When Channel 4 decided to put the fourth Director's Cut judging lunch together we knew it was likely to be more than a pleasant gathering over fine food and even finer wine at a Covent Garden club. We knew, too, that the average age of the judges on this last panel, when compared with the first three, would be considerably, how best to put this - "older".
The seven industry judges who joined myself and other Channel 4 executives around the table have, over the years, been involved in creating some of the most famous TV ads of the 20th century. Take your pick from Frank Lowe, Hugh Hudson, David Abbott, Dave Trott, Anthony Simmonds-Gooding, Miles Templeman and Cilla Snowball. Whether as client, copywriter, art director, director or account executive, we were proud to have been involved in creating commercials that made the most of 60 seconds and over.
Our task was to view and then discuss the pros and cons of a shortlist of the best longer form ads aired in the UK between September and December 2008.
Aviva's "changing name" set the tone for any good judging panel, an entirely polarised jury! Yes, we knew the ad was part of a global campaign for Norwich Union's rebranding, and, therefore, it felt wrong to look at this one ad in isolation. But we couldn't escape from the fact that it felt, somehow, like three ads stuck together, and not enough of a standalone triumph.
Barclaycard's "glide" commercial had us murmuring things like, "pleasant", "bears repeat viewing" and "a lotta fun". It shows a banker finishing for the day, and stripping down to his swimming trunks to glide homeward via a water chute from his office. The overall view, however, held that "pleasant" wasn't enough to take this tale of city escapism into our top three. In all honesty, it might have benefited from losing 15 seconds!
Defra's "hazardous food song" rather lost us. A Government department that deals mostly with matters of life and death must have had fun commissioning this singalong commercial about not bringing foodstuffs back from abroad. "How did they get to the singing prawn idea?" we mused, before moving on to some better grub of our own.
A cute dog starred in the latest "Talk to Frank" commercial. No ordinary dog, this is a fictional dog called Pablo, who is used as a "mule" to carry cocaine by drug dealers, and whose voice comes courtesy of David Mitchell of Peep Show fame. Here, we felt, was an ad that was supposed to talk to teenagers about the dangers of drug-taking and dealing. Odd, perhaps, that the baddies were not repulsive enough to put people off.
There was broad agreement about Guinness' "fridge magnet" - beautifully made but ultimately pointless. The 60-second spot features a number of fridges breaking free from their homes as they are drawn towards a Guinness truck by magnetic force. Over 700 fridges may have been animated for the end shot, an epic feat in itself, but the jury felt the ad would have worked better as ten- or 20-second spots.
Warburtons "everywhere" used Tchaikovsky's Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy to bring to life the story of a Japanese man who comes to Britain and discovers, well, Warburtons everywhere. "Bit sensitive on the branding" David Abbott commented dryly. But it was considered a strong and atmospheric commercial, well-made and a satisfying use of the long form.
Three NHS ads promoting healthy eating were very nicely cast and shot and the format allowed the characters to breathe. "These are 60-second spots but they feel shorter" was meant as a compliment.
Next we viewed Royal Mail's beautiful "grow" ad, designed to say that Royal Mail can offer the kind of business advice that will help any business grow. A straightforward message wrapped up in what is, at times, an astonishing piece of film.
Our joint runners-up came towards the end of the reel. First up, Sony HDTV "Bond". Here, tying in with the release of Quantum of Solace, James Bond appears to be enduring multiple explosions. One of our judges with film industry access muttered how difficult he knew it had been to pull off. All double 00s have a short life expectancy, but this commercial deserves to endure as it represents a highly filmic use of the extra screen time.
Finally, with Frank Lowe offering his honest critique of his own work ("We can't discuss our own work, but we took deadpan interactive to new heights here"), we discussed "Christmas Des" for Tesco. High kitsch from the first to the last second, the ad took a feel-good song and artist (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire/Des O'Connor) and wrapped them up in throw-back art direction. If Des expected this to win any awards he might be disappointed - but, still, it worked for all of us as a fresh and hard-working long format ad. The previous Christmas, Tesco used the Spice Girls: consider the economy, and compare the likely fees!
"Story repeating" by Bartle Bogle Hegarty for Barnardo's was the winner, and our one point of complete (well almost complete) consensus. Hard viewing, we agreed, but the ad works precisely because of (not in spite of) its length. Top class and unflinching concept, direction, and editing combined to create the hard-hitting, powerful story of a teenager whose life - just like the ad - is stuck in a cycle of abuse. The post-9pm restriction - and the level of complaints - was no surprise to any of us.
Our collective message to any clients out there was clear - more Barnardo's, Tesco and Sony, please. But all of this is just our view, a very singular judging panel on one day. The single best long-form ad of 2008 has been decided by Film4 viewers via an on-air competition that ran last month. Viewers voted for their favourite of the 12 industry-shortlisted ads on a dedicated microsite. We're all consumers, of course, so we look forward to learning who they picked as the overall long format winner.
- David Puttnam is the deputy chairman of Channel 4.
FOURTH QUARTER: JURY
Chairman: David Puttnam Channel 4
- David Abbott, Co-founder of Abbott Mead Vickers
- Andy Barnes, Channel 4
- Brett Foraker, Channel 4
- Frank Lowe, The Red Brick Road
- Mike Parker, Channel 4
- Hugh Hudson, Director, producer, screenwriter
- Caroline Marshall, Haymarket Brand Media
- Mike Parker, Channel 4
- Rufus Radcliffe, Channel 4
- Anthony Simonds-Gooding, D&AD
- Cilla Snowball, AMV Group
- Miles Templeman, Institute of Directors
- Dave Trott, CST
The Film4 Director's Cut Awards were created in partnership with Campaign. The awards were created to celebrate brilliant commercials of 60 seconds or longer.
We believe they have encouraged creatives, advertisers, media planners and TV buyers to successfully develop longer time lengths. With our four quarterly judging sessions complete, we have revealed the best 12 60-second ads of 2008.
In early January, Film4 viewers voted for their favourite long-form ad of 2008 via an on-air competition. The winner will be announced later this month. For more information visit channel4sales.com.
Campaign and Film4 would like to thank the nice people at Xtreme Information who have helped us research all commercials of 60 seconds and over throughout 2008. www.xtremeinformation.com.
FOURTH QUARTER: WINNER
Barnardo's - Story Repeating - 'The winner, and our one point of complete (well almost complete) consensus. Top class and unflinching concept, direction, and editing combined to create the hard-hitting, powerful story of a teenager whose life - just like the ad - is stuck in a cycle of abuse. The post-9pm restriction was no surprise to any of us'
Sony HD TV - Bond - 'All double 00s have a short life expectancy, but this commercial deserves to endure as it represents a highly filmic use of the extra screen time'
Tesco - Christmas Des - 'High kitsch from the first to the last second, the ad took a feel-good song and artist and wrapped them up in throw-back art direction'
Aviva - Changing Name - 'It felt, somehow, like three ads stuck together, and not enough of a standalone triumph'
Barclaycard - Glide - '"Pleasant" wasn't enough to take this tale of city escapism into our top three'
Defra - Hazardous Food Song - 'A department that deals mostly with matters of life and death must have had fun'
Talk to Frank - Pablo The Dog - 'Odd, perhaps, that the baddies were not repulsive enough to put people off'
Guinness - Fridge Magnet - 'Beautifully made but ultimately pointless ... would have worked better as ten- or 20-seconds'
NHS - Girl In Bus Stop - 'Three NHS ads promoting healthy eating were very nicely cast and shot'
NHS - Shepherd's Pie - 'The longer format in these NHS ads allowed the characters to breathe'
NHS - Supermarket Wildlife - '"These are 60-second spots but they feel shorter" was meant as a compliment'
Royal Mail - Grow - 'A straightforward message wrapped up in what is, at times, an astonishing piece of film'
Warburtons - Warburtons Everywhere - 'It was considered a strong and atmospheric commercial, well-made'