What Star Wars taught me about creative marketing
A view from Pete Markey

What Star Wars taught me about creative marketing

Pete Markey, marketing director at TSB and one of Campaign's Power 100 2016, on how Star Wars set him on the path to realising the importance of storytelling and creativity.

I was four years old and my parents were taking me to the cinema for the first time. The lights went down and these words appeared on the screen: "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..."

This is my earliest childhood memory, being transported to alien lands with heroes, princesses and evil guys who called themselves Darth. Star Wars was the start of my creative journey and something had sparked in my imagination and stayed alive ever since.

From Star Wars came a deeper love of science fiction and storytelling. As a child I grew to love Saturday-night television, with shows such as Doctor Who and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, both of which further sparked my creative interest. There were even re-runs of Star Trek from time to time.

It was around this time that I started writing stories – and lots of them (I even have some in a scrapbook in the loft at home). I used to love writing and crafting sci-fi stories with a mix of well-known characters, my school friends and me. It was a great form of escapism and so much fun to dream up and create adventures. I still love sci-fi and, yes, that probably does officially make me a "geek" but a proud one – I’ve even been on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, met (nearly) every living Doctor Who (Christopher Eccleston, please give me a call) and the bloke that played that bloke called Darth.

My love of advertising also heralds from a similar time. My dad worked for the railways all his life (including a spell in marketing) so when British Rail ran a new TV campaign, we all knew about it. The most famous of the time was "We’re getting there", an ad that acted as an apology to the great British public in 30 seconds, by basically saying: "We know we’re terrible, and we know you know we’re terrible, but we’re trying hard." It’s a truly awful creative work and a lesson for any brand – fix the experience before booking the TV spot.

In my final three years at school in Bristol, the Keynsham Weekly Chronicle asked pupils to produce a regular page of articles for the newspaper every fortnight, featuring news from around the school. I volunteered to write them. Over those three years I wrote more than 50 articles that were published, and covered such "exciting" topics as the school buying a cow for Uganda and the unveiling of a new mini bus.

It was a great experience – articles could be rejected or rewritten and you wouldn’t know until the paper was published whether the stories had made the cut or not. For me, this was a great lesson in excellence. I recognised the best work when it was published and knew when I’d cut corners; the work (and its lack of being published) represented this.

During the 90s, while at university, my course involved running an ad agency (I was the account director), presenting at a mock pitch (for VW – we were trying to win the Skoda account) and producing real ads. My favourite one was for the "Pink Drink", a soft drink that, thankfully, never made it to the supermarket shelves, as the ad (which I wrote, directed and produced) wasn’t exactly Cannes Lions material.

Being immersed in the world of advertising was really exciting and allowed me to write, produce, direct, lead and, importantly, present in public – something I had been terrified to do beforehand. I even co-wrote and starred in an award-winning James Bond film called Secret Ending, in which my character died within two minutes of appearing on screen.

A real standout campaign for me at this time was the Tango "You know when you’ve been Tango’d" ad. It was brave, bold, edgy and completely unexpected. Moreover, it is still a joy to watch today (even though it was banned for a while as people apparently copied the ad by walking around slapping one another). The ad is a true lesson in creating a "water-cooler" moment, where the ad becomes famous and talked about outside the airtime. It’s also a lesson that a few years ago, while I was at More Than, we took into the "More Than Freeman" campaign, and a mantra that, while I was at Aviva, we were pushing home last year with the "Safer driving" creative, created by Adam&Eve.

Overall, a campaign that particularly stands out to me is Lloyds Bank’s "For the journey" – a masterclass in brand positioning, engaging creative work, consistency and relevance. I’m lucky enough to now work with some of the people who helped bring that campaign to life.

Pete Markey is the marketing director of TSB