After testing times, that old creative magic is coming back
A view from Gemma Charles

After testing times, that old creative magic is coming back

The country's reopening of recent weeks has been mirrored by some great work being pulled out of the hat.

As the “great reopening” progressed in the sunshine, a rush of great work seemed in lockstep with the changing fortunes of the country.

On just one day in May, I was moved in very different ways by two pieces of marketing communications. In the morning, I learned about the desperately heartbreaking story of Kiyan Prince. A promising footballer at Queens Park Rangers’ academy, Prince was stabbed as a teenager trying to break up a fight. He would have turned 30 this year and to commemorate his life Prince has been made into a playable character for EA Sports’ hit video game Fifa 21. The poignant campaign, created on a pro bono basis by Engine Creative, was not only a thoughtful and sensitive celebration of a life cut tragically short but also an effective way to engage a hard-to-reach audience with an anti-knife crime message.

Later that same day, Twitter was abuzz enjoying “Wasteminster”, a stop-motion film by specialist sustainability shop Studio Birthplace for Greenpeace aimed at changing the laws around plastic waste disposal. I went from enjoying the spectacle of Boris Johnson – voiced brilliantly by political advisor-turned-comedian Matt Forde – being swept away on a sea of crisp packets and bottles to outrage that the UK exports an average of 1.8 million kilograms of plastic a day, which ends up being dumped and burned in countries such as Malaysia and Turkey.

It’s not just purpose-led campaigns that have impressed. Droga5 London’s Diet Coke ad, which revives the drink’s famous jingle, is joyful without being try-hard. Meanwhile, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO showed that even during a rocky patch it can still produce the goods for Guinness with a charming film marking the return of indoor drinking in pubs (of course, it’s no “Surfer”, the subject of this month’s My Campaign, but hardly anything is).

Dom Goldman, executive creative director at Above & Beyond, says the pandemic not only sent brands into paralysis as their narratives were no longer relevant but also meant that craft was “inevitably compromised”.

“With restrictions being lifted, we’re now seeing the return to the usual flair and magic you’d expect,” he says.

It certainly feels that way as choosing Campaign’s Pick of the Week has become pleasingly difficult of late.

The widespread coverage of the sad death of Nick Kamen last month focused on his starring role in Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s 1985 “Laundrette” film for Levi’s. Could any of today’s output leave a similar imprint on the national psyche? Probably not, is my hunch.

Our content-bloated, highly fragmented media landscape is light years away from the mid-1980s, when a Casio watch was about as digital as things got and Brits were still marvelling at being able to choose between four television channels. 

Space doesn’t permit a discussion on whether ads aren’t as good as they used to be – check out the debate in the June issue on craft skills for more on this – but squeezed client budgets and less time carved out for creatives to seek out inspiration surely all play a part.

So while the “famous ad” may be a rarer thing, after testing times in adland let’s take a moment to enjoy watching those buds of pent-up creativity start to blossom.

Gemma Charles is deputy editor of Campaign