Department for Education scores top marks for TV creativity

Havas London's ad for teacher recruitment is top of the class and winner of the latest Thinkboxes Award for TV Creativity.

Department for Education scores top marks for TV creativity

‘Tuesday’ was voted the best TV ad of all those that ran in January and February.

Credibility and reach

Placing a real teacher at the heart of the TV ad added authenticity and intimacy to the work, which is part of  the Department for Education’s ‘Every Second Shapes a Life’ campaign. 

TV is the keystone to the DfE’s entire multichannel teacher recruitment campaign – reflecting the breadth of DfE’s target. Its aim is to use it to raise the status of teaching as a profession and ensure teachers get the respect their dedicated work deserves.

"(TV) delivers credibility and mass reach," said DfE head of marketing Nicole Keane. "It’s also how we state our case: everything else works with it."

Inverting the telescope

DfE’s previous commercial,  ‘Roots & Wings’, also created by Havas, had been a success. The next step was to expand the story it was telling about teaching.

The last ad looked at teaching from the perspective of a child over her whole school career and how her life was shaped by her teachers.

"We wanted to invert the telescope and look at the many ways a single teacher can impact on the lives of children in a single day – looking at things from the teacher’s perspective this time," Keane said. 

The creative team set out to demonstrate what it means to "shape a life" – not just in a young person’s life but also a teacher’s.

"Initially we focused on one girl’s journey through the school system, supported by the many teachers who shaped that journey," said Havas creative Paul Robbins. "This time, we decided to look at one teacher’s typical day – the same inspiring story told through a different lens."

No such thing as a typical Tuesday

Havas creative Sam Turk said: "As a team, we like to get out and about in the real world for inspiration, so we set up some Q&As with teachers and pupils to make sure what we were doing was authentic and represented actual experiences.

"As a teacher, you go on that journey with them – where failure and triumph often sit side-by-side. More than that, you get to shape that journey.

"No other job description comes close to that. This is what led us to our starting point: teaching is unlike any other career, no two days are alike, and there’s never a dull day (and no such thing as a ‘typical Tuesday’)." 

Havas came up with 10 or so top-line ideas, but all felt ‘Tuesday’ best dove-tailed with the original work – adding to rather than simply repeating the earlier message. And the DfE bought into the idea quickly.

"One of the things that made ‘Tuesday’ stand out was that the central concept of a-day-in-the-life was easy to understand, and an effective vehicle to get across what we were trying to say," Keane said.

One of the key challenges, however, was casting.

"We always use real teachers in our creative, and casting a person who fits the brief, is comfortable on camera and is available is always trickier than anyone anticipates," she added. 

The DfE put out a call for teachers happy to participate. The initial script featured a science teacher, but the team were willing to re-work it if a teacher in another subject was best-suited. 

Addison Brown, a teacher from Bedford High School in Leigh, Greater Manchester, was chosen and the script refined to ensure its detail was realistic, such as which lessons he’d teach which year groups on a given day. 

Whose line is it anyway?

On set, however, the aim was for the script to be used for cues more than specific lines. "The idea was our teacher could improvise and in effect ‘teach’ those lessons on set. Those improvised, genuine moments proved to be some of the best we captured," Turk said.

The production team then scouted a shortlist of schools for the most cinematic, yet recognisable, locations. A student cast was then put together – some found by street casting. A number were students local to the school where the shoot took place.

Closely involved throughout this process was directing duo 32, who worked on the last DfE commercial.  

"As well as being generally brilliant, they provided valuable stylistic consistency – and you could feel the second ad was set in the same world as the first," Robbins said.

"32 took the initial script and really fleshed out every imaginable detail, which made us so much more agile on set. Thanks to them, we were able to roll with whatever happened during the shoot, confident we could still string together a compelling narrative when it came to the edit."

Working with a pair of directors also helped during the tight shoot, which took place over three days in different locations last autumn.

Robbins continued: "We had a split crew on set, so one team could be setting up the next shot and the other capturing incidentals – one of the benefits with working with a directing duo."

Editor Ellie Johnson at Tenthree then worked to find the right balance between having enough "action" to make the film interesting without tipping it the other way into feeling hectic and tiresome, Turk said.

The music, he added – scored by composer Zebedee Budworth, who also created last year’s track – was key to the ad’s pacing. 

"This is the big statement we are making about teaching, so it’s important that it’s beautifully made and emotionally resonant as well as hitting the right strategic notes," Keane said..

"It implicitly shows how much we value teaching, and how seriously we take our mission." 

Second place in the latest Thinkboxes winners’ line-up went to ‘What’s your name?’ for Starbucks by Iris. ‘This is how we do it’ by The&Partnership for NatWest was third.

Also shortlisted were ‘Laundry against landfill' for Ecover by Uncommon Studios  and ‘Leslie' for Uber Eats by Mother.

Creative agency: Havas
Creatives: Sam Turk + Paul Robbins, Havas London
Client: Nicola Keane, head of marketing, Department for Education
Brand: Department for Education
Production company: Pulse Films
Director: 32

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 – 200 advertising and marketing luminaries who have been involved in award-winning creative work for TV.

Want to see more great work? Head to the Thinkboxes hub

Thinkbox is the marketing body for commercial TV in the UK, in all its forms. Its shareholders are Channel 4, ITV, Sky Media, Turner Media and UKTV. Thinkbox works with the marketing community with a single ambition: to help advertisers get the best out of today’s TV.

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