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AMV BBDO’s Jim Hilson: “Right From the Start, Music Is Always There”

Music & Sound 170 Add to collection

In the first of a new interview series on music and creativity supported by SoStereo, AMV BBDO’s deputy ECD tells LBB how music brought iconic campaigns such as Essity’s Blood Normal to life

AMV BBDO’s Jim Hilson: “Right From the Start, Music Is Always There”

Without music, creativity would not be the same. Whether it’s a rhythm and cadence provided in the background, or the transcendent emotions music can push to the foreground, so much of our creative history is linked to music and its unique ability to communicate directly with our senses. 

It’s that link which this new interview series, supported by SoStereo and inspired by their What About the Music podcast, sets out to explore. Over the coming months, we’ll be speaking to high-profile industry figures about how music has influenced their relationship with their craft, and get their take on the process of marring melody to creativity. 

Today, we speak to AMV BBDO’s deputy ECD Jim Hilson. In recent years, Jim has worked on enormous campaigns including Essity’s Blood Normal and Viva La Vulva, and alongside high-profile brands such as BT, Martini, and Guinness. Here, he reflects on his own evolving relationship with music and why, when all is said and done, life is lived better with the sound turned on. 

LBB> Jim, let’s start at the beginning - growing up, when did you first realise you were ‘a creative’, and what kind of role did music play in your childhood?

Jim> Hello, and thank you for having me. I grew up loving music eveeeeerywhere. I was indiscriminate, and very, very curious about the good stuff that got stuck in my head and made me feel something. It didn’t matter if it was on the telly, like Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain opening the F1 Racing, or on an advert like Marvin Gaye’s Heard it on the Grapevine or Biosphere’s Novelty Waves on Levis, or on a soundtrack like Queen on Flash Gordon. 

Above: Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’ provided a pulsating intro to the BBC’s Formula One coverage. 

If, when I heard it, it was so perfectly combined with the images and ideas that it was more than the sum of its parts, I couldn’t forget it - and enjoyed tracking it down. It often found its way on to a mixtape, collaged with other odds and sods of dialogue, or bits recorded from radio shows like John Peel, and cover artwork.

LBB> In your current role as deputy ECD at AMV BBDO, what’s exciting you most day-to-day? 

Jim> I still love leading the creative transformation of the Essity account - and music plays a huge role in that. I was proud of all the collaboration - with our extraordinary Brand and Production partners, making a difference, breaking taboos and the effectiveness that comes with it. We started the journey over five years ago with their first ever advertising awards as a Brand, and now with 3 Black Pencils, including D&AD Black Pencil of the decade and Grand Prix (what’s the plural of Grand Prix?) in Cannes and the Clio’s. We recently came second only to Burger King at Cannes overall, and have just won the Consistent Creative Excellence award at Campaign Big Awards. But the work that is coming out now and still in the pipes is just as exciting.

Above: AMV BBDO’s Viva La Vulva, created for Essity, would be unrecognisable without Camille Yarbrough’s Take Yo' Praise from 1975. Among countless other wins, the campaign followed in the footsteps of 2017’s Blood Normal in picking up a coveted Immortal Award

Music is key in all this, but in diverse ways. For example, we simply couldn’t reach our audience of older women in the Middle East with our DespairNoMore campaign without a music-led innovation and a commissioned song. Equally, we can’t imagine BloodNormal without that powerful and shameless track from The Blaze, or land the new ‘Love is Messy’ platform for Plenty kitchen towels without the funny and emotional soundtrack of Nazareth’s Love Hurts.


LBB> In a creative sense, how would you describe your relationship with music today?

Jim> Still in love, still curious, still trainspotting. The only difference is that c90 Mixtapes have been exchanged for playlists.

During lockdown I got to revisit music videos when showing them to my daughters. Gondry for Bjork, Daft Punk Chemical Brothers, Pre-SING Garth Jennings, Jonathan Glazer, Dougal Wilson. But we held back on Chris Cunningham until less anxious times. It was like a kind of Covid-Mirrorball or house-bound Adam Buxton’s Bug.

Above: Michel Gondry’s staggeringly influential work for artists such as Bjork and Radiohead set the tone for new possibilities at the intersection of music and the visual arts.


LBB> And what’s your favourite-ever example of music in an ad? 

Jim> I take a chunk of inspiration from every place where I have worked. BBH’s famous use of music on Levi’s that led to a run of the tracks getting popular airtime and charting. W+K’s eclectic and unformulaic playlist for Nike and Honda. And what we have done at AMV BBDO with Kim Gehrig and Soundtree on Viva la Vulva with Camilla Yarborough’s Take Yo’ Praise.

Above: Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ has become synonymous with Levi’s and the iconic ‘Laundrette’ ad. 


LBB> What’s your process like to find and work with music? 

Jim> Obviously, there’s no one way, and all things are considered. For me personally, music is always there at the start. The concept is a whole world whatever the medium, visuals and branding, and that needs to have music, sounds, and lyrics that fit it and bring it to life. During the pandemic we saw more folk return to watching with sound on - thank goodness. 

In production we will often seek out partners who have great intuition, taste, and experience with music. Or who have come to us via being superstars in the music video world, like Kim Gehrig, Jon Alric from The Blaze, and Floria Sigismondi. We often need to synch with a track, as you would with a pop video before the shoot. Then we’ll get the help of amazing music partners, for music searches and for the crafting and sound design.

LBB> If you could give one piece of advice to production teams about how to handle music, what would it be and why?

Jim> No-one knows anything. It’s always worth a shot. You never know what track is going to stick. It’s difficult to tell in advance which music is going to compliment and reinforce the idea, which track the client might fall in love with and find the money for, and what soundtrack will get the listener’s attention.

LBB> And finally, what music are you listening to now?

Jim> Prince ‘The Beautiful ones’ is my current earworm. I heard it on a borrowed Walkman on a school trip coach to Holland, and have recently been back there, so of course, after a third of a century, it is now stuck on repeat in the internal jukebox.

But recommend breaking out of your playlists with Ludwig Göransson’s podcast Things that Stuck, and ‎The Score. Plus internet radio on Amateurism.

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Genres: Music & Sound Design

Categories: Record Labels, Media and Entertainment

SoStereo, Thu, 12 May 2022 08:23:00 GMT