Work Debrief - How The Guardian enlisted fairytales to tell its own story

To show off the brand's open journalism, a story familiar to all was needed, David Kolbusz writes.

Guardian ad by BBH
Guardian ad by BBH

We were charged with communicating what The Guardian's open journalism methodology is and how that leads to the broadest possible perspective.


To show the benefits of open- platform collaboration and The Guardian's curatorial role in the process, we needed a universal story. We couldn't do a current affairs story - they're too time-sensitive - but fiction seemed a safe area to play around in. And fairytales are probably the most universal stories, as everyone reads them in their youth. Then it just became a matter of picking the best fairytale to take apart.

We actually also had scripts that addressed the reasons Humpty Dumpty couldn't be put back together again (an underfunded NHS). We had the truth behind Hansel and Gretel's altercation with an old woman in the woods (kidnapping or home invasion?). We even had the story of whether Cinderella would be able to live up to her role as a princess because of her working-class background. In the end, the pigs won out.


Initially, Matt Fitch and Mark Lewis' script comprised mostly voiceover and newspaper headlines. This was done intentionally in order to create a focused narrative. Because the picture portion was underwritten, how the film would look left a lot to the imagination.

Fortunately, our clients David Pemsel, Richard Furness and Anna Hayman took a leap of faith and trusted us to get our vision right. They loved the script's potential and shepherded it through the approval process so that we were able to focus on the craft.


The pigs had to look sophisticated. If the spot was too grounded in reality - looked too raw and authentic - then it would've come across more satiric than allegorical, thereby trivialising the core message. Borrowing from film trailers seemed to be an interesting way of telling our story. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was a prime example. This trailer gave away every plot point in just over three minutes. Annoying for filmgoers, but great for us. With the right marriage of audio and picture, you could tell a complicated, multilayered story in a short space of time.

The director Ringan Ledwidge's treatment was a thing of beauty - his boards an almost identical reflection of what appeared in the final film. He had interpreted the words on the page and found a way to bring them to life.

The art direction was another monumental task and a showcase for the talents of Simon Davis. We needed a world based on our own - real enough to seem like the present, but odd enough that you wouldn't second-guess humans and animals co-existing peacefully.


Our producer, Davud Karbassioun, found a brilliant reference for what the pigs could look like in the masks from the Royal Ballet's production of Tales Of Beatrix Potter. These were pigs that provoked feelings of sympathy when you looked at them. They were also the right balance of real and fantastical. As for the rest of the cast, we just tried to stick as close to film cliches as possible so you never questioned what you were seeing - stereotypical reporter, stereotypical police chief etc.


Editing was expertly handled by Rich Orrick. After vanishing for a week, Ringan and Rich emerged satisfied, albeit a bit smelly. The story flowed and our fears were assuaged. Even without the benefit of finished audio, the narrative unfolded in a way that made sense.

Our job was to make sure every headline served the narrative and every Tweet helped to illustrate how the conversation about the pigs was growing and changing. The lines were temperature-checked by Ngaio Pardon, Lynsey Atkin and Ida Siow from the accounts and strategy departments, then put through Kath Viner, The Guardian's deputy editor.

As sound and music play integral roles in the film, it was important that we got the balance between the two right. Phil Kay scored the piece and had to ensure that the music needed to drive the narrative but couldn't overwhelm it.

The Mill spent weeks decimating itself to get the post done. It had to give life to the faces of the wolf and pigs, as well as make sure every transition worked, every Tweet popped and every headline sung, and the wireframe test disproving the wolf's culpability looked convincing. It was a race to the finish.


The campaign launched with a two-minute premiere roadblock on Channel 4 and its associated channels, devised by PHD. This served as a reveal to the unbranded print, TV and fly-poster tease campaign that ran for the week before. The engagement plan extends to a significant partnership with Picturehouse cinemas, nationwide outdoor and press, and digital placements including a takeover of the YouTube homepage.

The process was exhausting, yet exhilarating. As fans of The Guardian, when you set about making a brand campaign for it, the number-one objective becomes creating a piece of communication that does justice to the work Alan Rusbridger and his team are doing. We hope we've done him proud.

David Kolbusz is a creative director at Bartle Bogle Hegarty.


Clients: David Pemsel, marketing consultant; Richard Furness, head of
sales and marketing; Anna Hayman, marketing manager, Guardian News &
Creative agency: Bartle Bogle Hegarty
Creative director: David Kolbusz
Creatives: Matt Fitch, Mark Lewis
Agency producer: Davud Karbassioun
Media agency: PHD
Media planner: Toby Nettle
Production company: Rattling Stick
Director: Ringan Ledwidge
Producer: Chris Harrison
Editor: Rich Orrick, Work
Post-production: The Mill
Music: Phil Kay, Woodwork Music