Close-Up: Profile - Ketchup is secret ingredient in McCann's revival

The duo behind the award-winning 'sliced bottle' ad have put McCann right back on the creative map.

Last Tuesday morning, Gary Marjoram woke up to a series of what he describes as "increasingly excited and celebratory messages" on his phone. "Increasingly drunken," his partner, Rob Brown, corrects.

A mounting pile of awards on the McCann Erickson table prompted the calls. As well as four silvers, the duo scooped the Best Individual Poster gold at the Campaign Poster Awards for their "sliced bottle" execution for Heinz. Sadly for Marjoram, a shoot for another client meant he was asleep in Shanghai while Brown and the McCann executive creative directors, Brian Fraser and Simon Learman, made the walk to the stage five times.

Marjoram and Brown triumphed over strong competition from the likes of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, Bartle Bogle Hegarty and DDB London, agencies more used to being in the awards frame than McCann. "The standard was really high, which made the win even sweeter," Brown says. As he made a series of visits to the stage, his bright red shirt became a familiar sight to the 600-strong audience, prompting the compere, Jon Culshaw, to ask whether it was in honour of the Heinz brand. "Yes it was," he explains a few days later in the agency's Bloomsbury offices. "I was paying homage to a great client."

The pair have served almost all of their working lives at McCann. Brown started at the agency on a four-week work placement ten years ago, having come from the copywriting course at Watford. He never left. Marjoram studied communications at Goldsmiths before joining the McCann youth offshoot Magic Hat eight years ago en route to the main agency. The two have been partners for four years, working across clients including UPS Sharwoods and MasterCard. For Fraser, the fact the award-winners have been at McCann so long is particularly rewarding. "It shows the huge amount of latent talent we inherited and how it can be nurtured," he says.

These aren't the team's first awards (among others, they picked up an Aerial last year for MasterCard "balloons"), but, for Marjoram, the Campaign gold has a special significance. "It's very much a best of British. So, to win a gold is fantastic for us and the agency."

Officially, Brown is the writer, while Marjoram is the art director. In practice, they both see their roles as more fluid. "We're more of an ideas team who both write and art direct," Brown explains. Marjoram agrees. "We're both quite visual in the way we work," he says. How do their working styles differ? According to Brown, they're very different. "Gary is quirky and I'm probably more the straight guy," he says. Together, he thinks they're a "mixture of logic and irreverence".

In the case of the winning ad, the McCann executive planning director, Nikki Crumpton, explains that the brief was quite simple: Heinz grows all the tomatoes it uses in its ketchup. Given the iconic status of the Heinz ketchup brand and the singular message of the brief, this was the type of brief most creative teams would love to have on their desks. Award-winning work waiting to happen? John O'Keeffe, the chair of the judging panel, insists it's not as simple as that. "There are many examples where great briefs like this don't result in great work. It's important that the final execution really sings off the page, and they did that here," he says.

Brown explains how the idea was developed. "We started by thinking about slicing the bottle to reveal a tomato inside, and that quickly developed into the slices idea," he says. Both Learman and Brown deny ever having seen the similar, earlier execution for the Turkish ketchup brand Tat, created in 2004 by DDB Istanbul, which has led to a number of bloggers accusing the agency of plagiarism (to view the Tat ad, visit brandrepublic.com/campaign).

"We absolutely had no idea of the existence of this work at all," Learman says. In its defence, DDB admits the Tat print ad only ran in its native Turkey, and was only entered into domestic awards.

The Heinz ad wasn't an easy sell. "There was initial concern that it might not look appetising enough, and there was agonising over the use of red as a background colour," Marjoram says. The client, Suzanne Douglas, Heinz's chief marketing officer, put her faith in the team to pull it off.

To make sure they got it right, the team went to the renowned food photographer Kevin Summers. It was a complex operation. "We had a whole series of elaborate props to hold the tomatoes together, but, in the end, we just put the tomatoes up and shot them as quickly as possible before they disintegrated," Marjoram explains. As for the final result, Douglas was thrilled. "The creative execution was simple and yet visually stunning. It's been hugely successful for us," she says.

The rub in all of this is that the Heinz business will shortly leave McCann for AMV, which won the account in June. A perceived conflict with Nestle, on which McCann works globally, forced the agency to resign the business. Just as it starts winning awards on Heinz, business that marked the first account win of the new management team, it is forced to let it go.

Learman manages to put a brave face on things. "Of course it's disappointing, but we've been able to do some great work on this account, and we can apply that elsewhere," he says. Chris Macdonald, the agency's managing director, adds: "It's a facet of being part of a network."

The agency's management team is determined that awards success will translate into a more favourable and, in their view, well-deserved reappraisal of the agency. "There are good campaigns coming out of this agency for clients including Heinz, American Airlines and Bisto," Fraser says. The agency's objective in the next year is to be taken seriously as a creative force and get itself on to more pitchlists. Crumpton confesses that they still worry "how many pitches are floating past us because we haven't got our creative reputation sorted out".

Marjoram thinks the award is "a stake in the ground" to demonstrate McCann's creative credentials. Brown agrees. "Good work feeds good work. Clients coming in to McCann will see these awards in reception and will want to have that for their brand, too," he says.

THE LOWDOWN
Age: 32 (Marjoram); 33 (Brown)
Lives: East London; Mill Hill
Family: Married, no kids; married to Lisa with two boys, Sam and Josh
Favourite ad: PlayStation "double life"; Umbro "goalposts"
Favourite film: Blazing Saddles; The Long Good Friday
Favourite brand: Heinz Tomato Ketchup (both)
Most treasured possession: My MacBook; my two boys
Last book read: Do Ants Have Arseholes?; The History of Factory Records
Favourite website: Willitblend.com; Farrowdesign.com
Motto: Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler;
Nothing is easy

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