Friday, 14 November 2014

Private Hear

Private Hear

Each month, in association with the Radio Advertising Bureau, 
Campaign magazine presents two industry experts reviewing the 
best and worst radio ad campaigns

Hugh Todd, Creative Director, Leo Burnett

Radio. How hard can it be? Get a junior team to bash out a comedy sketch. Record with some jobbing voiceover in Soho. Sorted. And another little turd pollutes the airwaves of Britain, destined never to reach the shores of Cannes. Radio is meant to be a soft category. But, for us Brits, it seems to have got extremely hard lately. Two shortlists last year, down from 12 the year before and 21 the year before that. Maybe we need to up our game.

If TV and digital posters can talk to my phone, why can’t we get a radio ad to talk to my device? How about buying the whole ad break, creating your own radio show within a radio show? Like "Miller time"... on radio. Maybe don’t even do ads. Do what DraftFCB in New Zealand did for Secret Diary Of A Call Girl:

Sorry, I’m ranting a bit. But I love radio. 

It’s one of the most creative media. Painting pictures in the mind is still one of the toughest challenges a creative can get. Yet it feels so neglected these days. Let’s see if there’s any love for it this week.
Public Health England’s Stoptober. The Pub Landlord in a classic announcement ad, urging people to stop smoking in October. It’s well-written, funny and upbeat. It won’t trouble the juries, but it’s simple and, if it stops people dying, it’s a good thing.

Homepride. A voiceover tells how Homepride sauces won’t let us down in homage to the Rick Astley song Never Gonna Give You Up. Hmm. A fairly thin premise. If you’re going to use Rick Astley, I’d say use him in a kitsch, kooky way. Rather than in a rhyming-his-songs-to-a-strategy way.

Transport for London. A great example of radio sounding effortless and simple. Admittedly, road death is slightly more compelling than cooking sauces (and cigarette death?), but all involved have done well here. It draws you in – getting you to think about the innocent things you’ve regretted – and then jolts you with the sickening sound (and regret) of pulling out at a junction.

BelVita. This ad features a guy trying to sing like Ghostpoet. I’m not feeling well-disposed to this already. He’s singing about "morning wins" that have been sent in by members of the public. "Morning wins"? Say it out loud. No, me neither. I wonder whether the creatives wrote that line. Or were forced into it. I really hope it was the latter. He gives it his best, but this may not bear as much repeat listening as our Rick.

The Start-Up Loans Company. A bloke bemoans his life commuting to work. He thinks he’s turning into his dad. He needs a loan. That’s it. Maybe he should do the lottery like the grandad in the next ad.

Camelot. A real phone call. Or, at least, sounds real. Old fella being told he has won £6 million. Love it. Super-simple. Really fresh. Avoiding the clich├ęd thought of what you would do with the winnings. Instead, merely capturing the moment when people are told. Maybe this is part of a campaign? That would be great. Well done to all involved. There is hope.

This article was first published on

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Public vs corporate swimming - why i miss my municipal pool

I suppose it was on a Tuesday lunchtime standing butt naked in the showers at Chelsea Sports Centre that I found God. Or rather he found me.

In the form of ‘Marky Sharky’, an intense, bald-headed swimming instructor who, also butt naked, was inviting me to his church this coming Sunday to ‘let the joy of God into my life’. It was an awkward moment as you can imagine, especially as I was letting the joy of suds drip off my ball-sack. God wasn’t really on my mind.

I gave him my politest smile – he was a big bloke – before informing him I already had my church of choice. But thanks anyway.

And so my introduction to the peculiar people of public swimming baths began.

Over the past 18 years, due to a persistent back problem, I’ve needed to swim every few days. During this time I’ve frequented public baths all over London and inevitably met ‘the regulars’.

It never fails to amaze me how these slightly downtrodden swimming pools are actually a hot bed of men wanting a chat. A heart to heart. In the buff. Maybe it's something Freudian? Being stripped back bare to our most naked that brings it on. Or something more basic? Like a pub. Without clothes.

At first I avoided Mark and the others – Pete with the gammy eye, Andy with the excess skin - I saw them as an additional irritant to my aching spine. Not to mention the Thai receptionist whose dodgy English and even dodgier til merely added more stress.

But now looking back, I kind of miss them and their idiosyncrasies.

You see I’ve crossed over. From public to corporate. A new job has propelled me to more salubrious lunchtime dips. Gone are Marky Sharky and the gang. The 120 screaming school kids (Tuesdays and Thursdays). And geriatric Wednesdays.

In comes the corporate experience with mahogany paneled showers, tiptronic Celsius temperature control at your fingertips. And beautiful bodies lapping up and down to 'Now that's what I call corporate ambient pool music 47'.

At first I was excited. Lush infinity pool; immaculately clean changing rooms, a silent drying machine and endless smiles from pretty girls at reception.

I even joined in the digital survey touch pad at reception, giving said pretty girls a '10'.

The complementary white towels (large and small) were the clinchers I’d 'arrived'.

What’s not to like? There was nothing not to like. It’s just so…corporate. Nothing memorable or remotely interesting. So clean and pristine it'd had the soul power-sprayed out of it.  

After a few weeks I realised I hadn’t spoken to a single soul. In fact to date (15 months) I have only had visual communication with people - those reception smiles & nods again. After the honeymoon period I longed for my grumpy Thai receptionist and the wrong change.

Chelsea Sports Centre and the real world drifted back into my thoughts. Granted the odd turd and plaster floated back too. But all things considered, screaming kids, poo and random naked men were all part of the charm of the place.

I miss Mark and his questions on whether I’d met God at the weekend. I loved it when he would latch onto some new unsuspecting non-believer and I could hear him going thru his spiel in the showers. More poignant was the day he started telling me of his mail order Ukrainian bride. It ended after 8 weeks, but didn’t stop him practicing his Russian on me.

I miss Pete too. And his Thom Yorke eye. At first I thought he was staring me out. Giving me the hard look in the middle lane. Was I going too slow? Had I disrespected his towel? But one day he cornered me and there was no escape. And he confessed he swam cos he too had a bad back. Phew. A chance to have a regular blokey moaning session about our spines.

Next there was Andy and his excess skin. His appearance – which couldn’t fail to catch the eye – huge rolls of excess skin folded over on themself hanging on top of his trunks – was as a result of extreme weight loss, from 26 stone to 13. The weight went. But the skin didn’t. Poor bugger. 

He’s looked into surgery but ended up living with it. And having to explain to whoever was interested. And once we’d got over that we were free to talk about other stuff. 

Such as the towel thief who’d nabbed mine just that day meaning I had to dry myself on the hairdryer. Embarrassing. But another great conversation piece for the gang. Which I was firmly part of.

Never thought I'd say it but I miss those guys. I feel a sense of loss no complimentary towels or power shower can replace.

Maybe I should take Marky Sharky’s advice and turn to God.

Is he in that private cubicle next door?

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Bitc 'Second Chance'

This article was first published on

Why we're loving: Hugh Todd, Darren Keff and Phillip Meyler, creatives, Leo Burnett


In their new film for the charity Business in the Community, Todd, Keff and Meyler subverted the notion of the “skip ad” button to make people think twice before writing off ex-offenders.
Tell us about ‘second chance’. Even people who consider themselves open-minded often have a twinge of concern when they hear that someone has been in prison. Ex-offenders are often considered "a bit dodgy", with their CV binned before they even get to an interview. Or, if they don’t mention their past on the application form, they then have to deal with rejection at the interview. The brief was to try to change this behaviour. Or, at the very least, challenge it.
What is the aim of the campaign? We wanted people – especially HR professionals – to confront their prejudice against ex-offenders; to try to make them feel what it’s like for an ex-offender to be rejected in the interview room.

Where did you get the idea for the film?
 Using and subverting the "skip ad" function gave us the opportunity to fulfil the brief. It felt like a really good fit with the prejudice ex-offenders experience. We’d not seen an idea like this before and were curious how to pull it off.
It was a bit of a head-fuck at times. What initially seemed a very simple thought had many layers – writing and shooting four versions in total to make the idea work for the three potential "skips".
As part of our research, we interviewed inmates in Wandsworth Prison to understand the job application process from their perspective. We also interviewed ex-offenders who are now trying to get work. Once we had a master script, we then started to write the shorter, more urgent ones. 
In the film, our ex-offender needed to demonstrate a range of emotions. From growing confidence in the un-skipped version to becoming more and more defeated in the skipped ones.
So the casting was crucial. He needed to be able to adapt his performance quickly, but with subtlety and control. If he went too aggressive, we’d lose the audience; too soft, and he appears a victim. The key was empathy.
We were pleased that Blink’s Dougal Wilson agreed to shoot the film. Not only is Dougal brilliant with casting and performance, but he also got involved at the script stage to help develop the idea.