’t read that off the image with Roman cooling it, here it is in text:

RC POINT SYSTEM

(Looking for jobs which rate a 6 or higher)
Great creative – ADD 5 POINTS
Very good creative – ADD 3
Good creative – ADD 2
OK creative – ADD 1
Weak creative – SUBTRACT 1
Strong budget – ADD 2
Average budget – ADD 1
I get to write or contribute significantly to script – ADD 2
They use me as a ‘spokesperson’, or there is a paid PR component – ADD 1
Shoots in LA, Paris, Rome, Buenos Aires, Tokyo – ADD 1
Shoots outside of Above cities – SUBTRACT 1
Celebrity talent – ADD 1
Stage or back lot shoot – ADD 1
Good agency or creative team – ADD 1
Product I like – ADD 1
Fun/interesting subject to shoot (includes stunts, new technology or dance) – ADD 1
If this is a commercial which is a continuation of a previous campaign – SUBTRACT 1
Extended prep, longwinded back and forth – SUBTRACT 1

Roman Coppola: “I just cooked it up because I realised these are the things that I was looking for. Sometimes you work with people and they’re confused [and ask] ‘why’d you turn that down?’ It’s pretty accurate.”

 

On Risk

RC: “Working in commercials there’s a lot of fear of failure and concern about risk and, to me, risk isn’t so risky. In fact it’s a good bet to go with risky choices. As a director you always have to find colleagues and people that can deliver. That’s my job – to spot talent. But once I spot them I guide them and let them do their thing. It’s a pretty good strategy.

“With creative folks trying to make good work, in general, if you start with a good concept, find someone you think will do a good job with that, the more you can allow them to do it truly with enthusiasm, without a lot of hassle, I think the project will be better, by and large. Risky choices are a safe bet.”

 

On Inviting creativity
RC:
“A good project to me is like throwing a party. You get all of your ingredients for the party. It depends on your taste, but you get some alcohol, you put ashtrays around, some cigarettes – a little cup of those, that brings a smile – some food, make sure you have toilet paper – a lot of different things.

“And on set you bring people together. You have a way for people to gather. You make it an essential thing to make it fun and make it in the spirit of what you’re trying to achieve. Generally the work I like to do is more playful and fun and evokes a sense of delight. It’s hard to go wrong when you have talented people who have some enthusiasm and feel like they’re doing something for a worthwhile reason – not just a gig – and the magic tends to come just by inviting it to happen.
“I’m just a big kid. To me the world of creativity [is] invitations. So Wes – we were just friends and he said ‘will you come out to Rome and help with this thing?’ [And look where that landed him!] I just have my radar out for interesting invitations and experiences that are diverse.
“Happenstance is a big part of it. I love lucky accidents. You talk about risk and part of what that means is letting something happen that you don’t expect to happen. So I love surprise and delight.”

 

On Commercials and Wes Anderson
RC:
“[When making commercials] there’s a certain ritual. You do a comments call, write a treatment – all that type of thing and we do it different than other people. I always welcome people that speak more directly. If there’s a chance to cut through the BS it’s a nice place to start. Wes is a very different person. He’s a big filmmaker. He’s a real artist. And commercials intrigue him but it’s not something he seeks out. He’s very firm about what he won’t do. He won’t get on the phone or write something up just to make sure someone feels good. He does what he thinks will be best for the project – he’s very hard working in that regard.”

 

On Producing and Executive Producing
RC:
“To me there’s not really a division [between running The Directors Bureau as a director or as a producer]. We’re just trying to do interesting things. As a director I have a sense of what I think other directors would want, to be supported and not be pressured to do lousy things and have an environment that puts emphasis on being able to do research and [gather] visual materials. I think [I run The Directors Bureau] more as a director, but also as a producer too. The creative act of the producer is to gather people, get some good food and make sure there’s good coffee and a nice place to work.”

“It sounds obvious. [As a director] you want [your producer] to support you; someone who listens to you. They’re there to serve you really – to make sure you have all the elements that you may need and it’s always great – in the rush of production things get left behind – [good producers] take time to say ‘what would make this better’ and if I gave you my party analogy, good producers have a knack for thinking of those things, whatever it may be like ‘by the way we have some cold water here.’ Just little things that show that they care and the crew recognises that, so thoughtfulness and creative application of anticipating what problems might be and getting to them before they get to be problems.”

Naming Rites

November 5, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

You see these companies’ names all the time, but how did they get them?

Scan over the company names on the APA’s list of members and you’ll learn why so many people want to get into the creative industries. Sure, a couple have simply slapped the founders names above the door and there’s nothing wrong with that, but the majority have bizarre names that defy any good sense of professionalism.

The stories behind these monikers are no doubt a rich vein of entertainment, so the following is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some of the tales behind how companies in advertising got their names.

Disclaimer: for the purposes of entertainment and lack of editorial rigor, some of these stories may be false. But we wouldn’t want the truth to get in the way of a good story, would we?

 

750mph

James Bradley, Managing Partner: “In 1998 we spent months thinking of what to call our studios. On my computer I had almost 2000 potential names.

Then the inevitable happened and my machine crashed. I managed to salvage a few potentials like 6000 Mexicans and headed to a crunch meeting with the bad tidings and the knowledge that we had to come up with a name that day for marketing and publicity purposes.

After an hour of getting nowhere one of us spotted a paperback version of The Right Stuff based on Chuck Yeager's attempt to break the sound barrier with a jet.

The question then arose, what is the speed of sound?

The answer, depending on the dryness of the air, altitude and temperature, was 750mph. We had found our name.

A few phone calls to trusted mates received a thumbs up and we have been travelling at the speed of sound ever since.”

 

Big Buoy

“When first forming the company we realised that all of the staff members were involved with sailing. We had an ex tug boat captain, a deep-sea diver, two pirates and three who had appeared in several episodes of Baywatch.

On one of our bi-annual trips to Butlins in Bognor Regis, we all decided to go for a late night swim. Little did we know it was hurricane season and we were washed out to sea. By an incredible stroke of luck or, dare I say, fate, in the distance we saw a Big Buoy and we were saved.

Hence the name was born.

We lost three that night, they went back to Baywatch, I miss the Hoff. He was a great flame op.”

 

Blink

James Studholme, Managing Director: “Blink was born sometime in 1985. The child of Bob Lawrie, a tiny irascible antipodean graphic genius, Blink was quite definitely an animation company back then.

Bob had left Australia in the mid sixties at the age of 18 to seek fame and fortune in the UK, having become the biggest thing in book jacket design in Sydney.

It was B for Bob and L for Lawrie in Blink, with the ink part being a pun on the principle of film making and the inky nature of graphic design and animation.

I joined him later that same year. Our office was at 18 Archer Street Works (a Soho street shady on both sides). Our studio had been purpose built to service the music industry in the days when every theatre, club or bar had live music. Musicians would congregate in the afternoon hoping to catch the eye of a bandleader with work for that evening. The Works were where they got their instruments mended.”

 

Caviar

Eva Custers, Marketing & Communication: “Our name reflected our desire to use a word that would pretty much be understood in an international context. In that sense we were both very ambitious and somewhat arrogant too.

We also thought that starting with a "C" would put us fairly high up in alphabetical directories, see? Practical and arrogant, truly the best of both worlds.

And lastly we wanted to convey immediately how exceptional our company was. For us the word caviar conjured a sense of uniqueness and sophistication that we felt represented perfectly the kind of work we wanted to do.”

 

Dark Energy

Matt Brown, Managing Director / Executive Producer: “So after working through 1500 names we narrowed it down to things like Blacklight and Dark Matter, for all of which the domain names were taken. Then my wife said ‘what about Dark Energy?’

My initial reaction was no. I’d never heard of it, then I thought ‘hang on – I like it.’ I went onto Google and looked it up and to my surprise read this: In astronomy, dark energy is a hypothetical form of energy which permeates all of space and tends to accelerate the expansion of the universe. Dark energy is the most accepted hypothesis to explain the observations since the 1990s indicating that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. The universe contains 26.8% dark matter, 4.9% ordinary matter and 68.3% dark energy. So in short it is this little known substance, which is in fact incredibly important and everywhere.

On the day I registered the company I saw an article online saying ‘finally it looks like we have proof of the existence of Dark Energy’ and they were right!”

 

Doofer

Dom Murgia, Managing Director: “I was asked to come up with a name for a new production company and suddenly from nowhere, the word Doofer popped into my head.

I thought it was kind of relevant to our industry in that in the north west of England it can mean TV remote control... It wasn't until I checked out the urban dictionary that I realised it has many meanings, depending where you are in the world.

We made a page on our website dedicated to the name and its various interpretations.”

 

Good Egg

John Hassay, Executive Producer: “Our moment of conception came as an industry leader remarked to me that commercial production companies existed to shit out golden eggs for their owners.Immediately I thought Golden Egg would make a great name for a production company.

After an abortive experience trying to get it up and running with a resolutely bad egg I realised that it was actually more than a little hubristic and I needed to think more carefully about the people I wanted to work with.

From there the process was simple. Good Egg is a phrase I used to bestow compliments on the best of friends; people who quietly go out of their way to help. It’s about loyalty, hard work, seeing the process through and, like my first company, Colonel Blimp, it reflects the very best of British.”

 

Grand Central Recording Studios

Carole Humphrey, Founder / Managing Director: “Grand Central Recording Studios is named after Grand Central station, which is an important New York transport hub.

I wanted us to be a hub of activity and delivery. Naming a facility after an iconic, beautiful building in America seemed aspirational and exciting.

Our studios in Marshall St had a central reception area, and the 4 studios, Xfer and offices came off that - like a concourse with platforms coming off it in a square. It was a brilliant design and working space. It made for a busy and social facility.

Our letterhead had the windows from Grand Central on it and we commissioned someone to take some photos of Grand Central that were in reception for 10 years.”

 

A Large Evil Corporation

Ellie Botwood, Head of New Business: “The animation company now famously called Evil, came to light after the company was searching for a new "iconic" name. Being friends with Mark Denton, Evil asked the creative director and advertising guru if he could help with a new identity. In true Denton-esque style, Mark embraced the creative circuit and they all sat down one night for beers and a good old fashioned "gang bang" (Mark's words not ours...) to come up with a new name. Names such as Chinese Burn Masters & Superwinners were hot favourites but it was when someone said A Large Evil Corporation did everyone sit up and take notice.

What started off as a hilarious joke quickly became a reality and quickly followed Evil branding in terms of books and postcards and posters not to mention Evil branded dollar bill business notes. It still makes us chuckle that A Large Evil Corporation is actually a lovely and small animation company in the beautiful town of Bath. However, Evil are now a household name and have recently finished the Xmas campaign for Sky (an actual Large Evil Corporation) and their Evil Vinyl toy designs have caught the eye of very very Large Evil Corporation's in the US so perhaps the Evil dream will come true someday in the near future...

And so the Evil brand was born.”

 

Riff Raff

Matt Fone, President: “It’s hard thinking of a good name – one that cuts through, one that you have a empathy to. I always liked the film, the Peanuts character and the feeling it gave me: Me Vs. the rest.

And then my six-year-old kid drew the logo and I thought “I like that!” It suddenly became something other than what I thought; it became something else, which is the best part – something of its own.

Just have to make sure I don't fuck it up…”

 

Somesuch

Tim Nash, Managing Director [in an entry from their blog]: “Anyone who’s ever started a company will have faced the task of naming that company. It’s a tortuous journey. Our company was nearly called so many shit names, vacillating between the pretentious and the plain retarded. Architecture. Chapters. PFB. High Rise. God Speed. Unknown Pleasures. Work Makes You Free. Sun Ra. The Golden Bough. Atrocity. Blah blah.

One thing we all agreed on was that we liked books. And writing. So for about a day we were called I’d Prefer Not To after Bartleby the Scrivener’s famous dictum. But then common sense prevailed: I’d Prefer Not To was probably not sending out the right message for a new shop opening in the height of a recession.

Sally and I are big fans of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. There’s a great passage where Huck and Jim meet a pair of grifters called the Duke and King. They’re down and dirty swindlers. Confidence tricksters. They throw a sham play called The Royal Nonesuch to try and make some cash. So for about a week our fledgling production company was called The Royal Nonesuch. We tried to register the name with Companies House and were quickly informed that to be Royal anything we’d need a letter from the Ministry of Defence and the Queen’s consent. This left us with Nonesuch films, but we eventually reasoned that Nonesuch Records would take a dim view of it, especially given their litigious reputation.

One morning Sally [Campbell, Executive Producer] said, ‘What about Somesuch?’ Somesuch. Some. Such. Hmmm. I liked the sibilance. It was a nice word to say. Well, not really a proper word. More of a nonsense. But it felt good in my mouth. Somesuch. I thought it sounded like what an Atlanta based hip hop label would call themselves. Somesuch Entertainment Inc. We’d have a logo designed by Pen and Pixel and sip lean all day. But Sally loves ampersands. So we had to have an &/And. And the &/And was quickly followed by Co. It made us feel reliable, like those old menswear shops on Jermyn Street. Somesuch & Co. Like a long standing family business, rather than a company started on a credit card, some borrowed desks, and a wing and a prayer.

After a while you grow into your name. It feels as though you could never have been called anything else. And of course, much to our annoyance, no one ever used the &/And Co. It was always just Somesuch. Hello Somesuch.

Now the &/And feels like a hipster affectation. Suddenly everything seems to be &/And bloody something.

Our new website [launched in August]. We’re fucking off the &/And Co. From now on it’s just plain old Somesuch.

The new website has a section called Stories. It’s a platform for long form fiction and non-fiction. We’ll be launching a new story every Sunday.

In the end it always comes back to writing.”

 

tenthree

“Why Ten Three? Well we actually prefer tenthree. The name was born in the most unlikely of places far away from the manicured edit suites of Soho. This is a tale of shattered dreams and broken bones set in the mud and sweat of Kingsmeadow playing fields.

tenthree’s founder, Billy Mead, used to moonlight as a professional footballer but his career was cut painful short by a double compound fracture of his tibia and fibula. For those without a degree in anatomy and physiology that basically means he snapped his shin in half and the bone came out of the skin. That fateful moment occurred on 10th March, or the tenth day of the third month of the year, or tenthree. It marked the end of his aspirations on the football pitch and in turn ignited his passion for editing.”

Ancient Wisdom

October 21, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

The History of Advertising Trust reminds us why we should protect the past to improve the future of our industry.

The advertising industry’s obsession with the future is inevitable. The new is exciting, cool and interesting – everything advertisers want to be – and if they’re going to be communicating in a relevant way, agencies need to be on the cutting edge of culture. But this obsession is also a dangerous one. It results in acute amnesia. The past is quickly disregarded in favour of the next big thing and lessons are often left unlearned in the wake.

The History of Advertising Trust (HAT) has been fighting to restore balance to the industry since 1976, reminding them that a look in the rear view mirror every so often can be a valuable thing. They also handily provide them with a big mirror to do so.

HAT’s job is to protect and represent the heritage of advertising, to preserve the story of its development and the best work through the ages. Their archive of millions of relics from the advertising world is fascinating and ever growing, stored in temperature-controlled, low-acidity conditions at their facility in Norfolk. It’s a potentially a rich source of inspiration for new generations and a fascinating treasure trove to dig through.

There’s a lot more than just ads at HAT’s archive. Their collection also encompasses the context in which they were created, including such fascinating artefacts as the notepads and sketches that went into their creation, telling the stories from behind the scenes. There are even contracts for famous talents and correspondence between clients and agencies, fleshing out the history of the social dynamics of the industry.

“Although formats change the ideas are what really matter,” asserts Chloe Veale, Director of the Trust. And while HAT’s collection is vast and exciting, she and her team are always keen to grow it and fill in the gaps in the communications tapestry.

Their facility is full of gadgetry and gizmos for converting old formats into stuff that can be digitally archived and backed up, but it’s painstaking work putting old 35mm film and transparencies onto hard drives as it often has to be done in real time.

The end goal of all this is to reduce the impact of that geographical barrier between the metro-centric British advertising industry and HAT’s base of operations in Norfolk by cataloguing everything online in a digital format. That’s a huge job, especially for a charity with limited access to funding, but it’s one they’re handling at a steady pace with the support of the idustry.

Channelling their efforts into this digitization and opening the doors of its archive wider to the industry is testament to the fact that HAT is no dusty repository where ads go to be catalogued and forgotten; it’s an active, participatory part of an industry that desperately needs to learn from its past in order to produce the best work.

They’ve built their archives by gathering material from a plethora of sources and as lovers of history they relish this. “We rescue material,” says Chloe, “but we’d prefer a working relationship. The hardest thing is to make sure we’re getting the fresh stuff that’s being produced today. We’ve got to keep feeding the archive with stuff that’s current.”

It’s a paradox, but while technology has given us all the tools to preserve our work easily by building our own digital archive, it has also taken away the structures and disciplines that physical cataloguing demanded. The notes a creative made while coming up with the next historic ad are likely in a folder in a hard drive somewhere, but where exactly is up to that creative’s personal filing system – and calling it a system may be giving it too much credit. “We’d like agencies to send us their digital records,” explains Chloe, “but a lot of them wouldn’t know how to access them. The digital world is a great asset for information but it’s also extremely expensive to have all the back-up storage.”

HAT want to nurture a two-way relationship with agencies. Ultimately they need cooperation in constantly building their archive, but it all goes towards the greater goal of strengthening the industry as a whole.  “It’s all about relationships, the whole business,” says Chloe. “And we’re here to help everybody. We’re a service, not a museum. This is living heritage. We’re still creating it and it’s here to be drawn upon.”

Ultimately, in a world obsessed with immediacy and cost cutting, HAT can save agencies and production companies time and money, by smoothing the process of research. They have shelves rammed full of guard books that detail the entire chronologies of brands’ advertising histories. They’ve gathered together material from disparate sources – from head offices, local factories and outlets, agencies and even ex-creatives’ lofts and boiler rooms – to fill in the gaps in brands’ timelines of communication.

It’s all in one place and available for their clients to access and they can deal with lines of enquiry where Google would hit a brick wall. HAT have recently been working on a project called Saving the 70s, producing compilation reels of 1970s advertising and collecting anecdotes, photographs and ephemera from the era, but Chloe is confident they could virtually cover any timeframe or theme people are interested in.

“You can’t catalogue ideas,” she admits, “but you can catalogue slogans, language, images, products and brands. When [agencies] are saying ‘give us everything you’ve got on salad cream since the 1930s’ we can do it."

At Advertising Week Europe earlier this year, The History of Advertising Trust screened Risk and Responsibility (http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/news/1154210/), a witty deconstruction of the client-account manager-agency dynamic featuring now legendary ad men Ronnie Kirkwood, Jeremy Bullmore, Sam Rothenstein and David Bernstein. You can’t find it on the internet, but the sketch from 1966 hilariously depicts a pair of risk-averse clients reducing Ogilvy’s iconic The Man in the Hathaway Shirt ad to a pile of bland rubbish. It’s message is as relevant now as it was then – risks must be taken in order to stand out, and clients will need some persuading to take these risks. The battles of the industry then are still raging.

We may have immersive online brand experiences and creative technologists coding our advertising now, but the core principles of the industry still hold. That’s why we should pay attentions to The History of Advertising Trust and the wealth of knowledge held within their archive. We’ll never be so enlightened that we cannot learn from the past.