Our Head of Design wins a D&AD!

We're delighted that Mike Brookes, our Head of Design, won a D&AD last week, for his film The Petard Pinch, picking up a Yellow Pencil for Moving Image (Graphic Design). Congratulations Mike!

It serves as a great follow up to a film Across the Pond created, also directed by Mike, Bletchley Park -- why it matters.

The Petard Pinch film was commissioned by Bletchley Park to form the focus of a new, permanent exhibition at the museum, right next door to the offices of Alan Turing. The film recounts the WW2 story of the recovery of vital documents from a stricken German U-boat, and the heroic men who sacrificed their lives for their country.

For the film’s aesthetic I was inspired by the wartime illustrations of British artist Brian Cook, with a muted colour palette based on the technology of the day. For production, different styles were employed to bring the different scenes to life - from 2D to 3D, cell animation and treated live footage. We worked closely with Bletchley Park and their historians to ensure the film stayed historically accurate. Some scenes were given a certain abstract interpretation to keep the tone and emotion of the piece, yet also allow us to stay on course with regards to our production schedule.

It certainly was a fun and exciting project to be involved with - not just creatively but because it was an honour to help tell this incredible story about the young men who did so much for our country - whose courage & heroism have until now gone untold. Special thanks to Bletchley Park who were a great client, and to Aaron for bringing his producing chops - pulling in favours for us liking getting the brilliant Michael G. Jones to narrate - a perfect fit for the film!

The uncanny valley of authenticity

The word authentic gets overused as much as content, data and digital in marketing and advertising. So much so it just becomes a base descriptor for selling in an idea to clients. It becomes background. What does it really mean though?

When I say authentic I often get tongue tied trying to describe it and end up saying ‘it’s real’ or ‘truth’ out loud, as if that should be enough for people to understand. It almost sounds like I’m talking about a gritty obs doc. I’m not, although it certainly could be. It could be found in the form of a £5k how-to beauty video on YouTube, a £100k TV ad or a £200m feature film set in a galaxy far far away. 

Look at these stills from a scene in Scorsese’s ‘Goodfellas’:

Look how damn real these photo’s look. They look more real than some actual family candids you see on Facebook. Maybe it requires the skill of a masterful director with some great actors to suspend your disbelief like this.  

There's no doubt it requires great skill and effort to capture something authentically. I think that’s our job at agencies, to find it, bottle it and connect audiences to it in a relevant way.

Casey Neistat is a great exponent of authenticity in his work. He spoke at an event in 2015 (alongside another proponent of authentic content - Gary Vaynerchuck)

I’m staring at a screen 80% of the time I’m awake. […] We’re always looking at screens. And the collateral effect of that is that our bullshit detectors have become so refined. Whether you’re hyper-cognisant of that, like Gary [Vaynerchuck] and me because it’s what we do for a living. Or it’s entirely passive like it is for my kid, your bullshit detector is so refined that the second it starts to go off a little bit, BOOM, you check out and you’re into something else. 
[My son’s] bullshit detector is so refined that in order to penetrate that detector, that force field around him it has to be true, it has to be real. And that’s why for the most part he doesn’t watch television, he watches YouTube. Because YouTube is like this endless cornucopia of content where he can weave his way through until he finds this stuff that really speaks to him. Stuff that penetrates that bullshit detector. So yeah, being yourself and being honest, it means to be vulnerable, it means to be real, is scary. You have to open yourself up. But if you want to succeed in that place, if you want to make a brand of yourself […] it is now a requirement that you be authentic.

I 100% agree with this statement, and my bullshit detector feels like it is set to 11. I think most of the advertising we’re bombarded with (like banner ads) don’t even make it past the subconscious bullshit filter, let alone the conscious one. But where it gets trickier is what I’ve been referring to as the uncanny valley of authenticity. Where something masquerades as something it isn’t. In terms of robots/humans, here is a good recent example where a Hong Kong designer, Ricky Ma, made a robot that looks just like Scarlett Johansson, but calls 'it' Mark 1. What do you prefer?

Casey Neistat goes on to talk about this with a great example.

[…] Advertising I have such a hate hate relationship with. Because so much of it is look at what works and they say “Ok we wanna do that”. Which in itself is complete bullshit. If I give you an example I made a movie for Nike called ‘Do More’. It was this crazy video, where my friend and I got into all this trouble and in all these crazy situations. It was 100% real and we really put ourselves in those situations and because of that it was wildly successful, especially young people really related to that and were highly motivated by that. All that went really well to Nike’s message of Make It Count, Just Do It and Do More. Then a year later, Degree Deodorant, I shit you not, put out an entire campaign called ‘Do More’. I talked to my lawyer and we could definitely sue, we have a good case, but what a waste of time and energy. So I said no. But it was this bullshit, super fabricated scrubbed clean nonsense. “What did Casey Neistat do? Ok, let’s do a versions of that but we’re going to fabricate it this way”. Instead of just actually sending someone to go jet skiing in the Middle East. Let’s just pretend we do that, and shoot it in LA on the back of a truck, shot on a RED Epic with steadicam. None of you have ever heard of some bullshit campaign by some fucking deodorant company. 15 million people saw my video, because mine was real and penetrated the bullshit detector. And whatever Degree nonsense, just bounced right off people’s bullshit sensor.

It’s great and deceptively simple. But it feels real doesn’t it? As in, it feels like everything you’re watching is the first take - not the fourth. There is no production team or camera crew following him around 'creating' a reality. He is simply capturing and sharing his experience.

What is important to remember is this is the construct he is presenting and then delivering on authentically. Star Wars delivers authentically on a construct of a galaxy far, far away. So many adverts offer a construct, or aim for one, and deliver a wholly unauthentic experience. You only have to watch a few 'prank' style adverts to see they bottled it and didn't do it for 'real', they got the actors in and you're clearly watching the 'fourth take'. 

It is also interesting to looking at this film from 2012, you can see how this style has worked its way into so much other work, whether from YouTubers or advertisers. I have certainly worked on projects which probably borrow too much from this style, without unfortunately being as authentic or effective as it could've been. 

It’s hard. It is hard to say to a marketing manager at a brand “Hey! We’re going to risk the budget you’d normally and comfortably spend on tv/print/radio with the same standard/expected results, on something totally new and different that will hit the audience you actually want to get. It’s also something you will not be able to explain to your boss. We’re also just going to collaborate with XYZ, create an experience and share it with the audience. Cool?” Don’t be surprised if they politely decline. Be less surprised if they say “Ok great, but we need to ensure our logo's and messaging are present in over 50% of the film.” There’s a tightrope to walk here, but as an industry, if we can create better work, more authentic work, the results will be plain to see. I’m not saying let’s all make Casey Neistat style films, I’m saying the approach; work that is authentic to the audience, the brand and the platform can produce positive results for a brand. 

Here's another film from Casey Neistat where he and a friend try out a new style McDonald's restaurant in New York. 

He starts the video with a crystal clear disclaimer that it is not sponsored or endorsed by McDonald's, nor do they have permission. They simply go to the restaurant, order the new endlessly customisable burgers, eat them and give it a review. They have a great time and enjoyed their food, and you kind of want to be hanging out with them.

Imagine if this was a paid piece of content from McDonald's, but it was exactly the same as this film (apart form the disclaimer at the beginning). Same Casey, same friend, same New York. Everything. The. Same. 

But imagine it on the McDonald's YouTube channel & Facebook page and not Casey's. I'm pretty sure that would be incredibly positive for the brand. It just feels so unlikely for it to happen, but I think this is where brands need to go. Audiences just will not accept bullshit. Brands should be confident enough that their products are good and let content like this be created. Good and bad. The bad, can be incredibly useful and positive for a brand too. Taking on board that kind of feedback can actually improve the product/service! Use your marketing to iterate and improve your core products. Anything other than this level of commitment to authenticity really does leave you in that uncanny valley. .

Time to get real.

The Garden Bridge - This is our London

To announce the commencement of construction on London’s groundbreaking Garden Bridge project, we have created a new film that captures designer Thomas Heatherwick’s ambition for the project; to create a bridge that belongs to all Londoners.  

A love letter to the capital, the piece is a celebration of everything that makes London the unique place it is and the people who will cross the bridge every day, from every walk of life. Directed by fast-rising Charlie Robins and co-produced with Forever Pictures, the film was shot over four days in each corner of the city and is a journey through every side of this ever-changing and thriving community. 

We’re hugely proud of our work on this project. The role of the film is to generate excitement and support for the project. To do this we wanted to consider the day to day lives of real Londoners in the city. The hustle and bustle, the characters and the variety. All whilst expressing the need for balance with a place of calm, nature and reflection which comes in the form of this exciting new bridge. 


Agency - Across the Pond
Agency & Strategy Director - Robert Waddilove
Executive Creative Director - Maggi Machado
Creative Director - David Foggon
Executive Producer - Ellie Goodwin
Agency Producer - Alison Severs

Production Company - Forever Pictures
Executive Producer - Sasha Nixon
Director - Charlie Robins
Director of Photography - Chris Clarke
Producer - Sonya Sier
Editor - Dan Sherwin @ Final Cut
Post-Production - Julien Biard @ Finish
Sound Design - Patch Rowland @ Final Cut
Music - Dark Sky ‘Imagin’



Film Hack 2016 - with YouTube & D&AD

We are delighted to host this year’s Film Hack, YouTube’s film making competition for creative agencies. This year the competition is to create a TrueView for D&AD, which will go out into the wild and be judged by the public's engagement alongside a panel of industry judges.

We shared our strategic and creative insights of how to make effective TrueView ads on the platform, what makes good content, and gave each agency team one of our producers to work with them to make their films.

The brief this year has come from D&AD, who have partnered with YouTube for the event.

“The creative industry needs more diversity of thought. However, employment opportunities within advertising and design are too often restricted to a privileged few."
Ant Hill, Industry head, creative agency partnerships for Google UK

● Only 14 per cent of UK Creative Directors are female - 2015 Creative Equals Report

● Black, Asian and minority ethnic employees make up only 8 per cent of those at the most senior levels across the advertising industry. This rises to 10.8 per cent in creative agencies but drops to 2.9 per cent at media agencies according to the recent IPA Diversity Report.

"The problem starts in colleges as young people of all backgrounds make choices about their future. We need to get a creative career onto their consideration list early, and encourage them to work with the D&AD to explore their options.

There are some great ideas from the teams from Ogilvy, J. Walter Thompson, BBH and Grey London and we’re excited to work with them on creating their films!"

The winner will be announced in April.

Until then, for more information have a look at The Drum’s interview with Ant Hill, Google UK.

Dave Trott loves content really

Dave Trott writing in Campaign, ’Content, content, content’,

Content is seen as just stuff.
The stuff that goes into the space that’s there to be filled.
Think of a lorry.
A lorry has wheels, an engine and a cab.
And a big space on the back to be filled up with something.
It doesn’t matter what you fill it with, the lorry is the delivery system.

I’m a huge fan and greatly respect Dave Trott, I’ve seen him speak at several events, read his books, retweet his tweets and had the pleasure to have a walk and talk with him one evening after an event. I’m always left educated, entertained and inspired. Reading his views about content I feel compelled to write a reply, as I feel content gets such a bad rap and his thoughts are based on a lot of bad work out there.

This is a view which is reflected on industry blogs, magazines, websites and Twitter feeds, and it’s a shame. 

It’s a shame because when brands and agencies realised they could make ‘stuff’ cheaply and on ‘owned media’ (without media spends on new platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter), it gave rise to lots of ineffective and poorly executed stuff in shiny lorries being put in front of people. 

Most of it made by people who didn’t really understand the opportunity put in front of them.

This has given rise to such derision to the mere idea of content, that content is openly sneered at, especially by the traditional ATL Creative & Media agencies. 

From their point of view they have good reasons to feel that way:

1) They see the thinking, strategy, creative and execution they pour onto their typical ATL campaigns not reflected in the vast majority of content created by either their own content arms or smaller bespoke agencies/production companies/one man bands/YouTube vloggers.

2) The idea that there is no ‘idea’ in content, that it’s not possible for content to help position a brand/product effectively and solve a business problem.
3) It threatens their business model around large campaigns with large media spends. 
It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” (I can appreciate the dichotomy here when I have the word ‘Content’ in my job title!)
4) It requires a totally different approach (if done properly), moving from advertising to creating content which people want to watch. Not advertising designed to make a big impact in a short amount of time whilst usually interrupting the content people were trying to watch.

In Dave Trott’s analogy, if the content of the lorry was full of iPhone’s and I want to buy an iPhone, that lorry and content is very valuable to me. If the content is a Samsung Galaxy phone, I’m going to let that lorry drive past me. It doesn’t have value to me. 

It’s in the eye of the beholder.

Good content is about thinking what the audience finds valuable in terms of their attention. If you deliver on that contract you can make a much more substantial connection than an ad that is interrupting what they want to be doing.

You are creating a product they want, rather than something advertising a product. 

Without getting all Martin Luther King about it, I see a future where all these approaches exist in unison (maybe not banner ads), and anything classified as content truly delivers on that promise and isn’t just fodder for media spends or for robots to watch.

The delivery system facilitated getting the idea in front of the right people.
But the important thing was the idea.
To put it simply: it was idea first, delivery system second.
But by relegating the idea to content, it becomes far less important.
The delivery system must now come before the idea, before the "content".

I just don’t agree with this. Content is still about an idea. You then work out where the audience spends most of their time and design content in the most suitable way relating to the audience, brand and platform. 

Dave Trott has a brilliant diagram he draws live in his talks, and rather than focusing on platforms it starts with a human. The human is the medium, (not a shiny platform) - and quite right! If that human likes what they watch/read/hear, they will tell their mates, family, colleagues, followers etc. 

Content is no different here.

At an APG talk recently Dave Trott spoke about how he approached his personal Twitter account, and that an expert was brought in to ‘teach’ him how to use the platform. 

Dave said he ignored all of what the expert said and just started writing some jokes, posting quotes and some links to interesting articles relating to advertising. He would then intersperse this by promoting his blog posts and his books. 

Brilliant blog posts, jokes, quotes and links to interesting articles is valuable content, and frictionless to access apart from some blog posts being behind some paywalls.

Links to buy your books is advertising of your product, the thing you sell.

By treating content as seriously as his books (like a product), Dave now has over 21,000 followers. It would be interesting to know how this Twitter activity affects his book sales. It can’t hurt can it? 

Dave mentioned the expert had around 400 followers.

This is the point.

Think of your audience, create content which will be valuable to them on the chosen platform and where the brand/product is relevant/intrinsic/authentic (remember we are selling stuff), and you will create a strong connection, you might even build an audience around your content, and that growing audience will be quite incentivised to purchase products off you.

That’s what content is and what content can do.

What if brands treated content like a product?

What if brands treated content like another one of their products, not as another way to market their existing products?

Framed this way, it completely shifts how to approach a successful content strategy. Focusing on what real people actually want or need, rather than another way to market existing products or creating content for the sake of it.

Image: Via TopDesignMag

What is Content? (Or the million dollar question)

When talking about content, the industry speaks about engaged audiences and building audiences. This is what content can do. (Good content, that is). Traditional advertising at its best can communicate complex ideas around a brand/product/service in such a way that it not only articulates what it does but can also evoke an emotional response in the viewer. It advocates the benefits in a way that resonates.

Cheap and abundant media, matched with very high quality tools for creation of content is allowing any company, brand or individual to create content which has as much chance as finding an audience as anyone else (media spend aside). To actually standout in this vast sea of content we have to be creating value. You need to create value for someone in order for them to connect with you. I don’t think the aesthetic quality is the main issue here, it’s about making something relevant for the brand/platform/audience. And this is where I think many people can’t get their head around content, it’s about finding and embracing a niche. 

Embrace the niche

Brands have to discover and then embrace their niche. Full unashamed wallowing in your chosen subject/topic/product. By truly connecting with an audience, no matter how small or big, you create value for all involved. 

If I visit a brand’s YouTube channel, what is the channel about? What do I find? Their TV ad, an interview with the CEO and maybe some walkthroughs of how to use the website? Not many people will subscribe to that. When you visit BBC1, Dave or Film4, you have a clear idea of the kind of content you’re going to get. This is no different to a YouTube channel.

Red Bull, GoPro and Dove have all adopted a niche which allows an audience to quickly understand what they are about and know what kind of content they can expect from them.

Find your niche and deliver on that.


The solution for many brands should lie in utility. If I’m a beer company, it seems highly sensible to me to have an app to find the most interesting bars in my area. Entertaining is so hard now because there is so much stuff. We should be looking to help people, to provide value, and offer them some sort of service.

Tom Goodwin writing in NewsCred

I would agree that entertaining is hard, but when it works it will really make an impact. You just have to go into it with your eyes open. Utility, as Goodwin says, is a great way to harness content to provide value to people.

Content as Product

So the idea of creating value, at its core, has led me to settle on content as product. Traditional advertising is promoting a product. What if we treat content simply as another product from that company, rather than the promotion of another product?

In marketing, a Product is anything that can be offered to a market that might satisfy a want or need. Wikipedia

So what if we approach content to satisfy a want or need of real people? It certainly places it in the frame of thinking audience first doesn’t it? 

Some of the worst content produced (outside of general quality and executional issues) can be exposed with one simple question: “Who is this for?” When it is seemingly impossible to say so, from just watching it, it’s safe to say it’s just stuff made for the company producing it - whether to satisfy their product team, CEO, board or even the agency that made it. 

A (good) company would have a very clear idea about who the market is for their product or service. They would then develop, test, iterate and release the product to the public, and if the product created value in the eyes of the market it would sell and be a success. Content has to do the same thing, it’s out there in the wild and the value it creates determines its success. Like a product, a positive outcome will benefit the company that created it.

Agencies should embody that approach when creating content for their clients, and of course they do when promoting the products of the client, but when it comes down to creating something original that still embodies the client’s values, it’s no wonder the industry has collectively scratched their head at delivering on this. 

Building your own little production factory as the content arm of the agency does nothing to solve this either. It’s not about making stuff cheaply or even efficiently. You have to make something that resonates with a particular audience. 

Another interesting parallel with product, is the idea of generating revenue. Most advertising is obviously not designed to generate revenue for the company selling the product. But some companies have been able to do this with their advertising. The LEGO Movie is probably the ultimate example of content as product, with gross revenue currently at $468 million. Guinness World Records is also a company using content as product. They sell licenses to TV companies globally to produce locally relevant TV shows featuring the abundance of records featured in the book. Both these examples have treated content with as much respect as their core product. 

The Google Creative Lab have always seemed to take this approach too. They create complementary or new products that are in line with Google’s main consumer products. They are creating new content using Google’s platforms for real people. A walk through of Abbey Road, a Chrome game which syncs your mobile and computer to play Super Sync Sports, an interactive music video using Arcade Fire’s ‘We Used To Wait’ as a soundtrack to an evocative trip to your hometown using Chrome & Streetview in The Wilderness Downtown. These are fantastic examples of delivering people value through content.

A brand wouldn’t just make any old rubbish to sell to people, they wouldn’t stay in business very long. So why is so much content made in this way?

This is our chance to act like product managers with the content we create for our clients. It’s time for people who say they make content to be held to the same standards as the product sold by their clients. 

It’s time to make content people want to watch.