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The art of the heart

At TV Creativity: The Art of the Heart, an event held in London, Thinkbox, a UK commercial TV marketing body, offered some compelling statistics and research to highlight the potential benefits of the channel to advertisers.

But delegates were also offered some personal stories to go alongside the hard data, with three sets of ad professionals – planners, creatives and directors – offering a behind-the-scenes view on how some of the best TV ads of recent years got made.

TV’s impact

“Advertising is not about creating fame, it’s about reaching lots of people,” Lindsey Clay, managing director of Thinkbox, said. “And that’s what TV does so well.”

Clay argued that creativity matters in TV advertising, pointing to 2010 research Thinkbox undertook with Peter Field, a marketing consultant, who used data from IPA Effectiveness Awards cases and the Gunn Report – and found that 44% of the creative awards were handed out to campaigns that were essentially “emotional” in character, while just 19% were “rational”. Clay added: “Emotional campaigns outperform time after time. They’re twice as efficient, and deliver twice the profit.”

Meanwhile, Tess Alps, Thinkbox’s executive chairman, provided a series of seven key statistics point to TV’s status as the medium of choice for delivering this creativity. These are:

  • 47 – The average number of TV ads UK consumer views every day.
  • 1/2p – The cost, according to Alps, of getting one person to see a TV ad by buying media space.
  • 400 = 230,000,000 – A rating of 1 refers to 1% of the total audience. Alps claimed that a “bog standard” UK TV campaign has a rating of 400, and will therefore be seen 230m times.
  • 90% – This is the amount of TV that is still viewed live in the UK – perhaps surprising, given the hype about playback services.
  • 1.2% – The still small proportion of people viewing extra TV content on non-TV screens, such as smartphones and tablets.
  • 33/35 – Highlighting the link between TV, creativity and effectiveness: this is the number of IPA Awards winners in 2012 that used TV.
  • 8.7x – Perhaps the key stat provided by Alps during her presentation. In terms of market penetration and consumption, commercial TV in the UK is 8.7 times larger than the entire internet. Commercial TV is viewed by 98% of the population for around 4.5 hours per month, compared to Twitter, one of the most-visited websites, which is used by 11% of people for an average of 45 minutes per month.

Behind the scenes

With the continuing relevance of TV as a channel established, the Thinkbox event featured three separate panel sessions looking into best practices in recent TV ads, with each panel representing a different stage of the production process: planners, creatives and directors.

Planners: The strategy

Two recent IPA Grand Prix winners were discussed by their agency planners. First was the top 2012 case: detailing the long-form, highly-emotive TV ads used by UK department store John Lewis.

David Golding, chief strategy officer of adam&eveDDB, the agency behind the ads, pointed out that “do me a John Lewis” had become something of a common refrain from clients over recent months, such was the huge fame of these spots.

Golding highlighted the fact that around 20% of the media budget going on production costs, was vastly higher than the industry average, but resulted in beautifully shot ads. Long lead times are also key to the campaign’s success: the John Lewis Christmas ads are first viewed by company employees at their June conference, which means that the agency has to start thinking up ideas for the spots in January – when, conveniently enough, memories of last year’s Christmas are still fresh.

But Golding broke with conventional wisdom when it came to using data and insights. “Think less is the motto,” he said. “Actual planning is extremely simple…we don’t do any consumer research at all – whatsoever [for the campaign]. We’ve never sat in a pre-test focus group for John Lewis creative.”

He was also sure to stress that the John Lewis campaign strategy could not be replicated by all clients. “If a brand’s got latent affection, emotional advertising is a great way of unlocking that,” he said. John Lewis has it – most brands don’t.”

The previous big-budget IPA winner, from 2010, was Hovis – for a campaign centering around a 122 second TV ad that highlighted the brand’s long heritage. It also employed a similarly tear jerking strategy to John Lewis. “People were crying in focus groups – and in a good way!” said Andy Nairn, formerly of MCBD when he worked on this campaign.

Prior to the ad, Hovis was a brand in trouble, and risked being delisted from certain large retailers. So Nairn cited the mass reach of TV as offering a way of making a break with the past. “We were using TV to drawing a line in the sand incredibly publicly – which is what it’s good for.”

Nairn echoed Golding in arguing for concision and simplicity in the planning process. “Don’t do things by committee,” he advised, adding that the business buzzword of “collaboration” has “created a weird meeting culture where nothing good gets done”. Instead, Nairn added, “it’s about a tight group of people getting together and solving a problem”.

Creatives: The idea

With the strategy in place, the ad creatives step in. John Townshend, a creative partner at Now, discussed one great example of surprising creative from earlier in his career.

This bizarre mix of the “orange fella”, sports commentator clichés and slapstick, topped off by an utterly incongruous voice-over from US jazz legend Gil Scott-Heron, is still memorable by many who saw the ad when originally broadcast in the 1990s. But Townshend argued that it was, in fact, a “very traditional” ad. “It showed a product benefit, and demonstrated it clearly,” he said. “But it stood out because the idea was so original.”

The Tango brief was that the drink was “intensely orange”; the creative team interpreted this as the drink providing an “orange hit”. The original creative concept was progressively watered down: the script called for a kick, but the original ad featured a slap instead. This version still caused complaints when first broadcast and was banned – with a revised version eventually featuring a kiss.

Campaign elements came together almost at random. “What made it great [is] those guys were mucking about and playing,” Townshend added. “Creatives are at their best when they’re relaxed and having a laugh. The trouble is, the process today is so intense that you don’t have time for that.”

Bringing proceedings up to date with TV creative was this ad from French premium TV firm Canal+, recently cited by the Gunn Report as the best ad campaign of 2012. The spot was discussed by AMV BBDO executive creative director Paul Brazier.

With its combination of lavish visuals, narrative surprise and expertly-placed profanity, the ad is a classic example of “turning a negative into a positive,” Brazier said. What might be a boring testimonial of a film fan made good is revitalised by a single creative inspiration: turning the fan into a bear.

Musical cues were also cited by the panellists as being very important for the final ad, with the Canal+ spot’s disorienting segue into low-key acoustic guitar – where the audience might be expecting an epic string section – supporting the ad’s big reveal. “After all the processes, you’ve shot and edited it, you realise you’re only half way there,” Brazier said. “Music adds 50% to the ad. It controls your emotions.”

Directors: The execution

The final piece of the puzzle is the actual shooting of the TV ad. To Lizie Gower, managing director of Academy Films, whose stable of directors includes the legendary Jonathan Glazer, the director’s task is to provide “pixie dust” to the campaign. “Directors can make your commercial great – or indifferent,” she pointed out.

The main challenge faced by the director – who generally films a TV ad on the basis of a script and storyboard provided by the agency – is difficult-to-fulfil demands. One major example cited by HLA’s Simon Ratigan was this Sony ad, whose creative idea was to bury a city in foam.

“It was a simple script – more of an idea, really,” Ratigan said. “The client wanted the ad to be product-led, but the ad couldn’t show the product [a camera] in an overt way… so that’s where the ‘photogenic foam’ idea came from.”

The ad was shot in Miami, with the assistance of huge foam machines. Ratigan said the “vast majority” of the foam was “in-camera”, with some added in post production.

Ahead of the filming, these technical challenges were increased by the limitations placed on the crew by Miami’s city authorities, who did not provide the necessary clearances until five days before the shoot. The city also banned the foam from going down their drains, meaning the crew needed to block around 200 drains with plastic sealant, and use heavy-duty “sucking trucks” to get rid of the fluid after filming. “When you ask big things, people don’t want to say yes,” Ratigan said.

Clients can also be very problematic to the ad director. Seb Edwards told delegates about a high-profile recent spot he shot for Nike. In the run-up to the London Olympics, the sportswear brand wanted to make a film about all the other Londons around the world, and all the athletes there, as an antidote to big Olympics commercials with famous stars.

This focus on the plucky underdog read, in the original script, like a classic piece of “ambush marketing”, similar to Nike’s work around the 2010 football World Cup. But Edwards said he considered the final ad a “failure” – an unhappy compromise between this original positioning and the client-led effort to make the film also about “greatness”, to tie in with another ad campaign that it was doing at the time.

To Edwards, his experience offered a lesson in the creative process. “There’s economics, art and a car crash in the middle,” he said. “It’s the client who’s spending the money. It’s not an art project… [but] you’ve got to allow flexibility and freedom.”

That said, fellow director and panellist Sam Brown disagreed with Edwards’ opinion of the Nike work. “I think those two things [underdogs and greatness] came across really clearly,” he said. “Sometimes it’s difficult for a director to be objective about his own ad.”

In summary

  • TV ads’ strength is in their ability to build brand fame in an emotive way. And creativity is the engine of this process.
  • To make the best TV spots possible, planners advise simplicity and small teams, creatives argue for space to play, and directors require a clear vision from the client.