Filming ads in a war zone. What can go wrong?

Adam Scholes takes us to the front line in Afghanistan, where JWT is shooting its audacious live campaign for the TA.

Members of the Territorial Army are often dismissed as overgrown Boy Scouts like Gareth from The Office. Our task was to drive recruitment by building the credibility of the TA and showing that, in reality, they are trained and ready at short notice to serve alongside the regular army.


When the creative team came to present their ideas, they had a pile of very good, well-written campaigns. At the end, they said: "We’ve also got this other idea. God knows how we’d do it. What are the chances? Never in a million years – but anyway…" The idea was simple – rather than do a traditional ad, make a series of live broadcasts from Afghanistan featuring the TA in action alongside the regular army.

Our client Capita wanted to massively increase the number of recruits, so we needed an idea that would radically shift perceptions.

The ads would also feature real soldiers in action. There was a feeling that we had seen enough ads with actors running around with guns, jumping out of helicopters.

But would the Army really allow us to broadcast live from a war zone? Everyone was up for it, from the planners, the account team, the client and the Army. It takes a ballsy client to go for an idea like this, so hats off to Zoe Bou­stead at Capita for being brave enough to buy it.


So, we think the idea is a corker. But how are we going to do it? Step forward the only man for the job – the maverick producer Toby Clifton. This should tip him over the edge!

Here are some of the lo­gistical challenges he had to contend with:

1. Trying to control a production with no confirmed cast or locations.
2. Armour-plating a satellite truck, and flying it out on a C-17 plane.
3. Only being allowed to inject a director into the mix. No crew.
4. Being live but having to deal with a four-and-a-half-hour time difference.
5. The producer being admitted to hospital with bronchitis as soon as he arrived.
6. The director having to go on a hostile environment training course. How to survive being kidnapped – trust me, you don’t want to know the details.
7. The number of safety films for any eventuality.
8. Getting approvals and compliance from all parties while the ad is being filmed.
9. Producing and getting on air 50 different pieces of content in less than a month.
10. Getting used to saying "over" on conference calls.


You can’t really write live ads. One of the most difficult things is that you have no real control over what you get. This is nerve-wracking and exciting at the same time. We’re so used to everything being buttoned down on shoots, every detail pored over in pre-prod. You have no such luxury with live ads.


Live streaming the Army from a war zone. What could possibly go wrong?

Finding the right director was key. We knew it was going to be different when the first one we met had previously been shot at and airlifted out of an ambush. There would be no sushi or mocha­ccinos where this guy was going. We needed a director who could do documentaries, drama, had military experience, could shoot and edit and was unfazed by the location. We found our very own Kathryn Bigelow in the charming Scouser Nick Murphy. This mission was not for the faint-hearted. Nick’s blood was already waiting for him in the hospital on the base. A lot was placed on his shoulders as he had to be director, producer and strike up a relationship with the soldiers all in the space of one week.

Casting proved almost impossible as, every time we found someone, they would be called away on a mission.

Getting the full support of the Army was important and the list of people who helped make this happen is endless.

A special mention goes to Derek Tedder, the head of TV news for the British Army. Without his help in putting together an army combat camera crew at short notice, sorting out lots of things we can’t divulge here and liaising on the ground, the shoot would not have been possible.

It was important that operational security was not compromised. We did not want to do anything that might endanger the lives of the soldiers. For example, our idea of a TA member talking about the range of his gun seemed harmless enough until the Army told us this information could help the enemy. Our idea of placing the location of the operations with exact coordinates in the bottom-left of the screen went down like a fart in an armoured personnel carrier. Even mentioning the "A" word (Afghanistan) was off limits until the day before the campaign went live.

We’ll now spend the next two weeks camped at ITN studios sweating over the next live instalments.


There will be 17 live broadcasts on ITV over two weekends. There is also a dedicated TA Live YouTube channel, social media activity and a bespoke CRM programme. At the same time, there are multiple live events in city centres across the country, with giant screens and TA soldiers to talk to first hand.

So the lesson here is: keep presenting those "What are the chances? Never in a million years" ideas. They’re probably the ones you should be making.

Adam Scholes is a creative director at JWT London