“When I grow up I want to be a Paralympian.”
This Tweet from a young boy told the team at 4Creative all they needed to know about the impact of their latest ad to promote Channel 4’s Paralympics coverage.
But the plaudits for this three-minute film just keep coming - and now their creative peers in the Thinkbox Academy have voted it the best TV ad to debut in July-August. The commercial beat four others to claim the Thinkboxes Award for TV Creativity, run in partnership with Campaign.
The brief was relatively simple: promote the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics on C4. But the legacy of the two previous successful ads had set the bar incredibly high.
How do you do something as good as the previous ads? How do you say something different? How do you push the conversation around Paralympic sport forward? It was a “daunting challenge,” admits 4Creative’s creative Andy Shrubsole.
Built into C4’s DNA is the need to represent unheard voices. “The Paralympics is undeniably an essential part of this, as across the board disability is under-represented on our screens. So even if we can shift the perception of disability a small amount, then TV is doing an important job,” says his creative partner Scott Taylor.
The choice of primary medium was, of course, never in doubt. “As a broadcaster, TV is always at the cornerstone of any campaign we run. Our owned promo airtime hits around 30m people every week,” says C4’s marketing lead Laura Woodcock. “It’s how we mostly talk to our audience, telling them about not only our programming but also our brand and what we stand for.
“As well as our coverage, C4’s promotion of the Paralympic Games has put Paralympic sport on the map and, in doing so, helped deliver on core tenets of our remit: to change perceptions, challenge prejudice and provide a platform for voices heard all too rarely on TV. Our launch TV spot is always at the centre of every Paralympics campaign and the halo effect it has on the brand is unparalleled.”
Some challenge indeed. The answer, it turns out, came from the athletes themselves.
It was after long conversations with each of the athletes that it became clear that focussing on the “human” part of the “Super. Human.” was the creative direction to take, Shrubsole remembers. “Showing the challenges and complexities of being an elite athlete." And it’s clearly underlined in the smashing of "Super" at the end of the film, he says: “these are real people above all else.”
The script, notes Taylor, grew from stories that came direct from the athletes. “It was written with them rather than about them. And once we’d found the track ‘So you wanna be a boxer’, things really started to take shape.”
In fact, the challenges kept coming. First, the games were postponed for a year due to Covid (subtly acknowledged towards the end of the commercial) but, on top of that, the very aspects of the athletes' lives that the ad aimed to highlight made finding time to shoot it remarkably tricky too.
Taylor explains: “The focus was always the dedication and sacrifices the athletes make, which in itself becomes a challenge as working with elite athletes means fitting around their gruelling schedules.” Training every day of the week, as elite athletes do, meant they’d often be training “before, during and after long days on set,” Shrubsole adds. “Genuinely dedicated.” Blind photographer Ian Treherne took behind-the-scenes shots, some of which are featured here.
Oscar-nominated cinematographer Bradford Young was the director (via Somesuch) chosen largely, Taylor says, for the empathy and sensitivity of his work. “Put against the reality of an athlete's intense lifestyle, [that] felt really interesting.”
Shrubsole and Taylor are also keen to give an appreciative nod to the post-production team - “Amanda Jones at Final Cut, Ant and James at Factory, Leo and team at Time Based Arts, they all took the project to another level.”
That “other level” is exemplified with the ad’s powerful line: “To be a Paralympian, there’s got to be something wrong with you.”
“It summed up everything we’d been talking about, and became a guiding thought going forward,” Taylor recalls. “Really focusing on the sacrifices these athletes make in search of Paralympic glory.”
And yet, a film focusing on the hardships of being a professional athlete could have very easily been filled with pity and sob-stories, Shrubsole recognises. “Which [would be] wrong.”
The scene that has prompted the most comments is the moment when Kylie Grimes’ wheels meet an unrelenting step and she is forced to turn back. “It is the only time we make a point directly about disability, and it’s an important one,” Shrubsole says. “Despite being world class athletes, they still struggle with seemingly trivial daily challenges.”
Grimes’ reaction to the step “sums up the athletes attitudes perfectly though,” Taylor chips in. “‘F**ks sake.’”
Second in the July/August Thinkboxes was ‘#WeThe15’ by adam&eveDDB for the International Paralympic Committee. ‘Feel Good Travel’ by adam&eveDDB for Avanti West Coast was third.
Also shortlisted were ‘More than a score’ for LiveScore by Wonderhood Studios and ‘Jack the not so standard mannequin’ for Spokeby Mother.
Executive creative director: Lynsey Atkin
Deputy executive director: Eoin McLaughlin
Creative team: Andy Shrubsole and Scott Taylor
Client: Channel 4
Production company: Somesuch
Director: Bradford Young
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.