Populism or authenticity: how 5 top TV ads each made the call

The Thinkbox Academy will vote for the latest Thinkboxes Award winner from these five TV spots

A view from Academy Member

Algy Sharman, chief creative officer, Joint

Should TV ads be glossy and populist, or should they be authentic reflections of real life? Let's see.

EE makes a departure from the star quality of Kevin Bacon talking to camera, and decides instead to highlight the authentic lives of kids using phones. I applaud the brand’s empathetic tone. It understands life with a phone isn’t all that rosy for teenagers, and that’s brave coming from a phone provider.

Marie Curie takes authenticity to another level still. Poignant and touching moments of people’s final days on this earth are well performed, and it’s nicely shot. While it’s not necessarily the freshest approach, it's still very well done, and it certainly got me.

Moving away from the authenticity scale, next up we have Nationwide. The lead character in this comedic spot is well played by Dominic West. I did find myself thinking, ‘isn't that the bloke from The Wire?’ Perhaps a little distracting. But good bank advertising is hard to do, so I applaud the direction it’s taken.

And now onto the populist pop-promo world of Marmite. Tough brief. Young people haven’t even tasted Marmite. So wait, they don’t love it…or hate it. Ah. That’s quite the test of the campaign strategy, and I think they managed it well.

And finally, a truly populist campaign from Warburtons. I’ve always loved how these ads are unashamedly fun. This particular spot is a little confusing and (old fogie alert) has a bit of Blackcurrant Tango about it. I love how a British bread brand can attract the likes of Samuel L. Jackson, and it’ll certainly stand out in the ad break.

So what’s the best approach? Authenticity or populism?

From this selection of well crafted ads, I’d say it’s a resounding success for both.

Who will the Thinkbox Academy vote for? And who gets your vote? Tweet us @ThinkboxTV using #Thinkboxes and view all the previous winners at

The Thinkboxes shortlist - September/October 2023

1. EE: “Freedom”

The many and varied ways in which young people use technology on their phones after the final school bell rings – along with some of their many associated challenges – are brought to life in this sweeping cinematic film. Set to So We Are Here by Bloc Party, the spot aims to highlight how EE Learn has new tools to aid digital health for any kid on any network.

Saatchi & Saatchi Creative team: Ben Mooge, chief creative officer, Publicis Groupe; William John, executive creative director; George Coyle, senior creative; Sam Simmonds, senior creative Client: Pete Jeavons, group brand & consumer marketing director Production company: Art Practice Director: Elliott Power

2. Marie Curie: “Death isn’t the opposite of life. It’s part of it”

Real stories about families curating the final weeks with their loved one as they deal with a terminal illness feature in this deeply moving spot showing how Marie Curie’s nursing teams can make their lives a little easier. With one in four people dying every year without the care and support they need, Marie Curie ensures everyone has a good death; with the right support, on their terms, where loved ones feel supported too.

Agency: CPB London Creative team: Dean Wei, chief creative officer; Eoin McLaughlin, creative director; Toni Gaventa, managing partner; Helen Cliffe, production lead; Zoe Harris, assistant producerClient: Susanna Collier, brand director Production company: Smuggler Director: Shannon Murphy

3. Marmite: “First-timers – Love it. Hate it. Get it on”

Marmite serves “tips for first-timers” in this suggestive spot featuring a pair of puppets – the hero ad in a new campaign targeting Gen Z to experience their first time with the spread. The idea was sparked by shocking YouGov research that revealed 43% of 18 to 24 year-olds in the UK have never tried the spread.

Agency: adam&eveDDB Creative team: Ben Tollet, Colin Booth, Ben Stilitz Client: Laura Iliffe, brand lead Marmite, Bovril and Jif Production company: Smuggler Director: Guy Shelmerdine

4. Nationwide: “Cutbacks”

Dominic West stars in this spot from New Commercial Arts’ rebranding campaign for Nationwide, playing a fictional boss of a rival bank determined to introduce cutbacks and branch closures. But the character’s assistant, played by Sunil Patel, questions his position and, in so doing, highlights the need for customers to seek financial advice in person and Nationwide’s commitment to staying on the high street.

Agency: New Commercial Arts Creative team: Steve Hall, Dan Seagar, Kim Hutcheson, Joe Fitzgerald Client: Richard Warren, director brand, marketing, experience Production company: Hungry Man Director: Bryan Buckley

5. Warburtons: “Mad about the bread”

“Hell hath no fury like a baker scorned,” growls Samuel L Jackson playing Warburtons chairman Jonathan Warburton in this new spot for Warburtons, which features some cleverly scripted references to Jackson’s iconic dialogue in the movie Pulp Fiction.

In a comedic riposte to a fictional social media post by a man called Steve who questions the superior nature of Warburtons’ Toastie Loaf bread, he recalls the effort that goes into making the bread and, in one scene, even appears on Steve’s parents’ doorstep to swap out their plate of wannabe bread.

Agency: Joyful & Triumphant and Freud Communications Creative team: Billy Faithfull, Matthew Freud, Chris Da Roza & Hugo Isaacs, Andy Lee & Jonny Porthouse Client: Jane McMillan, head of marketing communications Production company: Merman Director: Declan Lowney

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.


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