Jeremy Lee
Jeremy Lee
A view from Jeremy Lee

Advertising now has an authenticity that Gregg Wallace appears to lack

Remote working has pushed agencies' creativity and they have not been found wanting.

One of the upsides of lockdown was supposed to be an opportunity to explore creative channels or forms of self-improvement that were otherwise elusive. Like many, I thought that I’d read more or write poetry or learn how to play the panpipes. The reality has been something rather different.

Other than counting the hours until the "golden Richard Osman hour" – Pointless followed by House of Games – a large part of my (available) intellectual resources have been spent on wondering what Gregg Wallace is really like.

Is he the angry timekeeper on Masterchef, shouting at amateur cooks for being late with their flans? Or is he the simpleton on Inside the Factory, seemingly chuckling in wonderment at industrial machinery and pretending to be nicer than he probably is? The truth must lie somewhere between, but I’ll carry on mulling it over until I reach a considered conclusion and let you know.

Fortunately, many UK agencies – and brands – have risen rather higher than myself to the challenge that enforced containment involves. As well as the pro-bono work that Campaign will continue to celebrate, how great to see some brands resisting the temptation to pull spend when the evidence suggests that this could be a false economy, and for agencies and production companies to churn out new creative work under remote working circumstances. Here are a few examples.

Obviously, food retailers – front-line services – have needed to communicate social-distancing rules, but Tesco and Bartle Bogle Hegarty created that "Nan’s long distance Easter lamb" spot as part of its long-running "Food love stories" campaign using video-call technology. It is not without charm. Co-op and Lucky Generals used the retailer's Easter airtime to promote hunger charity FareShare and to thank its workers. Both noble causes.

Charities have also been using airtime and media space to promote their causes – rarely has their need been so apparent in plugging the gaps that the state cannot fill. There’s a poignancy about Women’s Aid "The lockdown" from Engine that starkly shows the empty streets and the dangers that some women face living with abusers during self-isolation. Marie Curie, meanwhile, uses reworked stock footage to highlight its increasingly important role in caring for the terminally ill given the pressure on the NHS.

VCCP’s debut work for the British Red Cross is using radio to promote the message that "kindness will keep us together" and have collaborated with artists to create limited-edition prints to raise funds.

While these may seem (necessarily) melancholy, there’s something uplifting about the EE ad by Saatchi & Saatchi. While I thought that the Kevin Bacon joke had run its course, in this instance the tone is spot on – no jokes, no goofing around. A heartfelt performance promoting a purposeful initiative from EE with unlimited data for NHS staff. Bravo.

Equally, kudos is due to Ogilvy UK for helping to create two pieces of uplifting communications remotely. The first for Voxi uses the 4K front and rear cameras on the Samsung Galaxy S20 phone and its internal microphone; the second for British Airways is reassuring that holidays will come back one day and that the national carrier will be there to support us.

All are imaginative, creative, positive and genuine, and produced under circumstances previously thought unimaginable. They might not win craft awards, but their honesty is refreshing. And there’s no sign of Wallace pointing in amazement at an industrial fryer on one channel or shouting at a harassed woman in a kitchen to "hurry up" on another.

Who said that ads couldn’t be better than TV shows?

Jeremy Lee is consulting editor at Campaign