Simon Pegg was the star attraction at the festival in Margate, but from influencer insights to virtual production there was plenty of fun to be had
With the celebrations of the award show the night before still ringing in the ears of the UK creative community in Margate, Day Two of the UK Creative Festival offered plenty of stimulation and inspiration.
Hangovers were soon blasted away by the top-class level of speakers (and a healthy dose of nerding out), from the morning’s first session right through to when Dreamland’s funfair rides shuddered to life.
Simon Pegg & Nils Leonard on Creative Writing
Advertising is full of creatives wishing they could get into Hollywood - but a bonafide Hollywood star was in Margate as he launches himself in the advertising industry. Polymath Simon Pegg is beloved by many a British millennial creative for co-creating the game-changing ‘90s sitcom Spaced. Since then he’s gone on to star in the likes of the Mission Impossible franchise, has co-written the cult Cornetto trilogy of films and even co-wrote a Star Trek movie. As he launches himself as a director, he’s decided to join forces with RSA as a commercials director.
Simon joined Uncommon Creative Studios’ Nils Leonard on stage for a conversation that was an electric jolt of inspiration. Pegg discussed his creative process and how he overcomes his fear of the blank page.
“The blank page is very scary - starting from a point of having nothing to focus on at all is terrifying and stressful. And so the best thing to do is to de stress the entire situation by reducing the amount of expectations you have on yourself. Don’t try and write a masterpiece straight away,” he said.
For creatives harbouring ambitions beyond advertising, Pegg advocated persistence and simply showing up.
“Chase it. Absolutely chase it, don’t wait for it to come to you, no matter how talented you are, chase it. You know, because not everybody will and it will immediately put you at the head of the pack,” he said. “Be proactive don’t sit back ever because that’s when other people just drift past you.”
Reflecting on the UK’s outsized creative talent pool, both Simon and Nils criticised government cuts to arts education, calling it ‘borderline moronic’.
So you want to work with Influencers?
Marketing is all about influencing people. So why wouldn’t a brand be interested in working with influencers? Often, it’s because while influencer marketing has established itself as a pillar of brand building, some brands are still daunted by it. To help answer any questions the advertising community was too scared to ask, LBB’s Natasha Patel took to the Ballroom stage first thing with FCB’s Zoe Crook, ITB’s Sarah Erikson and Whalar’s Emma Harman.
Against the broad context of disenfranchisement with traditional media, Emma noted that people have always trusted people rather than organisations. Relating to influencers as humans is key to their potency, the panel agreed. ““Trust is magic, it’s a chemical reaction,” said Emma.
“People want to see themselves in the content,” added Zoe, who highlighted the importance of representation and diversity across the broadest spectrum in influencer marketing.
Misconceptions about what an influencer is abound, said Zoe. The range out there is much broader than the negative stereotype that many still hold. In fact, she noted that the breadth of the term is so huge that it’s “almost problematic”. You only need to look at the channels in which influencers operate to see the different forms the discipline can take. Zoe noted the rise of TikTok, Instagram Reels - very visual media - but also pointed to the value of platforms like Clubhouse and podcasts which are much more about ideas.
‘Content creator’ isn’t a perfect term either, but she said influencers tend to prefer to be called content creators.
Sarah commented that there’s a spectrum in approach too, which needs considering. She made a distinction between those who do it for the clout and the numbers and are very straightforward and often effective to work with. Then there are the more artistic creators with a very clear vision and voice. Sarah said both have their merits but you need to know the difference before working with them.
Emma wanted to correct another common error people make: “People still think of influencers as a normal media buy whereas actually what you’re buying into is a human.” That should impact every decision you make when you work with influencers. Building on that, she recommended more long term relationships with influencers - advice that recurred throughout the panel.
Influencer marketing is in a good place as an industry right now. During Covid-19, marketers that turned to them were rewarded. “We definitely saw the industry go from strength to strength,” said Zoe, noting their many skills in content creation and the fact that they have all the kit too - useful in the darkest depths of lockdowns around the world.
The panel were clear in denouncing some of the malpractice that takes place, such as not declaring paid partnerships. The industry is not the WIld West that outsiders might think it is. The rules are clear and need to be adhered to, the experts agreed.
When it comes to the risks of partnering with influencers whose behaviour reflects poorly on the brand, the answer is simple due diligence. As Zoe put it: “Make sure that you work with partners who genuinely align with your values.”
“Everyone has something of an activist about them,” observed Emma. Brands, she said, need to “tell a diverse set of stories,” so using the voices of the right influencers for your brand is powerful.
Sustainability in Production
Sustainability has been a priority for the organisers of UKCF this year who purposefully did not allow sponsors to give out unsustainable merch and encouraged visitors to bring their own reusable water bottles across the two day event. The previous night’s three course awards dinner at Creative Circle was also an ingenious picnic, all served up in a basket that guests could take home.
Sustainability is of course a topic that has been accelerated following the global pandemic. Taking the stage in the Ballroom, Laura brought together Travlrr’s Darren Khan, the APA’s Steve Davies and Tag’s Steve Pitts to discuss tangible ways our industry can continue to take good practice forward into the future.
Kicking off the talk, Darren Khan explains Travlrr’s offering, a global network of directors on the ground who shoot live plates for advertising, minimising the amount of crew travel. The work is supported by CGI from MPC and carbon offset by planting trees. He demonstrated a case study with Land Rover which used this method of production (with local crew shooting plates in Iceland and MPC creating the car in CGI) and the project resulted in 83% less carbon emissions and 33% less cost.
Following the film, Steve Davies noted that we are at a critical and exciting point in becoming more sustainable in production. He notes that AdGreen is now part of the Ad Association meaning that all scripts will be judged on their “environmental impact as well as their creative fire power”.
Steve Pitts added that adverts themselves are communicating their sustainability more often and that the demand is coming down from brands to create content sustainably, saying that at Tag more contracts are coming in from clients which contain sustainability clauses as standard. Positively the panel concurred that brands are educating themselves and investing in better CSR. However it was noted by Darren that its not currently easy for consumers to know if ads have been shot sustainably and that talks are currently underway with Clearcast to create a consumer facing message or symbol to indicate if an ad is made to a sustainable standard.
When it comes to how early in the process brands need to consider sustainable action, Darren says “It has to start when the pen hits the paper” and doing this as early as possible was concurred by all panellists.
Looking to the future of production Steve Pitts explained brands can completely change the way they shoot ads, pointing to a making of film for Bacardi in which Tag had shot an ad during lockdown, ingeniously teaching actors to dress their own set (their home) and set up lighting, before directing them remotely.
Darren does note that remote shooting and some solutions won’t work for all productions but that the pandemic has sparked new behaviours, “big ads will most likely be done in the traditional way but I think sustainability [and remote shooting] is here to stay now”. Steve Davies nods to virtual production as another solution we will start to see more of and the panel concur it may finally be the push agencies need to pick new and different and exciting directing talent.
In terms of tangible steps companies can take, the panel suggest using the carbon calculator by Ad Green and doing their free training session, noting it can help you find quick ways to drastically reduce your carbon footprint as a business. Steve also notes the importance of educating not just the operational side of businesses but the creative side too. Something that would help get sustainable thinking happening earlier in the process.
From Runner to Boss
Looking at Kai Hsiung, Vicki Maguire and Chaka Sobhani, it's hard to imagine them as fresh-faced juniors starting out their careers in advertising. With all three having illustrious careers in the creative fields, day two of the UK Creative Festival was the perfect way to honour them in a panel.
Hosting was LBB’s Alex Reeves who kicked off asking the trio how they got into the industry. As an image of fashionista Vicki, CCO at Havas London, adorned the screen she discussed her transition from fashion to advertising. “When someone said there's an industry that pays you for ideas, I thought, where do I sign, how do I do it? Every morning I wake up with that excitement.”
As the title of the panel suggests, Leo Burnett global CCO Chaka did start off as a runner. Though her entry began far before this, she recalled, growing up in a small town in Devon and being obsessed with films. Chaka has had years in the industry and reflects that there's nothing else she can do for her happiness. She jokes that it may sound trite, but it's her biggest source of inspiration. “I was always drawn to and driven by people.”
It can be something of a pinch-me moment for Kai to realise that she is living her best life at the moment, she is doing what she always dreamt of and so much more. “If you worry too much you’ll never get out of bed.”
Building truly diverse teams, understanding, support and respect
Vicki Maguire, Havas London chief creative officer is a 56-year-old working-class woman “raging through the menopause” (and “generally raging”, she added). Speaking in the Hall by the Sea, she said she’s “fed up of telling my anecdotes,” but she does. Because it’s more important to change the industry landscape. As host Claire Beale from The Creative Salon noted, Vicki “ticks a lot of boxes.” And as a result, she is (quite naturally) “pissed off”. For most of her career she said she’s been pissed off about the disadvantages that class and gender presented her and people like her, and then she noted that once she was starting to get to grips with dealing with those issues, age hits.
Mia Powell joked that she “couldn’t be more intersectional if I tried” - queer, brown and a woman as well as being working class. For her, the problem is a lack of looking at problems in an intersectionality. “Don’t want a pity party” Wants to see brown people at the top, neurodiverse people at the top. She wants to see more voices represented everywhere.
The 40-something white cisgender man on the panel, Mark Sandford explained why he launched The Book of Man - outmoded forms of masculinity abounded and the problems they were causing, from an epidemic in male suicide to all the horrors the #MeToo movement exposed. Issues around gender inequality need men and women working together, he argued, not just women.
Building equality requires both top-down and bottom-up approaches, the panel agreed, and it takes everyone working together, recognising the knotty problems and intersectional considerations that converge around issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Covid was horrible, but Vicki suggested that one positive might be that it’s possible the industry won’t revert to the old ways that didn’t work.
Considering the sticking-plaster quick fixes that many organisations have used to try and create more diverse teams, Mia admitted it’s been an “absolute bodge job”. As Mark noted, talking about it is better than before when it was ignored, but the panel agreed that hiring a diversity officer isn’t how to sort out the deep inequities that exist. Everyone needs to change what they have the power to. And as Mia commented, beyond vocal advocates like her, “it takes an army”. And if an army is mentoring people of different genders, sexualities, colours and abilities, then maybe it can push the dial.
The huge deficit in diversity isn’t simple, but Vicki wondered aloud whether a “bodge job” is the only way. Maybe it should be “lots of little fires,” she suggested. But it’s not happening fast enough for her, or the rest of this panel.
But then again the brands have the money and ultimately the power of being the ones who pay the bills. As Vicki said, the quickest way to change things would be for clients to do a creative audit of their agencies - a prospect she admitted would be terrifying, but brilliant.
Making Mascots: The emotional Impact of VFX Characters
In a world where mascots and characters are being more prominent than ever, what better way to celebrate this than with a panel discussion hosted by LBB’s Laura Swinton on the topic. Joining her was VCCP’s Gemma Smyth and Orlando Wood of System 1 and remotely was MPC’s Scott Livingstone
Scott kicked off with a relay of why he believes mascots are so important with the personality and story behind them as key factors. This is something Gemma agrees with and revealed that MPC took inspiration from Pixar when deciding on Bubl the robot for o2: “It has to feel real, it can’t be too cute. You don't want a character who can do everything, it's not relatable.”
Orlando taps into the psychology of why exactly adverts using mascots seem to do well: “Characters hold our attention because they appear to the right brain, they help to put things in long-term memory.” And long-term memory has become a hit for the likes of the Meerkat’s from the Compare the Meerkat adverts.
Gemma revealed that after Disney the meerkats sell the second most toys in the UK. We all know and have seen the mascots but Orlando tapped down into what made them such a success. “Voice is really important for connecting people. Movement, gesture, voice all give a character its distinctiveness”
Right now mascots are seen more than ever and its thanks to a rise in digital that has opened up new forms of experiential from Snapchat filters, TikTok campaign and social media, the rise of the mascots is here to stay.
Virtual production is radically shaking up the traditional production pipeline and the UK is leading the charge. LBB’s Alex Reeves spoke to a cross section of experts to talk about how productions and individuals can take advantage of this enormous change. He was joined on stage by Mike Chapman, ECD at the Mill, Karl Woolley, Framestore’s global realtime director, Emma Turner, professional development lead at Screen Skills, Joanna Alpe chief commercial office at Bild Studios and Epic Games’ business development manager Sallyann Houghton.
It’s a tricky to define space, but trying to pin it down and make it understandable for the audience, the panellists explained that it’s the use of real time rendering and traditional ‘post’ elements within a live action shoot. It’s powered by games engines like Unreal and Unity.
Emma Turner spoke about the recognition of the fact that the pandemic has accelerated the growth of virtual production and the need for skills. At Screen Skills, she’s part of a concerted effort to upskill existing production talent as well as speaking to students about virtual production in order to create a talent pipeline that will see the UK become a centre of excellence.
Emma argued that live events, rock music and gaming has brought virtual production to the screen industry. Currently, she says, there’s a lack of skills in terms of art departments able to transfer their skills to the digital environment, getting post people more familiar with being on set and interacting on a live action shoot, and in terms of virtual production producers who can knit everyone together and guide the process.
“The question I get asked the most at the moment is ‘where can I find people who can understand Unreal?’,” said Sallyann Houghton of Epic Games. Epic Games has been doing its bit to retrain industry artists on the games engine, running fellowships.
Virtual production has not emerged in a vacuum. Companies like the Mill, Framestore and Epic Games have existed for many years, developing processes and technology. Where things get tricky that it’s not as easy as asking a photoreal CG artist to get their head around a games engine or asking a games engineer to understand the demands of high end film production. “You have to blend teams to get the best out of both and that’s really difficult,” said Karl Woolley.
Another challenge is for execs and clients to understand that they need to make more creative decisions upfront - things like the colour of a CG item can’t be put off until the end of the process.
Emma said one positive element of virtual production is that it disrupts the traditional ‘militaristic hierarchy’ of filmmaking. Indeed, Sallyann said that the fact that engines like Epic can be downloaded for free can liberate independent filmmakers so that they are no longer limited by their budget. For the assembled students, some of whom had studied 3D modelling and CG animation, this was a valuable glimpse into an exciting, growing space.