The creation of Simon

Christopher Keatinge and Dan Bennett, who have just won a British Arrow, on the birth of 'Simon the Ogre'.

The British Arrows Awards ceremony, which took place last week, was a rowdy affair. More than 1,100 people celebrated the best work in TV advertising at the Battersea Evolution.

Among the more established winners, including Adam & Eve/DDB and Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, the Best New Creative Team gong went to BMB’s Christopher Keatinge (below, right) and Dan Bennett (below, left) for their "Simon the Ogre" ad for Thomson.

The spot focuses on a man who looks like an ogre because he is miserable about the amount of time he spends at work. When he goes on holiday with his family, he slowly changes back into a human being again.

Although the Advertising Standards Authority received 93 complaints that the ad trivialises disability, the body decided not to launch a formal investigation.

Campaign caught up with the pair to find out the story behind the ad.

Tell us about the project. Thomson was on everyone’s radar from early spring last year. The brief was pretty open. Everything Thomson does stems from its belief in the power of quality time – that a holiday is a precious, fleeting thing – and it does everything it can to make its customers’ holidays the best they possibly can be.

I think every creative in the agency was on the brief at some point – it was the opportunity of the year, and everyone knew it. Also, we all had the shadow of one of BMB’s best-loved spots – Thomson’s "time for a holiday?" ad from 2011 – looming over us. It had to be something special.

What was the insight behind the creative idea? It was that simple truth – the restorative power that a holiday has. We had written a few scripts and they were all very earnest – probably too earnest. Then "Simon the Ogre" just appeared, pretty much fully formed.

We wrote the first script very quickly, probably in about 20 minutes, and took it to our then creative director, Gav McGrath, who made sure it was tonally "Thomson" – we lost a jet-ski gag or two. He then showed it to Trevor [Beattie], who really got behind it. We were just chuffed to have the big guns as excited by our idea as we were.

It was a brave new direction for Thomson, but deftly delivered to the client by our managing director, Aimee Luther. It took a little while to sell, but sell it she did.

Who wrote the script? We both did a little bit of writing and art directing. It was our first telly ad and a baptism by fire, but a brilliant one. We’ve never had such a steep learning curve – we went from safe little radio recording sessions and trade press ads to a TV shoot with the director Fredrik Bond. We are stupendously lucky sods.

Talk us through the shoot and the editing process. In designing our ogre, we had licence to really think about what an ogre should look like. What makes an ogre an ogre and not a troll? What’s necessary?

What’s surplus to requirements? Protruding jaw? Horns? Back hair? Is back hair gross? The whole process, from sketches to sculpting to seeing the finished prosthetic suit flown over from Los Angeles, was some of the most fun we had throughout production.

We shot for two days in London and nine or so in Crete at a Thomson resort. The work was directed by Fredrik through Sonny and edited by Tim Thornton-Allan at Marshall Street Editors. Post-production was handled by Jordi Bares and the folks at Realise Studio.

The soundtrack was one that Fredrik suggested very early on, in the first edit. And, despite months of searching and composing, we never seemed to better it. Music is a tricky process; it’s too subjective and doesn’t hold up to analysis in the same way the special effects or script does. And the more people you ask, the more uncertain you become.

How did you get into advertising? We studied together but didn’t team up until mid-2012. BMB was our first placement together and happily turned into our first job. We’ve worked as a pair for a little more than a year-and-a-half. As far as placements go, it was an odd one. At one point, we were driving Bil Bungay around Pontefract dressed as a monk and set-dressing a haunted house he’d bought.

What’s the best career advice you have received? Be irreverent. Be difficult. Be polite. And focus on the work.

Which is your favourite ad? It’s impossible to say. Even at the Arrows, there was some really inspiring work on show. But anything that’s brave, with a big, fat human truth.

What are your ambitions for the future? Make work we’re proud of. Not sure if there’s any other barometer, really.

What is the next project you are working on? The new Thomson brand ad is the next big brief on the horizon. Of course, every creative in the building will have a go at it, so it’s going to be another tough old nut to crack. We’re keeping ourselves busy outside the agency too with a photography project and a music video.

Tell us something about yourselves that people might not know. Dan: I drove all the way to Mongolia dressed as a giraffe. Christopher: I’m a whizz on the old squeezebox.