BBC to End Deal with Red Bee

July 22, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

At the end of 2015 the BBC will reopen its doors to the British production community.

At the end of 2015 the BBC will reopen its doors to the British production community, it has been announced.

In 2005, the BBC signed a contract with Red Bee Media, ensuring they would produce all of the broadcaster’s promotional content for the next decade. Philip Almond, the BBC’s director of marketing and audiences, said the contract would not be renewed when it expires in December 2015.

Part of the content that Red Bee have provided for the past decade – short, clip-based trailers and the like – will be brought in-house, while other projects will be open for the diverse spectrum of production companies to pitch on.

Almond said: “Tony Hall’s recent speech on the future of the licence fee championed a new competition revolution.

“In a similar way we want to give all directors and production companies the opportunity to work with the BBC, and to establish a new partnership with the commercial production industry. We want to benefit from this wider pool of talent and the innovation and value that comes from such a competitive market – but we also want to play a key role in developing new talent.”

This decision illustrates the corporation’s faith in the power of the free market. While a preferred supplier arrangement enables the buyer of services to leverage their market power in some sectors with creative work it is the competition for it and the striving for the best results at a competitive price from production companies that serves a buyer of those services best.

Being able to access the whole market for directing and production expertise will give the BBC the best opportunity of ensuring that they get great films and their advertising objectives are realised.

Promos for the BBC have provided some of the most memorable and exciting advertising and it will be interesting to see what the production industry makes of 2016’s first BBC promo script. We may even be treated to a new Perfect Day.

APA Chief Executive Steve Davies said “It is what we have campaigned for over many years but what matters now is looking forward. There is great enthusiasm for the BBC and its scripts for commercials and idents within the London commercials production community and we are excited about the prospect of the BBC again reaching the creative heights in live action it has reached consistently in animation- where the BBC has always used the open market.”

Fries, Football, Facebook and Framestore

July 17, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

The McDonald’s World Cup campaign that kept their production crew up all night to get crafty.

Whatever you think of their product, McDonald’s care about their advertising. Having been pronounced Creative Marketer of the Year by Cannes Lions, they were sure to do some interesting things with their status as a World Cup sponsor.

FryFutbol is one of the most intriguing things they’ve done around the tournament – a reactive series of films produced by Framestore that act out the most memorable moment of each day’s World Cup football through the medium of McDonald’s fries.

Over the course of the tournament, the team worked through the night to get their reconstructed play of the day out to Facebook’s 500 million self-identified football fans around the world by the following morning.

Rob Newlan, Head of EMEA at Facebook's Creative Shop, showed us round the studio where the films were brought to life in Facebook’s London offices – a small area strewn with fries, McDonald’s packaging, props and the characters from the series, the storyboards from the previous night still up on the wall, covered in scribblings. He talked us through the intense project.

Brand: McDonald’s
Title: FryFutbol
Production Company: Framestore
Director: Jon Riche
Production Company Producer: Emma Copeland
Director of Photography: Peter Ellmore
Ad Agency: Facebook Creative Shop
Editor: Richard Topping
Production Manager/1st AD: Toby Walsham
Focus Puller: Mark Swaffield
2nd AC: Ozi Oshiro
Grip: Jim Boorer
DIT: Andrew Spindle
Gaffer: Jono Yates
Electrician: Andy Mac
Rigger: Dave Lawrence
Rigger: Gary Martin
Rigger: Andy Thomas
Art Director: Scott Parrish
Art Assistant: Jon Meade 
Art Assistant: Annabel Maguire
Art Assistant: Bethan Smith
Art Assistant: Bronwyn Opland
Art Assistant: Elena Horn
Runner: Keiran Sadler
Sound Man: Darko Mocilnikar

The Beak Street Bugle: What was Facebook’s role in FryFutbol?

Rob Newlan: I run the creative team for Facebook. We’re a group of creative directors and strategists. In this role we came up with the idea. We understand the platform. We understand the kind of content that’s going to really work. I think this is a natural way for them to be able to create content.

The Creative Shop team are about making sure that brands are delivering as high-quality content as every other operator within your newsfeed. So [alongside] your friends and the news organisations, what’s coming from brands is as compelling and exciting for you.

Coming into the World Cup, we wanted to find people who could authentically have those conversations. Being able to work with a brand that’s a key sponsor was important.

The ‘GOL!’ idea existed for McDonald’s. We knew we were going to go with fries, so we came up with the FryFutbol mechanic. We sold it in with an Instavid to McDonald’s and it went up through the organisation there.

BSB: Can you run us through the production process each night?

RN:
The crew come in at about 11 o’clock and start getting set up as Jon [Riche, the director] is picking the moment, as we’re storyboarding it out, getting that through.

Food arrives at about 11-ish as well and everyone has dinner together (or whatever THAT meal is). There’s a bit of bonding moment when everyone stops to have food together.

[The shoot is] really done at pace. We have editing straight off. The guys are editing all the way through and of course it comes together in the edit.

The crew goes and then about four of us will stay. Jon, the producer and the editor will work it through. My team and one of the producers will work on the copy lines and key frames, so everything can go out by about 6:30am.

Brand: McDonald’s
Title: FryFutbol
Production Company: Framestore
Director: Jon Riche
Production Company Producer: Emma Copeland
Director of Photography: Peter Ellmore
Ad Agency: Facebook Creative Shop
Editor: Richard Topping
Production Manager/1st AD: Toby Walsham
Focus Puller: Mark Swaffield
2nd AC: Ozi Oshiro
Grip: Jim Boorer
DIT: Andrew Spindle
Gaffer: Jono Yates
Electrician: Andy Mac
Rigger: Dave Lawrence
Rigger: Gary Martin
Rigger: Andy Thomas
Art Director: Scott Parrish
Art Assistant: Jon Meade
Art Assistant: Annabel Maguire
Art Assistant: Bethan Smith
Art Assistant: Bronwyn Opland
Art Assistant: Elena Horn
Runner: Keiran Sadler
Sound Man: Darko Mocilnikar

BSB: Can you explain the craft that went into it?

RN:
Part of what I’m excited about with the crew and working with someone like Framestore is one of the things they insisted on – they needed to have a really strong art department here.

The art department is really part of what’s made the films. As we’ve been watching the games very quickly we started to be able to say ‘it looks like it’s probably going to be this kind of action; it’s probably going to centred around this,’ and they are straight away sketching and building.

We have 10,000 hand-made fries, made from resin. And they’re all different colours. We’ve got three full-time fry-ticklers across the shoot to get the crowd movements in the background.

Most of it is sourced from McDonald’s but we had a panic to find the right sort of Satsuma net the other day. They were sending people out to try and find the right colour.

It’s fun and crafted and it’s all the stuff you’d want of any great creative. That’s partly having a partner like Framestore with us here. I was at BBH the other day and Framestore were showing the whole process of Gravity. I love that this is the whole other end of the scale. This is low-fi – three brilliantly talented craftspeople making fries, cutting things out and doing little bits of cardboard engineering.

BSB: Why do you think this reactive style of advertising?

RN: Reactive content is a lot tougher to do than people think it is. [But] I also think people are getting a better rhythm for creating work around a platform. What they’re understanding is the things they should and shouldn’t say.

There was a time when content was always-on – that was the buzzword. ‘We must just produce stuff and get it out there’. I think as we’re seeing it develop the brands and agencies are being much more choiceful about that.

Look at the Oreos work that 360i did last year. They did it on Super Bowl night, but that was due to having legal people, media people, everybody sat in the room to get it done. It’s an investment. The whole point is spreading relevant work and part of relevance is timeliness, but do it for the right reasons; do it the right way and a have a good group of people.

In advance it’s been [important for McDonalds to be] setting really clear boundaries. The client hasn’t been on set whilst it’s been live but came onto set for the preproduction to get that in place and that was key. I think if you provide the confidence and belief in people that will come through.

Brand: McDonald’s
Title: FryFutbol
Production Company: Framestore
Director: Jon Riche
Production Company Producer: Emma Copeland
Director of Photography: Peter Ellmore
Ad Agency: Facebook Creative Shop
Editor: Richard Topping
Production Manager/1st AD: Toby Walsham
Focus Puller: Mark Swaffield
2nd AC: Ozi Oshiro
Grip: Jim Boorer
DIT: Andrew Spindle
Gaffer: Jono Yates
Electrician: Andy Mac
Rigger: Dave Lawrence
Rigger: Gary Martin
Rigger: Andy Thomas
Art Director: Scott Parrish
Art Assistant: Jon Meade
Art Assistant: Annabel Maguire
Art Assistant: Bethan Smith
Art Assistant: Bronwyn Opland
Art Assistant: Elena Horn
Runner: Keiran Sadler
Sound Man: Darko Mocilnikar

BSB: How did you get the approval structure to run smoothly?

RN: One thing I think is amazing about this is the clients and the legal team. So [you can] imagine legal is a crazy obstacle in something that’s going to turn around so quickly.

We do a piece of spotting. We’ll find the play of the day and we will go through as a crew and the director’s there and very much steering his vision for it, storyboard that up and then by about 11:30 or 12 o’clock at night, depending on whether it’s running on, these are sent out to a FIFA representative (we have to have FIFA approval as well during the World Cup), legal approval and brand approval, and then we get them up again at about 5:30 or six in the morning to approve the films.

There’s an amazing authorisation computer system that McDonald’s have sits behind it all that allows everybody to download it at the right time and you can see where it’s been downloaded to and how it’s gone out.

The storyboarding stage is really important because what we’re going to produce – that’s going to come through. And normally having a few weeks’ grace to perfect and craft the films – that’s not going to happen. So that’s been one of the really interesting things for us. A lot of this planning up front and then legal and brand being able to react and having the confidence in that judgement.

In the front end a lot of the planning with Framestore was being able to storyboard out some scenarios, have a think about what we would do, what we could and couldn’t do in that time period and also, equally, setting up with the client the bounds in which we’re going to be able to take feedback. So we can’t go and do a massive editing job at 6:30 in the morning when the crew are coming to the end of their hours and we’ve had people up [all night].

BSB: In terms of production, what were the biggest challenges?

RN: We learnt quite quickly. Partly there’s the [problem] of not having enough hands on set to control lots of fries, but also how do you take an essence of a scene but do that with only three or four different fries?

Jon is fabulous and he comes from a children’s cartoon style. His brain works like that – very visual and fun and part of that is how are we getting people to laugh and smile and comprehend – how did people know what that move was via the medium of fries?

I think the lovely thing as we’ve gone on is finding those different moments. There was a brilliant passing display by Brazil one night so that’s why we’ve got the pinball machine. To be able to make that metaphorical but not obscure – there’s a line to play with there and a lot to learn.

The editor, the art department, everyone’s working at such pace that they get great direction from Jon from an overall perspective, but then he’s having to empower them at an early stage to make decisions, to make craft points on it and then the stuff that you would obsess over for take after take – we’ve got to go for craft, but also say ‘you know what? We’ve been an hour on this. We’ve only got another two hours shooting left and another four frames to do. What are we going to do?’ Where do you compromise for the film?

It’s actually going out to about 70 countries, which is why there’s a sort of gobbledygook language. We had to think about that. It’s also quite hard to shoot a rolled-up paper football with a pretend fry, getting it to go into the top-right corner of the net.


Watch a timelapse video of the process here:

About the Beak Street Bugle

July 17, 2014 /

By alex

The Beak Street Bugle is an online newspaper for the advertising world. Here you will find articles on advertising and commercials production, in particular, containing insight, opinion, reviews, blind conjecture, humour and work.

Signed: Julian Barratt

July 17, 2014 /

By The Beak Street Bugle

A funny bloke off late night telly, now working his magic from behind the camera.

Julian Barratt is a cult comedy hero. An actor, comedian, writer and musician, he’s best known for playing Howard Moon (along with quite a few other characters) in The Mighty Boosh – one of the most unique sitcoms of this millennium.

In recent years he’s brought his dark, oddball sense of humour to behind the camera too, directing a variety of short films and his first music video. Now he’s looking to dip his toe in the greasy waters of advertising too.

Minds Eye have just signed him for representation in commercials and music videos. We imagine there are a fair few creatives out there who grew up on the Boosh, so he could well get some interesting scripts coming his way soon.

Watch some of his work here:

Unsigned: Patrick Killingbeck

July 17, 2014 / Signed/Unsigned

By The Beak Street Bugle

Since selling everything to fund his first video, this northern aesthete has gained big momentum.

Having finally escaped the small northern town he grew up on and earned himself a job as an in house runner at a small London production company, Patrick Killingbeck sold most of his worldly possessions to fund a music video for an unsigned artist.

Putting all his eggs in one basket paid off. It launched him into a steady stream of commissions, the first being the promo for Go by Delilah, which still holds his record for YouTube views (over 6 million). Last year Mastercard remade the video as a part of a Brits competition and it featured on the cover of Timeout magazine – some good recognition for a new director.

A fan of fashion photography, his style embraces high levels of aestheticism with a focus on framing and styling, while supporting the story at the heart of each video. It’s put him in good stead and his experience has steadily expanded to bigger artists over the years.

It'll be worth watching where his work takes him next.

Watch some of his work here:

The Modern-day Polymath Director

July 11, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Young directing sensation Kibwe Tavares is a jack of many trades.

It’s not easy making a name for yourself as a director in advertising these days. There’s too much competition, too few worthwhile jobs. Kibwe Tavares isn’t bothered by that though because he never set out to become a director. He’s built a whole creative ecosystem around him, and directing for brands is just one part of it.

James Tomkinson – Managing Director at Nexus, who represent Kibwe in his advertising exploits – thinks this is the right approach for young directors in 2014. “So often directors that end up having a lifespan have so many fingers in so many pies,” he says. “Advertising is just one of the tools at their disposal. Hopefully it’s the tool that pays the bills, but there are always other things going on.”

Kibwe flew into Cannes for one day of glory last month, allowing him just enough time to scoop three awards at the CFP-E and Shots Young Director Award – 1st Prize for European Short Film, the rare Special Jury Award and the Audience Award – as well as being included among the 20 best young directors in the Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors’ Showcase. It’s fair to say this makes him one of the most exciting young talents represented for commercials right now.

But filmmaking wasn’t Kibwe’s first love. He trained in architecture, first at Leeds, on a more practical architectural engineering course and then at The Bartlett School of Architecture in London, where he jokes that you’d probably fail if you designed a building. “London schools are much more like art schools,” he says, which was lucky because although he went in wanting to become an architect, his graduate career was a little more leftfield.

As the final design project for his master’s degree, Kibwe decided to make a film. In true art school style, the open brief was ‘uncertainty’. His response was the stunning short film Robots of Brixton, in which a disenfranchised mechanical workforce battles against the authorities in scenes inspired by the 1981 Brixton riots. The film has its points to make about architecture, but its storytelling is so much stronger than a mere thesis on urban decay.

“That project came from the idea of being in a position as a young, black British architect,” he recognises, “feeling quite different to the people that were around me studying.” Embracing this difference, he made a film that has taken him to festivals around the world and earned him critical acclaim.

Like many graduates on the course, actually becoming an architect was too obvious for Kibwe. Having taught himself to animate through creating architectural fly-throughs, he had unearthed a passion for filmmaking – or at least moving image-making. Along with two of his fellow graduates he founded his own company, Factory Fifteen, on the basis that they enjoyed visualising architecture and wanted to carry on doing it.

“‘We don’t know how it works or what industry it fits in or how we make any money out of it,’” he remembers thinking, “‘but we know we like doing it. So let’s put our work out there.’”

They did. And Factory Fifteen got off to a strong start using the contacts the trio had built during their degree course. The work gained momentum. Their office has now expanded to include several more employees and they’ve worked on dozens of film and architectural visualisation projects over the past three years.

Robots of Brixton’s success made it almost impossible for Kibwe to work solely within the realms of architecture. There was too much storytelling talent to go untapped. Big players such as Film4 soon started reaching out to him, and with their support his biggest film project to date was born: Jonah.

The story of a pair of friends as their sleepy town in Zanzibar is engulfed by a tacky, unsustainable tourist bubble, Jonah is both a beautiful integration of 3D animation and live action and a compelling human story.

With support from Film4 and the BFI, Kibwe was plunged into a 14-month process. Going from working alone in his bedroom, now he was not only working a screenwriter and a producer for the first time, but around 80 different crew members of various disciplines. “The process was quite intense,” he recalls. Having never even considered calling himself a director, Kibwe had to learn to communicate his ideas to dozens of people and tie their expertise together.

In the meantime, Factory Fifteen was beginning to take off and Robots of Brixton was still doing the festival rounds. “It went to, like, a hundred different festivals,” guesses Kibwe. Somehow the young director managed to stay calm in the eye of this storm and the resulting film premiered to great acclaim at Sundance in 2013.

An award-winning young director equally confortable directing live action and 3D animation, it wouldn’t be long before he found a production company to call home. Soon after Jonah premiered Nexus signed Kibwe for commercial representation, along with Factory Fifteen as a studio. They have been collaborating ever since while he works on films, digital art commissions, commercial briefs and architectural visualisation, spinning all these plates at once.

His latest haul of awards at the YDA are the most recent in over a year of accolades for the fresh helmsman. But he’s only admitted that he’s a director since he finished Jonah. “I found it quite tricky to even say it,” he admits. “A lot of the time you doubt yourself as a director. Often it’s hard and what your asking [of the people you’re working with] is quite unreasonable. You’ll get pushed to do the easier option but you know in your heart what you need to do. I think the awards help you know you’re right; that you’re not just being excessive.”

He has a lot of ideas for creative projects, but recognises “those things need time and money to help push them forward.” He’s been smart in carefully choosing his partners. Not least Nexus, who are keen to dedicate time and resources to him outside of advertising briefs. “It’s a really cool way of working,” he says. “I can go in to see Chris [O’Reilly] or James and say ‘I’ve got this idea. I don’t know where it sits; whether it’s a commercial thing or a film,’ we you can talk about it and work it out.”

James enthuses about developing ideas with Nexus talent, not just developing directors. “Kibwe will come in see us and thrash it out for hours and hours and take that idea from A to Z,” he says. “Then it’s the Z that goes into production.” It doesn’t matter to them if it’s a Nexus production or not. If it’s a better film then it helps Kibwe’s reel and his reputation. “That’s how we develop our talent.”

After a year with Nexus behind him his projects are as diverse as ever. While his work is showcased at the Barbican’s Digital Revolution exhibition he’s working on an art commission for a music festival – a love story about a scarecrow, he says. He’s also pitching on advertising projects and working on architectural visualisation with Factory Fifteen.

If variety is the spice of life then Kibwe’s a lucky man. With such a diverse creative life he can dip in and out of spheres, industries and disciplines and hopefully come out a sharper, better-rounded director because of that. It may seem intimidating and exhausting to keep so many projects rolling, but he maintains it’s not as scary as it sounds. “You’re talking about a creative project and how you should execute something,” he says. “They’re similar types of conversations.”

With such an innovative production company at his back and a reel full of refreshing, imaginative work, Kibwe Tavares a name to remember. Keep an eye out for what he does next because the chances are it will be fascinating.

A Beginner’s Guide to Sound Design

July 9, 2014 / Features

By Owen Griffiths

Want your ad to sound amazing? Jungle's Owen Griffiths runs us through the basics.

“We’re looking for the sound of a smell.”
“It needs to be organic.” “We need to feel it rather than hear it.”
“Have you got anything more schhhheeeeewwwwww?”

These are genuine comments directed at me while I’ve been sound designing a commercial.
They might look a bit silly on the page. But they’re all legitimate requests from clients who have an idea of what they’re after and, ultimately, how do you talk about sound anyway?

Some of this advice might sound obvious – it is a beginner’s guide after all. But you’d be surprised by how many people are still unsure of how to get the best out of the sound design in their ads.

Get talking early

Personally, the first thing I like to do when approaching a new project is to discuss the film or, if it’s available, see a cut.

It’s really helpful to talk to the director and team first to get a brief and go through what they want the design to achieve: what’s it trying to do? How should it feel?

There may well be points in the cut which need a strong helping hand from the sound to tell the story.
Are there key moments to emphasize? What kind of texture do they want to achieve? Warm, abrasive, cold, etc? I did get asked recently to create the sound of a smell (yes, really), so it pays to have a good conversation early on to discuss what’s possible and how to approach it.

Record sound on location

When it comes to the actual sound, despite all the talk of certain big features being completely post-synced and all the location recordings replaced, starting with decent location sound is a really good basis. So if there’s likely to be specific things available to record on location – a big crowd of people shouting “monkey!” or a lovely new car model revving its chest off for example – then save yourself a lot of money and get a decent soundman on the shoot and give him some time to get it down.  Minutes spent here can literally save hours later down the line.

If it’s after the fact, it can be well worth it to send someone out from your sound house to record wild source material. I’ve recorded myself running around the nighttime mean-ish streets of South London (well, you would anyway wouldn’t you?) and kicking over bin bags for a spot I was working on. And my kids can’t get enough of me shouting at them to laugh more convincingly when I’m shoving a microphone in their faces.

Of course, sound design has to begin somewhere, and in many cases starting with a real sound and building on that with more disassociated elements is the way to approach it. Even Wall-E’s robot character sounds started with Ben and Mrs Burtt’s voices. And then a s**t lot of messing about with processing.

Allow for experimentation

Which brings me to my next point: if the spot needs some big design, it may well need a fair bit of trial and error. I’m not talking about the three years it took to design Wall-E, or building a sand-pit like Brian Wilson but have a word with your sound house and see how long a piece of string they guestimate. If it’s not something you’ve heard before, or it’s something you’ve heard on a feature film, this will probably require a bit more time.

It often takes some experimentation for the more unusual sounds that you have to design: for example, the creative team I recorded slapping each other’s bare limbs with raw meat to try and create the effect of a six foot Viking hitting someone in the face with a giant fish, or the poor runner who, on his first day, had to tell his mum that his new job involved buying a pair of pig’s feet from the butchers and then making them dance in front of a microphone (neither of which made it to the cut).

Give your designer space

Once your designer has started work with your brief in mind, it’s always good to let them get some initial work done first on their own so they can go through the trial and error phase without them feeling stupid, and without you feeling bored. For the sound designer it also helps, if there’s a fair amount of vocal elements to record, if the agency and director aren’t the other side of the glass as you shout and groan your way through the relevant performance. And yes, I am still talking about my day job. I’ve been a group of marauding yetis, a two headed Jason and the Argonauts stop motion monster and a family of gorillas in my time. None of which, thankfully, I had to channel while the agency were in the room. Thanks folks.

Don’t forget music

Oh, and let’s not forget music. If you’ve got a track that you’re using, it really helps to have that to hand. Sound design needs to complement a track, so it should be built to fit the spaces in the music rather than fight for the same audio territory. We’ve all had the last minute delivery of the huge (and hugely expensive) orchestral track, only to discover that the design clashes with just about everything! 

Bass, in particular, can be tricky. Big cinematic whooshes can get lost easily when the track is added, and even then, what sounded great on the big speakers can totally disappear on the smalls. I’ve had tracks from big established acts that just don’t translate to TV or laptop. The eeeny weeny speaker cones just can’t move enough air to reproduce the low frequencies.

Of course, however well you plan it, there’s always the classic start of session comment: “the music has bombed out with the client / record company so we’re using this other piece…” in a different key and at a different tempo. The new track might be great but if the tempo doesn’t fit the cut, and the frequency content of the arrangement now clashes with the carefully constructed sound design, then you’ve got problems. Like the time I was working with a well-known opera piece for a big car ad and at the last moment the singer backed out. At which point the only other performance that could be licenced in time was too slow and sounded like it was recorded on a wax cylinder.

Know sound design’s limitations

Above all, it’s worth remembering what sound design can and can’t do. Its emotional content is limited: witness the huge military recruitment ad that was sound designed without music to within an inch of its life, trying to “make it more uplifting”, before ending up on air with a stonking rock track slapped all over it.

Keep us in the loop

As the project progresses it’s always comforting to receive work-in-progress video files of where things have got to. And keep giving feedback - given that everybody these days seems to have to do several person’s jobs at the same time, this can really help to keep everyone on the same page.


The best projects are those with enough time and an open-minded attitude to achieving the right result. It’s very easy to get wedded to an offline or even a temp dub. And it’s always harder to hear it as a fresh piece when you’ve been associating the same noises with your pictures for weeks.
So talk it through first, give your designer some time to run with it, keep feeding back on what works for you and what doesn’t, and I guarantee everybody will get the result they want.

Schhhheeeeewwwwww!!!!!

 

Owen Griffiths is Chief Engineer at Jungle Studios.

The Science Behind the Magic

July 3, 2014 / Features

By Alex Reeves

VCCP envisions a new kind of research that stands up for creative weirdness.

Research in advertising is far from perfect. Mentioning it to creatives often provokes a wince, evoking pain and fear as they remember the times their creative vision was torn to shreds by focus groups and link tests. But there are planners out there who agree. According to Darren Savage, Chief Strategic Officer of Studio Ex Nihilo – VCCP’s newly launched inventions business – research needs an overhaul. “The results they’re getting are completely and utterly wrong,” he says.

Speaking at Cannes Lions recently in a talk called ‘The (Emotional) Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, Darren and his colleagues pointed out what they see as fundamental flaws in the research process for television advertising and laid the first few slabs on a new path – one that they hope will lead to more effective advertising.

The main concept underlying the new approach is based on the work of Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman. Put simply, he suggested people make decisions using two mental systems: system one is always on and runs in the background of your mind. This is the more emotional, instinctive part of your decision-making. System two is more of a conscious tool – the rational, considered part that you pull up when you need it. According to Darren, a classically trained account planner with a background in neuroscience, “the basic premise is that it’s not rational or emotional; it’s both at the same time, all of the time.”

Essentially, the problem is that current methods of research in advertising ignore system one. People are asked questions and consciously answer them, using only rational thought. “It’s artificially distorting the results,” says Darren, “because it’s pushing system one – the emotional stuff – to the periphery and artificially promoting the importance of system two. And that’s not how people make decisions.”

One of the worst upshots of this is that it sucks the magic out of advertising. That may not sound like something a researcher concerned with the science of marketing would say, but Darren laments that current methods of research fail to support creative flair. His team have been thinking about a number of areas where there’s a lot of subjectivity. Things like choice of music, sound design, editing and casting. These are often the places where rational decisions fail and little more than personal opinion tends to rule the decision-making.

“Everybody would admit music is really important,” says Darren, “but there isn’t any methodology to select what’s the right piece of music for advertising. I’ve been kicking around for long enough to have been involved in these kinds of arguments. It does degenerate into pure subjectivity.”

It’s crazy, when you come to think of it. “If you’re spending millions of pounds on a piece of advertising and it’s down to a coin toss between Radiohead or Muse, you’d better get it right,” he says.

In the seminar at Cannes, Darren and co took the example of Levi’s iconic Laundrette commercial. Arguably, research on that would have approved the pretty girls, handsome Nick, the cool music and the 50s aesthetic, but what’s the fat guy in a grey vest doing there? Rationally, it makes no sense to have him in there.

“A creative would say he adds a bit of texture,” says Darren. “Our argument is about protecting that weirdness. So leaving those sort of things that add rough edges, unexpectedness, texture or depth to advertising is actually really important. It keeps people interested in the narrative.”

Creatives are not known for being huge research fans. At a recent conference somebody asked Sir John Hegarty about data and creativity. His response: “Fuck off.” Darren’s aim is to provide data that the Hegartys of the world can use to their advantage. We know that award-winning creative work does the job for consumers too, and if current research methods can’t explain why the fat blokes and oddness work, maybe new methods are needed.

The VCCP team unveiled their new vision for research in Cannes, suggesting a way of uniting system one and system two decision-making in their techniques. Their idea is to use biometric data, measuring galvanic skin responses to creative work – the sort of thing it’s hard to fake. Darren acknowledges that these tools aren’t perfect, but he thinks they’re a step in the right direction. “Biometrics act as a pretty good barometer in terms of how someone is feeling about a particular stimulus,” he says.

Alongside more classic techniques like pre and post questionnaires, Darren and his team use this biometric data to try and knit together the system one emotional responses and the system two rational judgements.

Paying attention to how a piece of advertising actually makes people feel seems like a huge, if slightly obvious, leap for research, but Darren isn’t content to stop there. His team want to get a much more nuanced picture of the emotions being aroused by the work. “We’re looking at how you can compose or select a piece of music based on matching key to desired emotional response,” he says. “You don’t always want someone to watch a piece of advertising and be jumping around thrilled. It depends what the ad is trying to do. Are you trying to build suspense, induce euphoria? Are you meant to feel really positive? Is it meant to be serious, like a road safety ad? All ads work differently and it all needs to be effective.”

With that in mind, they’re looking at measuring other biometrics such as pupil dilation and stress levels. The end aim is never to have to rely on asking research subjects how something makes them feel. Their bodies will do the talking.

While still in preliminary stages, they have tested their techniques very briefly on music choices and edits. And they’ve gathered some encouraging data for supporters of uniqueness in advertising. “We’ve proven that the weird version versus the sanitised version punctuates those key narrative elements,” says Darren. “It seems to then correlate with recall and likelihood of purchasing or being interested in a brand.” This could put an end to those seemingly subjective arguments about music, sound, edit and casting, and could put power in the hands of creatives who believe in the power of weirdness.

Darren’s hope is that they are making first steps towards a kind of research data that helps, rather than hampers creativity. “I want Hegarty and people like him to say ‘this justifies my magic and helps me to understand it,’” he says.

The existing structures of research are too didactic and inflexible. Studio Ex Nihilo are creating techniques that feel more at home in 2014. “We’re trying to build a research methodology that fits around the advertising idea and tries to understand it,” says Darren, “to shed new light on it in terms of how it’s working, rather than the other way around.”

Darren is keen to stress it’s early days. His hope for the Cannes Lions seminar is that it will have piqued people’s interest, so other agencies and people from around the industry will want to get involved. “It would be nice to create a research group between a number of sorts of agencies, clients, different research agencies, even other advertising and creative agencies potentially,” he suggests. “Via that collaborative approach I think we’re much more likely to move further forward faster.”

With Oxford University helping to develop their methodology and analysis, they’ve got off to a good start. “It’s experimental,” he admits. “I don’t think we’re at the point where we can draw very firm conclusions, but they’re encouraging observations.”