A good old-fashioned factory visit led to the discovery of a fascinating product truth, which became a fresh and compelling insight, which became a weird and catchy song, which was placed over some trippy animation, which became the most awarded commercial ever made and, at the end of all that, led to astonishing sales of the excellent Honda Accord Diesel. To coin a phrase, isn’t it nice when things just work?
If you are interested in a more detailed account of how ‘Grrr’ came to be, including the amazing client presentation, then please click below:
I’d written a piece for The Book Of Dreams that was felt to be a good summary of what ‘The Power Of Dreams’ actually meant. The piece was chosen to be the launch film that would start seeding the Honda philosophy. I wrote a surreal visual narrative to go with the words, commissioned an amazing Japanese animator and added an obscure instrumental track. The ad featured no car and felt nothing like a car commercial – which was the whole point.
“One of the most original and powerful car commercials in years.” CAMPAIGN
Out of interest, it was Russell Davies, the Head of Planning, who suggested we use Garrison Keilor as the brand voice. Good call, Russell.
I took over the Mars account at D’Arcy in 1997 (alongside my Art Director Carl Le Blond) and we decided to re-invent Maltesers, whose ads at that point lived in a rather twee world of ballerinas and weight-watching women. Sometimes the best way to get an ambitious idea through a conservative client is to give them exactly what they want, but in a way they would never have expected. Which is what we did. ‘How would you like a campaign where every ad is full of the target audience eating and enjoying Maltesers?’, we said. ‘An idea that couldn’t be done by any other chocolate; where every story is based around the unique physical properties of Maltesers, and where we breathe new life into your long-running end line?’
And so began the ‘Little Balls’ campaign. 22 years later, it’s still going strong. The campaign concept was conceived by Carl and myself and these commercials are from the launch period with additional writing assistance from Trevor Webb and Steve Campbell.
As a direct result of the new campaign, the value of the Maltesers brand for Mars rose from 72 million pounds in 1995 to 106 million pounds in 2000.
Maltesers – Right
Maltesers – Straw
Maltesers – UFO
Maltesers – Cheek
I went to meet the client for the first time to talk about the brand’s problems and ambitions. It became clear that Macleans had fallen off everyone’s radar and it desperately needed a distinctive, well-branded – and cheap – idea to bring it top of mind. In the cab on the way back to the agency I wrote a campaign in my head. What if we shot a load of short films where people slowly and clearly say the word ‘Macleans!’ (in the same way that you’d say ‘cheese!’ for a photo) and, in so doing, reveal their lovely, clean and white teeth? And what if each film, in a funny visual way, could also highlight a different product benefit of the toothpaste? Sometimes, if you’ve led a pure and virtuous life, having an idea really can be that simple. These perfectly formed little films were shot by the brilliant Johnny Maginn.
Macleans – Switch
Macleans – Flower
Macleans – Hoods
Macleans – Twinkles
Central Office of Information: Child Literacy – LITTLE MISS MUFFET
The government wanted Dads to take a more active role in helping their kids to read. This ad is one of those rare occasions where a script written for a pitch wins the business and gets made unchanged a few months later. Written with Carl Le Blond and shot by the legendary Roger Woodburn, the commercial got into the D&AD annual and also achieved unprecedented levels of response from the public. Back in the day, COI commercials had to achieve a certain level of direct response in order to justify the advertising expenditure. The phone number at the end of the ad had to generate at least 25,000 follow-up phone calls or the minister responsible would get a kicking. This spot triggered a million calls.
Diet Coke – CALL ME
At the turn of the century, Weiden + Kennedy introduced a new campaign for Diet Coke with a streak of
Bridget Jones/Smack The Pony humour. This is my surreal offering.
Toyota Prius – A BRILLIANT WIP
This was a short strategic thought-piece I’d written to help sell a brief to client. I eventually turned it into the ad itself, making a 90” film for cinema. There was only £50,000 for production so I just used titles, music and stock photography, animating each shot in a tiny, subtle way. The final film was run by every single European market, which never normally happened. It also became the first European Toyota ad to ever run in Japan.
Gordon’s Gin – GREENSTUFF
No gin. No people. No drinking. No photography. Just the colour green, some titles and a few sound effects (created by me, mucking about in a sound booth). Mark Tutssel and I conceived this campaign in a single day for the Gordon’s Gin pitch. The brief was the usual nonsense about ‘putting some fizz in your life’ so we ignored that and decided to just do something distinctive and insanely branded. Fair play to Leo Burnett and our ECD Giles Keeble for even presenting this madness, and hats off to United Distillers for taking a punt on it. (It helped that one of the clients literally could not stop laughing during the pitch.)
This was the launch cinema commercial. Four different 15” sections that each appeared between the other ads in the reel (making a 60” ad in all). The whole thing cost just £7,000 to produce. When I saw it in the cinema, the audience giggled through all the ads and actually applauded after the last section had finished. (Still my favourite moment from my whole career.) The campaign ran for 5 years in print and cinema, and we made 150 ads in all. I may have made more high-profile work down the years but, for me, this campaign is the best thing I’ve ever done.
Gordon’s Gin – SWIZZLE STICK
This film marked the start of a new advertising approach for Gordon’s, after the ‘Green’ campaign. It’s a more blatant, metaphoric attempt to communicate the ‘invigorating’ effect of gin. It’s pretty weird and all these years later, I still don’t quite know what to make of it.
Biactol Spot Cream – TWINS
Written with Neil Dawson almost 30 years ago, this was our first ever TV commercial. To this day, it remains the most successful global commercial in Procter & Gamble history. (Meaning the commercial most often run, or re-made, across all P&G global markets.)
Vortex Bleach – BOTTLE
Vortex was a dying brand. The client had no money but needed a big, stand-out idea that could kick-start sales again, or the product would be killed off. Mark Tutssel and I wrote this super-simple idea, but account management couldn’t sell the script. So we shot it for nothing in ten minutes at the end of another shoot. Account management still couldn’t sell it. So that was that.
N.B. A few months later, the industry held a one-off awards evening for ‘The Best Ads That Never Ran’ across multiple product and media categories. (Frankly, a weird and misguided concept, but hey.) Creatives across London pulled out their best ideas from the bottom drawer and, as would normally happen at awards dos, there was an overall Grand Prix for the best ad of the night, from any category.
This ad won.
Mars – LIP SOFA
Directed by the legendary Richard Loncraine, this was all shot in camera.
McDonald’s McFarmer – HANDS
Written in 2014 for the German market, it’s an enjoyable, original, gag-rich, product-focused idea that reversed a terrible business curve for McDonald’s and sold a great many burgers. A good old-fashioned, funny, hard-working TV ad. Nothing to be ashamed about there.
Colman’s Sauces – PRETEND
A cute little idea about imaginary ‘play’ food, designed to tackle the perceived notion that packet sauces don’t make ‘real’ meals.
Bonjela – FACE
Gurners with mouth ulcers: an idea whose time had come.