The bleak reality of poverty in Britain today is brought to life to powerful effect in “Imagine”, the first TV campaign from the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), which has won the latest Thinkboxes award for TV advertising creativity.
In the spot by Creature London, children in a school canteen watch their lunchboxes explode with a cornucopia of treats to the tune of Food, Glorious Food while one child enters alone and opens his lunch box to reveal it is empty.
“CPAG has never had the opportunity to do TV before,” says Alison Garnham, the organisation’s chief executive officer, who explains the campaign came about thanks to generous partners donating time and talent.
The brief was to get the public behind CPAG’s work to tackle child poverty.
The aim was to bring to life the awful statistic that, at the time, 3.8 million UK children – a figure that rose to 4.2million during the ad’s production, and continues to rise – were going hungry. Daily.
“TV continues to be a really important channel for any organisation that wants to reach a wide audience,” says Megan Egan, senior creative at Creature. “When we first started talking to CPAG, we knew TV was an ambitious aim but also a very important one as (CPAG’s work) is too important to be relegated to a couple of pixels on someone’s smartphone.”
The team was deeply moved by countless stories of children’s hunger – including the one that inspired the ad.
“There was a news story about a boy in Lewisham who was taking an empty lunchbox to school to pretend to his friends that he had lunch. Then, when the bell rang,” Egan says, “he sat in the playground and pretended to eat.”
Another inspiration was a scene in the movie Hook in which kids have an imaginary dinner until, eventually, food appears. The team took the idea and reversed it, starting with a world of unbelievable food and then puncturing it by revealing it was all imagined by one boy.
“We brought this story to life through the lens of a child, using their powerful imagination to escape a brutal reality,” she explains. “We wanted to draw people in for a hug … then punch them right in the gut when they were least expecting it.”
CPAG “couldn’t have asked for a more emotive, heart-wrenching creative” with which to share its child poverty message with the public, Garnham says.
“We absolutely loved that the creative idea is all about the incredible power of kids’ imaginations, which should be reserved solely for the magical and marvellous, not dreaming of the basics like a full lunch box,” she adds.
For the idea to come to life, it required a director adept at telling insightful human stories by eliciting authentic and emotional performances. Working with Adam Berg, who is also a master of SFX, was, says Egan, “a no brainer”.
“Adam has a proven talent for delivering emotional impact and that gut punch we were looking for,” Garnham adds. “I am in awe of how he used the amazing natural chaos that comes with an all-kids cast to bring the story to life.”
Casting was also critical. “It’s very important to us as not to reinforce harmful stereotypes about poverty for kids,” Garnham continues. “The full cast is representative of children in the UK and the school we shot the film in where one in four kids are on free school meals.”
For the hero cast member, the team looked for a young actor with a huge imagination, able to deliver both unrivalled joy and, on the flip of a coin, profound sadness.
“When we found Brody, we knew he was the one,” Egen says. “A theatre star who has been in Les Miserables and Matilda, so he had the experience we needed while also having the incredible ability to convey sadness with just his eyes.”
Shooting took place in a London school with SFX done practically, in-camera, meaning all the children’s reactions are authentic and real.
The initial idea was to film in the playground – keeping true to the original news story. But on the day, freezing temperatures and high winds forced the shoot inside, and into the school canteen which, Egan believes, may well have turned out better.
Challenges on the day were chiefly logistical and food-related, such as repairs needed to a lobster that lost its claw, and the challenge of vacuuming popcorn off a giant jelly while leaving the jelly intact.
Berg left the sound rolling all day to capture every joyful reaction. This became the sound bed for the film and added both reality and poignancy.
“Imagine” launched on TV in June ahead of the school summer holidays and then went onto billboards, cinemas, online and in print, UK-wide, thanks to partners’ support. And its reception was fast and furious.
“It was incredible,” Egan recalls.
“Our message resonated with so many. There was a lot of sadness that quickly turned to anger. Twitter exploded with comments and reposts, including a lot from famous faces, and our message travelled organically far and wide – and internationally.”
Garnham’s top tip for getting a great idea from script to screen is: “faith in people”.
“This wouldn’t have happened without people donating their time and talent – all our partners have absolutely gone above and beyond for the cause,” she says. The generosity of all involved multiplied the value of the actual charity budget by ten.
Clarity is also key, Egan adds. A clear idea, and communication to the client of why it’s the right idea one to go with – along with choosing the right people to work with. “To elevate your idea,” Egan believes, “work with people even more talented than you.”
Second in the July/August Thinkboxes was "Ready when you aren’t" by VCCP for Ritz. “Never ordinary” by Drummond Central for bet365 was third. Also shortlisted were “The longer journey” by McCann Birmingham for CrossCountry Trains and “Home is where the Elephant Atta is” by Krow for Elephant Atta.
Agency: Creature London
Creative team: Megan Egan, senior creative; Ben Middleton, chief creative officer; Stu Outhwaite-Noel, chief creative officer
Client: Beatrix Pitel, communications and campaigns lead, Child Poverty Action Group
Production company: Smuggler
Director: Adam Berg
The Thinkboxes, in association with Campaign, are the only bi-monthly awards that celebrate the UK’s world-beating TV ad creativity, in all its forms. They are judged by the Thinkbox Academy – advertising and marketing luminaries who have been involved in award-winning creative work for TV.
Thinkbox is the marketing body for commercial TV in the UK, in all its forms. Its shareholders are Channel 4, ITV, Sky Media and UKTV. Thinkbox works with the marketing community with a single ambition: to help advertisers get the best out of today’s TV.