Pushing AR Forward with the Obamas

December 14, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Nexus Studios’ augmented reality experience for the White House is a big step forward.

We are coming towards the end of a US presidency that’s been almost universally admired by the creative and communications industries. Barack Obama’s administration has been the techiest ever and (drone killings aside) much of that technology has been used for good. The White House quietly recruited the finest minds in tech from places like Google and Facebook and used their big brains to improve government services and solve American citizens’ problems.

The latest example of the Obama team’s technophilia comes in the form of an augmented reality experience called 1600.

Created by Nexus Studios’ innovative Interactive Arts division and featuring animation and design from Nexus Studios director Jack Cunningham, the free mobile app allows the public to explore the White House. The experience tracks a stunningly intricate AR animation off a one-dollar bill and tells the story of one year in the administration.

We spoke to Luke Ritchie, Head of Interactive arts at Nexus Studios, about why this project is such an important moment in the timeline of AR.

The Beak Street Bugle: How did the White House approach you?
Luke Ritchie:
We’ve been doing a fair number of AR and VR projects in the last few years and one that caught notable attention at the White House was The New Yorker, which was an AR experience we did with Christoph Niemann, quite a well-known illustrator who does covers for them. We got to work with him on the innovation issue in May. It’s a cute little experience that starts off in 2D, which is amazing, and then breaks into 3D.

The White House had seen that experience through gave us a phone call to see if we would be interested in working on developing an AR experience for them.


BSB: What was the brief?
LR:
To begin with it was pretty loose. They were very interested in a message about the White House’s role in democracy.

President Obama and his administration, and Michelle Obama, had been working very hard to try and dispel myths about the building itself.  They’ve done lots of interesting things, from opening up rooms that were previously closed, inviting everyone to have a festival on the lawn of the White House for South By South Lawn. You could Google Street View through all the rooms and stuff.

The key word that went around was transparency. The hope for the project was to enlighten people about what goes on there.

I guess there was always an educational angle right from the start, but it was always to be bathed in a creative experience first. It was meant to captivate you visually and then take you on a journey and if you walked away learning something from it then that would be an added benefit.


BSB: How did it develop from there?
LR:
It didn’t begin on a dollar note. We did explore doing something on the tour itself. We talked about using the building façade as a marker to scan on, so you could stand outside the building and then you could see inside it.

Then as the project grew there was a requirement for it to reach more people, and that’s when we started trying to think what everybody has that doesn’t cost them anything to buy and is fully accessible by most Americans. And we landed on a dollar bill.

It was actually a 20-dollar bill to begin with because the White House is on the 20-dollar bill. As visual storytellers we had the idea of the White House emerging out of the bill, which would have been really great, but it was fairly pointed out that a lot more people have access to a dollar bill.


BSB: How do you think it compares to other AR experiences out there?
LR:
I think in general it’s still early days in AR. We had an opportunity to experience AR a few years ago, but the problems back then were we didn’t have the tracking potential back then, or camera lenses, or software, and we definitely didn’t have the power that we have in a mobiles now. Most people didn’t even know what a game engine was five years ago. So it was a different place.

Remember QR codes and the importance of the contrast and definition? AR has a much more magical ability now. Lots of things can be markers that never could be before. That is a real opening point in terms of how advertisers may decide to use it because there’s a lot more freedom there.

There’s a lot of pressure coming into a job like this with the amount of people that are going to see it. It does need to look as good as it can within the limitations. So I’m pleased with some of the shaders we’ve built and the optimisation to get as many characters animating and moving as possible. I think we’ve made some real advances there.

People from a technical background are surprised by the quality of the render. They didn’t realise we could do things like that now. We worked extremely hard to make sure that was the case.

The other bit is, I think, still early stages but we are getting into narrative storytelling in AR. We’ll see a lot more of it if we all end up wearing headsets [like the Microsoft HoloLens]. You know that scene in Her where the character steps out of the wall? You have things like that because you can use the physical room you’re inside. And I hope that the White House is an interesting step in that direction.

Even though it’s loose enough for you to navigate around and explore, it’s a year in the White House and there are events unfolding, so it has a structure to it and we do encourage you to keep looking, keep exploring, do it again. See if you found all the presidents or not, open the Oval Office or touch the roof of the White House. There are elements in there for exploration.

Hopefully it stands as a benchmark for other AR projects that can come. And I genuinely think it can. I know that once I introduce it to a lot of people they always talk to me about how shit the last experience they saw was.

BSB: What were the biggest challenges?
LR:
The technical challenges are always there the minute you want to try and push the boundaries. If I’m building for the newest iPad it’s a lot easier, but if I’m building it for more or less everyone in America to access it without a problem, then I have to work to older devices too. It needs to look as amazing on an iPhone 7 as it does on an iPhone 5.

The pressure to create something good for that kind of a stage was extremely important. You know it needs to be good.

We have a lot of love for Obama and his administration and I think there was a pressure of making sure that it represented him well and this notion of transparency that they were working on. We obviously didn’t anticipate the future, so it ended up having a bit more relevance.

One thing we did was build a pause week into the schedule so everyone stopped and we reassessed and talked about whether we were happy with it, where it was at that point and what changes we might want to make in the remaining four weeks of the job.

That was vital because I think we’d managed to answer a lot of what the White House needed but we hadn’t managed to get the charm and sense of humour into it yet.

Another thing we did that was really important was by the end of the first week we had the app built. It was a crude, square, White-House-looking building with a few bouncy 2D characters in it. What that allowed everyone to do was to allow all the stakeholders on the job to have the app and then week-by-week we all get to review it in the app, not on 36-inch screens in the studio.

I thought that was brilliant because it allowed everyone to have a go in the evening in their kitchen, have a think and in the morning they might come back with more thoughts.


BSB: What have people’s reactions been like?
LR:
You never know, but we’d hoped it would have a relatively large release because the White House were going to talk about it. I think the hopes outside of that were to do with mainstream people trying it out and learning a bit about AR.

We’ve seen teachers in classrooms showing their kids. The majority of people don’t know where the Oval Office is. Maybe this project, if it is seen by millions, would almost guarantee that everyone knows that at least. And from the WHHA’s point of view that would be a huge thing.

It’s obviously been picked up a lot by people from Sky News in the UK to Jimmy Fallon in the US. That’s been great. I don’t think we could have hoped for a better result.


BSB: What has this project taught you about the direction interactive technology is moving in?
LR:
I recently saw an article which I’m sure there will be a few of, which is all about how 2016 was meant to be the year of VR, but it was actually the year of AR. That rang very true.

AR is much more social and it doesn’t require any expensive hardware. There are big implications there for why it can be so useful for messaging.

I’m a big fan of the next phase, which is much more about computer vision and [the technology] understanding our environment. If you look at the concept art on the Microsoft Hololens website, I think that begins to get you excited about what the potential is. I can absolutely see the storytelling possibilities for us.

That will be interesting. Right now I still think it’s much more interesting how that’s relevant to the mobile. Google Tango is an amazing bit of kit that’s now in the Lenovo phone. And that allows us to remove the marker [the dollar bill in 1600’s case], so I can look around the room and it understands what a person is because it can track the skeleton. It understands what a door, wall or table is.

We talk a lot about how it’s important that things like Pokemon Go happened because they raise everyone’s interest and investment into an area. So you can guarantee that just from that one hit there’ll be ten more coming.

When I asked the White House why AR, the answer was because they’d tried everything else but didn’t know how to access millions of people with low to no investment. I don’t think it’s gimmicky. I think good AR experiences have a place because they don’t require any investment from the user. Right now if everyone’s getting close to Christmas and thinking ‘Oh my God. Am I going to spend 1,500 quid on a VR setup?’

This is an easy way to reach a lot of people and it still has the emerging technology feel. It still is exciting. It’s not like everyone has seen AR. It’s still in its infancy and it comes with that excitement.

I’m pitching to everyone but I’d love to do a graphic novel. You could stare at the page, follow a 2D story, when you touch it it animates or comes to life and you watch it. Or maybe your character breaks out into 3D, opens the book and turns the page for you and you follow them to the next page. There are some really unique opportunities in that space for storytelling. A lot of AR has been pointing it at this thing, seeing a 3D thing appear and that’s it. Now we’re getting into the area where I can delve deeper; I can explore something or touch on something to open another window and dive into that and have another experience.

I think that gets away from it being gimmicky at that point because whatever you want to do you can do. That’s the point. Everything is interactive and you can engage with whatever you want.

Why Ad Production Needs to Find its FOCUS

November 29, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Clara Le explains why commercials production companies should head to Islington next week.

You may think the industry has enough conferences and shows for all its many facets but Clara Le, Commercial Director of The Location Guide, has noticed a gap. “All the shows have their own perspectives on the industry, but nobody talks about pre-production,” she says.

That is until The Location Guide launched FOCUS last year – ‘the meeting place for international production,’ as they describe it. And this year they will be back at Islington’s Business Design Centre on 6th and 7th December to make sure pre-production gets the attention it deserves. Clara is always evangelising about how key this is. “I keep telling people the most important part of the production is definitely the pre-production,” she says. “Getting everything lined up – where to shoot, who to shoot with, which incentives you can connect with etc.” With over 150 exhibitors from over 40 countries – service companies, national film commissions, hotels and the like – production professionals will be able to find answers to all of these questions.

FOCUS’s description of itself as ‘the meeting place for international production’ is telling. It’s not specific to any particular silo of production for a reason, despite the fact that commercials, TV and film production companies tend to inhabit different circles. Clara is keen for the commercials production world to mix with the worlds of TV and film. She thinks it would do them good. “Most production companies cross over,” she points out. “They do online video for brands, commercials and sometimes TV. I’ve met people who say they’d like to get into TV and film but don’t know how to do it, how to access filming incentives and find co-production partners.”

The idea of visiting suppliers and potential partners at an exhibition centre isn’t what advertising production is used to, whereas film markets at festivals have made it second nature to their big-screen counterparts. “The film and TV industries will actively keep up to date with filming incentives, who can supply the best services and how co-production treaties work in different countries,” says Clara. “Commercials production isn’t used to that. It’s a different mindset.” That’s something FOCUS hopes to change.

It’s only the second year for the event, but The Location Guide hope for the show to become part of the ad industry’s calendar. Positioned at the beginning of December, Clara realises it has to be a fun event as well as an informative one. “It’s Christmas. Everybody likes to go out for a drink, so we’ve created free bars, there are lots of happy hours during the day, lots of countries have their own drinks receptions happening at their booths. We’re hosting a party with the APA. We’re also doing a big drinks reception on Tuesday night.”

Building on the successful content they put on last year, there will be many more seminars and panels this year, on subjects including green production, shooting on low budgets in London and how to work with China. Jason Stone of David Reviews will be hosting a special Craftworks session packed full of content and I’ll be hosting a panel called The Phenomenon of the Christmas Commercial with some of the people behind our favourite festive spots.

In response to feedback, the show is also much more UK focused this year. “In light of Brexit we wanted to sell the UK,” says Clara. “We’ve got all these people coming to London. We want to show that we’re really proud to be based here.” With all ten UK film offices attending the show, it’s a great chance to remind ourselves how world-leading British production is and will continue to be, despite the result of the EU referendum.

So why should production companies take the time to go all the way up to Islington (the horror!) to this free conference? “Production companies need to keep evolving to keep up with the market,” says Clara. “And the only way to do that is to mix with people and ideas from outside of your industry. You’ll learn a lot from other people and from the seminars. There are drinks as well. It’s a social event. You’ll learn new things, network, hang out with your peers and meet new people too.”

 


FOCUS is completely free to attend. Register here for access to the whole FOCUS programme.

Mr Gammon: Master Craftsman

November 21, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Insight into one of the many specialists it takes to make a good ad.

Photograph by Jonathan Daniel Pryce  ©JDPryce

 

One of the most striking things about filmmaking in advertising is the vast armies assembled of specialists in many different skills that each shoot musters. There are a hundred different crafts in the industry. One of the great things about the British Arrows CRAFT awards is that these craftspeople are celebrated where other awards might pass them by.

Mr Gammon is one such craftsman. One of the industry’s best costume designers, he won the award for Best Costume / Wardrobe in 2014 for his incredible work on the Guinness Sappeurs ad. With this year’s CRAFT winners being announced this Wednesday night, we chatted to Mr Gammon to work out what sort of person it takes to win such an accolade.

 

 

The Beak Street Bugle: How would you describe your craft to a member of the public?
Mr Gammon: 
There are many heads to the beast of being a costume designer in commercials. One of them is the political liaison between agency, client and director. You’re an extension of the director as well as being his or her ambassador, as well as setting a tone for the actors when they’re first cast on the job.

When people know that you’re a costume designer, often when it’s a detergent commercial and it’s a mum and dad in jeans and T-shirts, they would often think ‘what did you actually do?’ But the beauty of a good costume designer is to look like you were never there at all.

Often it’s not a case of going out and buying a bunch of stuff, but seeing who they’ve cast as an actor and thinking about who the characters are. The great thing for me is that there are so many different kinds of scripts. You could be doing science fiction, a horde of Vikings or even a horde of zombies. Often it’s about working to budget, facilitating so it goes how the agency and production company want it to go. And you’re trying to push it as much as possible. There’s a great craft to all of that.

 

BSB: What sort of person makes a good costume designer?
MG:
Someone who’s got the patience of a saint, who can wear his hat at a jaunty angle and has a wry or dry sense of humour. If you’re doing a job with a cast of thousands you need to be able to push people in the right direction.

For example I did a Bond job for Tom Kuntz in Croatia where I had to motivate my local Croatian costume department. We had about 400 in the cast. A lot of them had never done a commercial before and I was trying to make it look chic and Italian with bright colours and make sure the costumes reflected Lake Como and the locations we wanted it to look like. So I’m there on crowd days trying to motivate my team at three in the morning, trying to get everyone ready for six in the morning, trying to wrangle people whose English might not be very good. Then once you’ve done all of that you have to go off to agency and client and make sure they’re happy, do a bit of finessing if you need to, to try and get it nailed.

 

BSB: Whose craftsmanship do you most admire?
MG:
I could list an entire crew. Or I could list the craftsmen, model makers, tailors and machinists I work with who carve my drawings into the work I’m known for. But what I do admire is the craft of cinematographers like Martin Ruhe, Tim Maurice Jones, Stephen Keith-Roach. Artists all, capturing light and filming our work to look the best it possibly can.

If you look at someone like Dave Lee, production designer. He’s the master of massive sets and props, creating the worlds that I can plonk my costumes in. I love the synergy of working with a brilliant production designer.

It’s the other people that you work with that make the work so beautiful. There’s no point in my costumes looking good if the lighting’s shit.

 

BSB: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve done this year?
MG:
I worked on a drama for ITV called Dark Heart. The brilliant thing about that was that not only do I help fill the content that goes between the dramas, I’m now helping create the dramas themselves. It’s like working on both sides of the coin. That was a marvellous job to work on. It was great to prove to people who don’t work in commercials that the vision could extend to two hours. As much as I love science fiction and Vikings and period costume, it’s also nice to prove that I can do red carpet and look after big celebrities and deal with the politics of that as well.

I also did hordes of zombies for Tom Kuntz and eBay. That was part of a 15-year relationship I’ve had with Tom for some of the most wonderful jobs that I’ve worked on. I really enjoyed doing that.

 

BSB: What are your goals for 2017?
MG:
When I’m truly happy is when you give me a cast of thousands with a difficult agency and difficult client. I always look forward to those challenges.

I’d love to do more science fiction. It’s always been a personal passion of mine. When I was a kid the stuff I was inspired by got me into costume and fashion. The idea of something that was otherworldly but would still be wearable today. And coming up with something where you’re taking something from one era and putting it together with something else, surfing on the waves of time travel.

I love designing stuff that’s three dimensional. Give me a brief to design a fighting astronaut. More of that is what I’d love to see next year.

 

Check out Mr Gammon's work on his website or have a look at his Instagram feed.

SPARKing Conversation (and Hopefully More)

November 16, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Could CHI&Partners’ new recruitment scheme help create advertising diversity?

Every advertising conference for the last two or three years seems to have featured some discussion on diversity. Like so many industries, and shamefully more so than many, Adland has done poorly to welcome enough women and people from minority ethnic or underprivileged backgrounds into its ranks. Finally the agencies are starting to take tangible steps to remedy this though, and CHI&Partners’ new initiative is one that might help.

About a month ago they announced their new entry-level recruitment scheme, SPARK – appealing to ambitious people from all backgrounds to apply to come and work at the agency.

From school-leavers and young people with vocational as well as university training, to those moving into advertising from other industries, SPARK aims to attract diverse new talent to the agency – building on its skillsets and culture, and bringing new experience and thinking to its creative output.

The agency has stripped requests for CVs and photos from its application process. Instead, applicants are simply asked to answer four creative and strategic questions before coming to meet the team in November. A number of candidates will then be selected to begin working with CHI&Partners in January 2017, with another intake following in September 2017.

Applications were open last month. The selection process is underway and by 12th December successful candidates will be awarded places.

We asked Chief Executive and Partner Sarah Golding about the impact she hopes the scheme will make.

The Beak Street Bugle: Why did you decide to start SPARK?
Sarah Golding:
Not to be glib, but the world is changing. All ad agencies have traditionally hired graduates at entry level, but we’ve recently found – and you read about it in the news – that more and more bright young people are turning away from university, so only hiring graduates is limiting our talent pool in a way that maybe it didn’t 20 years ago. Bright minds can exist anywhere. We want the most creative and ambitious people out there in our industry, and in particular in our agency, regardless of their education or background.

It’s quite interesting when I think about my daughter. I did go to university and I never would have dreamed of not going. It was my way of getting out of Blackburn. I went to a really good university and I’m sure I got a great job because of that. But if I think about Florence today, who’s six, I’m not sure that she will have a better future if she goes to a great university. The world has moved on. It’s important that the advertising industry continues to attract the best creative talent that there is out there. That’s what I want this programme to ensure.

Also, we wanted to do our bit to promote diversity in the industry. You’ll probably have read that the IPA has set various targets – 40% of senior roles in agencies to be filled by women in 2020, and 15% of all roles to be filled by people from BAME backgrounds. I sit on the IPA council so of course I signed the agency up for that. But I wanted to do more as an agency, which is why we’ve removed photos and CVs from the SPARK application process.

If you’re going to continue to be relevant to a client as an agency you need to represent all aspects of society. And how can you be sure that you do get all those aspects of society if it’s not reflected in the agency? Our clients are selling to modern Britain so it’s essential that the agency is made up of modern Britain.


BSB: What have been the biggest obstacles to promoting that diversity in the industry?
SG:
There have been a few things. One is awareness. Everyone knows what a doctor does or what a teacher does, but working in an ad agency isn’t an obvious career for anyone growing up. My parents do not understand what I do at all. I think often unless you actually know someone in an agency it’s not a career that would cross your mind.

Access to work experience is another. Work experience is a great route into the industry, but only a very select section of the population can afford to work for free, which is what is expected too often. If you don’t have parental support it’s not a realistic option.

There’s always been that ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,’ I’m afraid to say. And I’m not saying that is unique to advertising by any means. But how many times have I been asked to interview a friend of a friend or a client’s son or daughter? I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Therefore it’s not a surprise that we end up with an industry full of people from similar backgrounds.

Advertising leaders in agencies today are a very similar bunch, who come from similar backgrounds, who have followed a very similar educational path. I hope that if other agencies embrace our vision of diversity then the leaders of the future will be a properly diverse set of people, bringing different life experiences to the table. And that will help keep the industry fresh and relevant.


BSB: What have you done to make sure a diverse set of people is made aware of SPARK in the first place?
SG:
We’re communicating SPARK on all of our social platforms but we’re also reaching out more directly. For example we’re working with the Prince’s Trust to actively communicate the scheme to their database of young people. We’ve also been reaching out to colleges in traditionally underprivileged areas.

We had an open evening before the launch and it had only been out on our social channels for about a week and the agency was full of people. It was interesting how diverse a group that was, not just in terms of ethnicity, but also age. We had some people who hadn’t gone to university, who were still teenaged, some who were university or college age and some who had been working for ten years but had always wanted to get into this industry.

The recruitment process has become very lazy. People haven’t got time. It’s cyclical. It’s gets to that time of year and companies roll out the old recruitment programme. And some of them haven’t changed in decades.

Part of this is also about helping us to up-skill for the future. I think all agencies need to up-skill in areas where they haven’t historically been strong – tech, data analytics; we all need to embrace channel-agnostic creativity and collaborative work. This also enables that because it’s allowing you to fish in new talent ponds.

 

BSB: What can successful candidates expect?
SG:
We make sure everyone here learns on the job. So whatever department you’re in, you’re client facing almost from the get-go. We’ll put them into a pretty extensive training programme, which we pull together here across our group of agencies. It will also include enrolment in the IPA Foundation Certificate. Everyone will have a mentor in the agency for career development, but also a more informal body to support their transition into what could be their first full-time job, or just their transition into advertising from, potentially, another industry.

BSB: What do you think about positive discrimination or quota systems to push the diversity figures up?
SG: There are agencies or businesses that have historically been male dominated. I’m a female Chief Executive of a top agency. My board of partners is 50/50 male and female. I’ve got a creative department that’s got as many women in as it’s got men, so I don’t feel that I have to positively discriminate. However, I totally understand why people are doing that because you create a richer agency culture with both genders, diverse backgrounds, diverse skillsets. That makes for a more valuable creative culture. I want the best for the job, but I’m lucky because I’m in a pretty well balanced agency from a male-female perspective. I don’t think currently we’re a well balanced agency from a background perspective, hence the SPARK initiative.

At the end of the day I want this industry and my agency to get their share of the best creative talent out there and in order to do that you have to look everywhere.

The Art of Matching Music to Christmas Campaigns

November 15, 2016 / Features

By Jess Nicks

How to find the perfect soundtrack to your brand’s expensive end-of-year blowout.

The highly anticipated John Lewis Christmas advert has sprung onto our screens bringing with it a sigh of relief (from me anyway!). 2016 has definitely not been the year to end with an overly cozy, sentimental ode to all that is right with the world. John Lewis have cleverly anticipated the mood of the nation and woven this into the style of their ad, and indeed, their choice of music. Using their tried-and-tested method of covering songs with relevant female vocals, the clever folks at adam&eveDDB have also added some comedy into the mix.

Director Dougal Wilson’s work for John Lewis and adam&eveDDB has set the benchmark by combining great storytelling with emotive music, and this year’s £7 million John Lewis campaign is no different.

The advert features an uplifting version of Randy Crawford’s 1980 hit One Day I’ll Fly Away.  Recorded by up-and-coming electronica trio Vaults, along with a 66-piece orchestra, it features the soaring vocals of singer Blythe Pepino. Vaults, if you haven’t already had the pleasure, are an exceptionally brilliant band who featured in the 50 Shades of Grey soundtrack. This cover sees Pepino’s voice really take on the wings of the lyrics. With minimal production and instrumentation the words really embed themselves in your brain.

Recent years have seen a widespread use of female vocalists performing cover versions, usually of songs by male-fronted rock bands. It’s a formula John Lewis has largely stuck with since 2009 when it used a cover of Guns N’ Roses Sweet Child of Mine, sung by Swedish singer songwriter Victoria Bergsman, aka Taken By Trees. Soft female vocals work well for Christmas ads as they lend an intimate feel to a story and help to build an emotional connection between the brand and consumer.

A key early consideration when exploring the use of music in a Christmas campaign is deciding whether to go ‘on trend’ or ‘on brand’.

Creatives need to choose whether to jump on the latest bandwagon or stick with what the brand is known for. For those deciding to follow a trend, it has to be done brilliantly, otherwise there is a danger the ad will appear derivative and blend into the background of a blizzard of seasonal ads.

A growing number of brands and agencies are steering clear of the well-worn trend for mellifluous female vocalists and minimalist cover versions of poplar classics. Lo-Fang’s rendition of You’re The One That I Want for Chanel was so unexpected and hugely effective. More recently, Yves Saint Laurent’s Mon Paris ad heard Lee-La Baum from Montreal rockers The Damn Truth belt out a take on U2’s Love Is Blindness.

Among the retailers to take a very different approach to John Lewis in recent years is House of Fraser, which has used punchy soundtracks coupled with energetic creatives. Its Your Christmas, Your Rules campaign in 2015 harnessed a bold remake of Lesley Gore’s 1963 feminist anthem You Don’t Own Me, by Aussie teen star Grace Sewell. The campaign more than did its job, boosting the retailer’s sales during the Christmas period by 5.3% year-on-year.

There has also been a real shift away from traditional Christmas songs, with brands and agencies being more creative with the music they sync. Play it safe by using anything too traditional and festive and you’re in danger of your ad being forgotten among a sea of more attention-grabbing soundtracks.

At Audio Network, and our boutique bespoke music agency Workshop, we ensure music is the driving force behind campaigns for clients including BBC, Grey London, HBO, Disney and Lucky Generals.

A significant campaign we worked on was Mulberry’s APA award-winning campaign #WinChristmas, created by adam&eveDDB. Directed by Andy McLeod through Rattling Stick, the lighthearted advert plays on the competitive spirit stirred up within families when exchanging presents. A girl receives everything from a painting to a unicorn but it’s not until she opens a Mulberry bag that she’s really bowled over.

It’s an irreverent ad so we steered clear of traditional music and instead our composer David Tobin produced a really low key piece of cool, smooth jazz that perfectly complements the tongue-in-cheek feel of the ad.

For anyone like me, whose job it is to search for or commission the perfect sync for a campaign, getting involved early is vital. Music licensing companies have the creative experience needed to help brands with strategy from the offset and steer them away from an obvious or underwhelming choice of music. Starting early enables us to thoroughly explore the best ways of putting music to content, whether that’s recording tracks to brief or exploring unique cover versions.

As well as getting involved at the start of the process, clear and frequent communication between creatives, producers and sync teams is vitally important. Trying to interpret a description of music accurately is not always easy as it’s particularly subjective.

If the creative team is set on using their favourite song rather than the piece of music that befits the campaign, the results can often disappoint. It is important to keep an open mind and remain open to suggestions.
Music changes perception of a brand and those that consider the soundtrack of an ad with as much care and attention as the imagery will see results. A musical memory is unshakable, thus making it the most powerful element of all.

 

Jess Nicks is a Music Consultant at WorkshopAudio Network's in-house creative music agency.

Being A Client

November 14, 2016 / Features

By Phil Toms

What it's like to be 'the client', working on the less glamorous side of our world of creative adoration.

My name’s Phil and I’m a client.

There I’ve admitted it.

Being ‘the client’ has been a big part of my career and I’ve been fortunate to work on some pretty recognisable pieces of communications work with some brilliant agency partners delivering strong business results.

The latter part is the crux of what I’m there to do and it’s worth coughing this up front. I’ve never really sought the limelight, never cared much for awards but focussed my attention on being at the heart of delivering what I’ve been tasked to do and wherever possible trying to over-deliver.

The early days of my career saw my first interaction with the glamourous bright lights of London agency land with BMP DDB. I was working for the slightly less than glamorous Meat & Livestock Commission – a business charged with delivering increased consumption of British meat post BSE. I was privileged to learn the ropes with an agency at the top of their game, brilliant at planning as well as creatively driven by the legendary John Webster. Being coached how to work early on as a partner to an agency rather than a master / servant relationship was a key insight to how I’ve always approached whoever the retained agency is wherever I have landed.

Those early days as a young client working with incredibly smart people gave me a great inside track on how to get the best out of myself, the brief, the agency and ultimately the work. I looked, I listened, I got my hands dirty, I loved the creativity, I loved the chance to be doing something I enjoyed but best of all I loved seeing the work I was involved in making a commercial difference.

And that is where I suspect some clients differ.

I’ve always trusted my agencies to be the experts in what they deliver, irrespective of discipline. In many ways, being a marketing client is like being a conductor of an orchestra. My job if you follow that logic is to make the most tuneful piece of music I possibly can, getting the timing spot on but most importantly generating an impactful musical piece that is noticed and loved by the many. Marketing is actually inherently simple; you need to cut through and you need to persuade.

Sounds simple? Maybe. The truth of the matter is that in the world of marketing the communications element may only take up a limited portion of my time. I’ve typically been charged with all manner of objectives on my to-do list and I share this insight as a matter of fact. From responsibility for the brand P&L to the development of the brand strategy, from working with the sales team to master the sales forecast to working with the factory to ensure on-time delivery, from the development of new products to discontinuing underperforming brands, to evaluating brand performance to the return on investment of the current communication. You catch my drift. It’s pretty busy. And varied.

But what does this all mean? For me it’s about getting the best out of everybody’s talents to deliver the best possible results results.

I appreciate there is no hard and fast checklist for success but there are definitely a few things in my head that I’m always on the lookout for when I’m working with agencies.

Chemistry is key.

Finding partners who understand your business, brand and challenges is critical. Extra marks for those that are interested in current business performance. I’ve seen great client/agency relationships flourish because both parties have been truly transparent with each other – identifying what’s working, what’s not and seeking to consciously improve particularly with the latter.

 

I’m a massive fan of a great agency planner.

They can sprinkle stardust in a way others can’t. I’ve been lucky to work with some amazing planners with brains the size of planets who have helped elevate the brief to a level where the creative teams sink their teeth into something game changing. Spending the time to craft the brief is key and I truly believe investing time and energy in the up-front strategic part of any brief response will ultimately pay dividends.

 

I promise to try and create an inspiring environment for briefing.

No PowerPoint in a faceless meeting room in suburbia if I can help it. I’ve briefed agencies in fields in Northamptonshire, factories in Hertfordshire and boozers in London. When briefing for the campaign that developed into Knitted by Nana’s, the brief took place in the Shreddies factory creating the opportunity for the creative team to observe every aspect of the process. Within 10 minutes of visiting, one of the team noted that ‘Shreddies look like they were being knitted’ and a creative platform that has grown and run successfully for multiple years was born.

 


I personally really appreciate direct access to the creative teams.

I know it can feel unnerving for agencies and suits in particular but honestly I think experienced clients really value the dialogue it creates. Instead of the ‘unveiling of the train station plaque’ creative sessions and the tumbleweed moments that I’ve seen happen, the most effective processes have allowed me and my teams to engage face to face. The value of tissue sessions where collective engagement allows for direct dialogue has kept work on track and most definitely helped manage internal expectations in my businesses.

 


Open-mindedness.

I’m on the lookout for work which makes me feel slightly uncomfortable (in a good way) as that likely indicates potential in market impact. I remember the first time I saw some new Bombardier work which literally made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It will sometimes take a leap of faith and bravery but I’m happy to champion work if I can see the commercial impact it may deliver.

 


Research should be a friend and not an enemy.

In my world, being able to demonstrate evidence of potential impact and effectiveness can help justify the investment decisions being made. I like agencies that really engage with insight. Internally there will always be scrutiny on big ticket investment and research is a massively powerful aid to helping secure internal support. I’ve seen research optimise work on so many occasions and those agencies that attend research, listen and act upon it to my mind have always been significantly more successful.


Trust.

At the end of the day I trust in my agency partners to work with the right experts in all disciplines to deliver the best possible work. From the director to the producer to the editor and beyond. For a period of time we’re all on the same team working against my business objective and creating an environment for success is key.

Working with incredibly talented people is a real pleasure and a real highlight for me as a client. I know it isn’t always easy but when work is really effective it benefits us all and that has got to be something we should all sign up to as clients, agencies, production houses and beyond.

 

Phil Toms is Director of the consultancy 47 Marketing. He has worked in marketing for nearly 20 years, most recently as the Marketing Director for Charles Wells brewery.

What will come of Free the Bid? Ask Sweden

October 31, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

The Swedish advertising industry introduced the same initiative two years ago. So has it worked?

Free the Bid is the latest move towards gender diversity for the advertising industry. The initiative, founded by B-Reel Films director Alma Har’el, encourages advertising agencies to include one female director in every three-way pitch on their scripts.

It’s a bold gauntlet to throw down – a chance for agencies to put their money where their mouth is on gender diversity and pledge to at least consider a woman’s vision to bring their ideas to life. Some have taken the pledge very publicly, others have quietly slipped their names into the hat, but the majority of agencies seem to have either ignored or not noticed the scheme so far.

It’s caused a lot of conversation, not least Alma’s discussion today with David Reviews Editor Jason Stone and the APA. But one point not everyone is aware of is that it’s already been tried elsewhere.

Sweden introduced the One of Three initiative in October 2014 to try to address the shocking gender imbalance in directors making commercials.

Devised jointly by the Swedish agency and producers associations, it set out the same guidelines for the pitching process – that at least one director on a three-way bid should be female.

To find out how the Swedish market has changed after two years with this guideline in place, we called Henrik Eriksson, a producer who was Chairman of Commercial Producers for the Swedish Film & TV Producers Association at the time of One of Three’s introduction.

The Beak Street Bugle: Has it worked? Do you feel there are more women directing stuff?
Henrik Eriksson:
Absolutely. The amount of female directors is better than what it used to be. There are more female directors active, there are more female directors available and there are more female directors pitching. So it has changed a lot. I think companies here feel that the rest of the world is contacting them now to use their directors. There is something moving.

The attitude has absolutely changed. The demand is out there. Representing female directors can lead to scripts on the table or more pitch possibilities. It doesn’t mean they always win, but at least they get a chance.

And I don’t think it’s just Sweden. The demand is increasing everywhere. We made a change with this concept and it’s continuing elsewhere. It’s great to see this happening in the US and the UK.

BSB: Did the Swedish agencies all commit to One of Three two years ago?
HE:
It’s a recommendation, not a hard rule. We launched it together with the Swedish advertising agency association [Komm], saying this is our recommendation. We were pointing the way to a better industry.

It hasn’t failed, despite what some said at the beginning. People did have their reservations. I know that in the beginning the female directors felt they didn’t want the spotlight on them because of their gender. They didn’t want to be seen from that perspective. They wanted to just be directors and judged as such.

It was a feeling that we had to challenge internally. We had to convince people to use this chance. From my perspective the only failure was that people did not understand how much work we did to change people’s minds to think differently. And it’s different today.

BSB: There was a concern when we first covered the initiative that female directors would get signed and would get to pitch on scripts, but would never win those jobs. Has that been the case at all?
HE:
If you feel you will lose, you will not win. If you think you will do the best film, you have a better chance to win. From the beginning we should always invest in talent and if you don’t believe you are investing in talent – no matter what gender – then you shouldn’t do it. Good production companies wouldn’t sign a director without talent, just because of her gender. But if you think you can get work done as well as make the industry more diverse, this is one way to do it

It actually put the spotlight on producers to show that we care and we want to be leading, creating great films. Companies also got attention for caring, thinking and being creative.

It’s natural but people got very defensive when we launched it. I was quite surprised: ‘It’s not going to work.’ ‘We can’t do it over here.’ ‘It’s not Sweden.’ It was a change and people are following it now. Unfortunately the move is still very slow. We could have done better, but we still made a change which we are proud of. We are happy that other countries are following.

The female talent has always been there. But we needed to create a demand for it. And it worked to push it. You need to work hard as a production company to get scripts for new talent and this was one way to get new talent working. That’s the producer’s job – developing new talent.

BSB: Will the guideline still be necessary in the future?
HE:
I think it has to be there to remind people until we all are satisfied. We have to remind ourselves when making films that we are showcasing what the world looks like. We need to do that in front of the camera and behind the camera. We have to have that proper mindset every day in all divisions. This is one subject and then there’s ethnicity, class, disability – all these other ways we need to improve.
 
When you talk or write about it, it feels so big. I don’t see it as big. We made an impact and it changed the industry slightly for the better and we still work with the subject. And of course UK as a leading creative center has a big responsibility to care in all levels, and this is a great opportunity for any company to do so. If you don’t care and don’t like women, don’t forget, it´s just a recommendation.

A Pint With… Andy Brown

October 27, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

The man at the head of Jogger Studios UK is excited to be living in the future.

The last piece in this series saw me break out my Soho comfort zone, but this is my first international A Pint With…, accompanied by the beauty of Ireland’s Atlantic coast. A few hours after I landed for the Kinsale Sharks, The Spaniard was heaving with familiar faces from London’s advertising community. But I hadn’t actually met Andy before so we were going in blind.

Having awkwardly identified each other, we went to the bar and made an attempt at drinking Irish – a Guinness for him, a pint of the even more local Murphy’s for me. With so many friends out in the sunny beer garden it was hard to conduct a one-to-one chat, but we managed to cover some varied subjects be-fore the party engulfed us.

“…It’s natural to be suspicious of change. But there’s nothing we can do about it. Everything is constantly moving. It doesn’t stand still, although there are some con-stants. People still come out to Kinsale every year and have a few pints of Guinness and a chat in the sunshine.”

“…But it’s good to challenge yourself. A few months ago some friends who are keen open water swimmers suggested we all do a 10k swim, twice around Lake Butter-mere. That’s farther than I can run. I eventually agreed to do the 5k. I thought I was going to die about 750m in. But, eventually I got round. Not last. Didn’t drown.”

“…It’s amazing what you can learn on YouTube. I’ve been trying to learn more about photography. From people teaching you how to use a feature on a specific camera to lectures from whole photography courses. It’s all out there for free. So empower-ing.”

“…YouTubers are more talented than you might think. The people who are successful on YouTube do the things right that have always been true about telling stories. They’re engaging characters, they’ve shot things pretty well and spent time on mak-ing good pieces of work.”

“…It’s amazing what you can create on a phone. I was recently asked help someone out and shoot some footage of a yacht for their website. One of the things that makes video footage look home-grown is camera movement, so I got a handheld gimbal stabiliser. It’s so good. It made such a difference. We shot on my iPhone 6S from a little speedboat and circled the yacht and it turned out really well. There’s so much know-how that goes into a piece of kit like that.”

“…Smaller post houses are possible now. We wouldn’t have been able to do this ten years ago because it would have been too expensive. Now it’s within the realms of possibility. You can set up several suites and compete with the bigger companies.

“…We take images and try to improve them. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a 30-second commercial, a short film, a music video or website content. Budgets may vary but it’s all the same discipline, really.”

“…I hate how algorithms think they know me. I don’t want to be predictable. I like to think I have fully eclectic taste in music, spanning every genre, so it’s really annoying when Spotify gets it just right.”

“…It’s easier than ever to do trans-Atlantic post production. We’ve changed our iden-tity to become Jogger Studios, to link ourselves up with our partners across the globe. It’s surprisingly easy pinging builds and footage back and forth over the Atlantic. Ge-ography doesn’t slow things down anymore.”


Andy Brown is Partner at Jogger Studios (formerly Four Walls).