My Campaign: the making of Blackcurrant Tango 'St George'

Freelance creative director Chas Bayfield recalls how HHCL & Partners’ irreverent, anti-French, 'one shot' wonder for the soft drink bagged a gold Lion at the Cannes advertising festival.

My Campaign: the making of Blackcurrant Tango 'St George'

Back in 1996, the French government was testing atom bombs in the southern oceans and Tango had a new flavour of fizzy pop to sell. The planets had finally aligned and Tango appeared to be allowing us the perfect platform to vent. Jim [Bolton] and I actually presented a lot of scripts that weren’t anti-French, including one with purplehooded monks flash-mobbing a newsagents to the accompaniment of the enthusiastic dance track Jumping in the House of God, sung by born-again Manchester ex-cons the World Wide Message Tribe. (The client was a Christian so it was worth a punt.)

Selling in a 90-second ad when the brief was for 30 seconds was surprisingly easy – everyone agreed that buying fewer slots for a longer ad made business sense. Some genius media buying by Michaelides & Bednash secured us a 10-week run in the middle of TFI Friday – I think by week three, Ray [Gardner, actor and star of the ad] was a guest on the show.

It was making the ad that was more of a challenge. As it was longer than most commercials, we chose Colin Gregg, an ex-primary school teacher turned TV drama director who was good with dialogue (and cranes). Colin’s job was to make the ad look like one continuous shot. It would have made sense for Ray to have had an office on the ground floor but I think Colin wanted to make life hard for himself and put him 20 floors up a tower block in East Croydon.

We shot the car park scene last, and it took 23 takes for Ray’s trousers to rip off at the exact point where he passes the truck and says: “You’re that!” We were in another truck with a monitor and drew Ray’s outline on the screen with a chinagraph pencil so that we knew exactly where he had to be physically while delivering the line. In the middle of all this, it began snowing. Disappointingly, the Ministry of Defence refused us any Harrier Jets as they are not allowed to fly directly above people (unless, of course, it is a war zone) so these were popped in later by Framestore.

The real engine that made the whole thing work was the genius of Ray, who used his own name and became a temporary employee of Britvic, and whose energy and fight drove the whole thing on. We wrote a completely diff erent script for the casting, one that allowed the actors to properly let rip and give us an idea of their potential. On the day, the backstory was that Ray had just got a call from his kid’s school about misbehaviour, his boiler had broken and now this letter came in from Sebastien. Ray made it his own and, thankfully, Colin caught it all on camera.

We chose the Felix track Don’t You Want Me because, un-PC as it sounds, we wanted a track that people remembered coming together over while off their faces in clubs – when they hear a track that has euphoric associations, they feel more love towards your product (or so the planner told us).

The ad’s reception was mixed. I was in the judging for D&AD and had to keep schtum while someone told the room why it was not worthy of gold. He was the only person who said anything about it, no-one defended it. Still, I got to meet Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes, who was also a judge, so it wasn’t all bad.

We struck gold at Cannes and booked a last-minute flight, which we then missed. I called British Airways later that night from a toilet in the Dogstar in Brixton and they found one spare seat at the crack of dawn the next morning. I slept on the beach in Cannes all day and turned up to the Palais des Festivals a mess. I picked up the award and celebrated with Traktor, who won a Grand Prix for MTV – I think something as anti-French as Blackcurrant Tango winning a Grand Prix in France was an optimistic hope.

Both Jim and I benefi tted from the ad, especially as we were at the start of our careers, so we had the pick of briefs and agencies, even though we chose to stay at HHCL for a few more years. Sadly, people still expect us to be able to repeat Blackcurrant Tango, even when the brief requires the mention of multiple product points and no dialogue. It would be far better to outdo the ad but it takes more than a creative team to make this happen. It needs an agency and a client dedicated to making an impact and probably won’t be a 90-second ad that runs on TV.

Thanks to the team that helped it happen: David O’Hanlon (planner), Minnie Moll (account director), Peter Muggleston (producer) and David Atter (client).