Mother London head of production Anna Murray says that emotion in advertising needs to do more than just make people feel - it needs to make people take action
Enhancing the emotion of moving image is fundamental to what we do at CHEAT. Behind the scenes we’re invested in innovation to do just that. Years of technical research and development, colour science and film emulation, mean we are constantly finding new ways to deepen our impact on an emotive level in this medium. This is why we’re sponsoring LBB’s 'Emotion in Advertising' strand, exploring the theme through interviews with experts who share our passion.
In this interview with LBB’s Sunna Coleman, Mother London head of production Anna Murray discusses the importance of authenticity and how effective emotion in advertising is so much more than just making us ‘emotional’.
LBB> Where did your interest in advertising come from?
Anna Murray> As a teenager my friends and I papered our walls with pages torn out of magazines. I’ll be honest there was a lot of Take That up there but also loads of ads and a fair amount of film posters (Blockbuster video on the high street would give you the posters after they’d used them in the window - score!).
In the '90s there were so many iconic ads and that must have resonated with me, as let’s be honest, their inclusion took up prime wall real estate in my room that otherwise would have gone to Mark and Robbie. Maybe I just thought they were cool. Possibly I imagined that being involved in making them would be a cool job? Which admittedly doesn’t feel like a very cool thing to own up to but I’d hazard that’s where it started.
LBB> You’ve been at Mother for almost a decade now - what drew you to the company and what do you most love about working there?
Anna> I’ve been really fortunate to work for some incredibly inspirational and creatively minded individuals and companies during my career and Mother is no exception to that.
The first person to give me a shot in production was the legendary Sandy Watson Scott. Then prior to Mother I was at BBH for nearly five years and that experience fundamentally shaped what I know about producing. Leaders like John Hegarty, Frances Royle and Nick Gill really championed production and frequently spoke to the prominence of producers in shaping creative output.
Mother really stood out to me as an agency as the work was brilliant. It was also fiercely independent, which was increasingly uncommon at that point, and it clearly had a creative point of view. It was quite a daunting place to join in all honesty, but that was also exciting. In my time here I’ve been very fortunate to work with some incredible people, not only Robert Saville and the founding partners of course, but many others that I respect, love working with and genuinely call friends.
LBB> What piece of work are you most proud of in your career so far?
Anna> Of course, I’m proud of the jobs that picked up a few awards or the ones my mum actually ‘got’. But I’m most proud of the work that’s come out of Mother in the last year. Covid19 has had unparalleled repercussions on what we can make and how we can make it. I take my hat off to everyone in production at Mother for doing what they’ve done over the past year and still continue to do every day. They make me very proud. It goes without saying that I also take that same hat off to all the other agency production departments, our production company friends and all other production partners we work with.
Some people say that 2020 wasn’t the best year for agency creative output but given the circumstances and the limitations, I think I’d challenge that.
LBB> How would you describe your creative process and how has that changed over the years?
Anna> I wouldn’t necessarily claim to have a creative process but I’d like to think I try to make the process creative. We need process in production otherwise we would never get round to actually making anything. However, at Mother certainly, it’s not process for process’s sake. But of course, we have increasingly challenging logistics to deal with and as such we’ve had to look at a system to balance our obligations to clients and partners in terms of budgets, timings and feasibility while still looking to make the best work we can.
LBB> Drawing from your years of experience, what elements do you think make a successful and memorable ad?
Anna> A great idea and a great execution. I’m definitely not the first to say it and many people will have said it better than me. But a great idea that’s not executed properly, be that down to making the wrong call, or not having enough money or time to pull it off, isn’t going to hit home and really resonate with someone. Equally, you could have the most crafted piece of work that cost a tonne of money but if no one gets it or it doesn’t speak to them it won’t land.
LBB> Your recent IKEA ad, ‘Fortune Favours the Frugal’ touches upon some really important issues in the world right now but presents it in an uplifting way. Can you tell us about the creative and ideas behind it?
Anna> Our first thought on the brief was: how do we cut through the sea of sameness that exists around sustainability? We’ve all seen enough wheat fields and wind farms to last a lifetime so we wanted to do something a little different. The next question was: how do we highlight the urgency surrounding climate change, without losing the positivity IKEA is so well known for? It’s no easy task, but when the idea of a trash meteor on a collision course with Earth came up, the team knew it was the one. It had everything we love to see in an IKEA script: a strong, simple narrative, great music, and a slightly out of this world visual (yes, pun intended.)
LBB> You also worked on your first campaign for Samsung with ‘Onions’. How did you approach this brief? What were the challenges and most memorable moments for you?
Anna> We all knew we weren’t looking to focus on megapixels or zoom capabilities for this project. We wanted to look into the artistic side of photography which is what led us to ‘Inspired by a True Photo’ - a campaign where we would use real-life photos, shot on the Samsung Galaxy smartphone, to inspire the creative process.
For the first exploration into this we came to TV production without a script, we just had a photo. Somesuch were really into it and director Sam Hibbard came back with a brilliant treatment that took inspiration from what was effectively a picture of a big bag of onions. We then had just three weeks from start to finish to make it (during a pandemic) which was pretty tight. But we had a fantastic client who trusted in what had to be a non-standard process, and Somesuch as great partners. I think we ended up with a really lovely, charming piece of film to show for it. Who knew so much emotion could come from a bag of onions?
LBB> In your opinion, do you think we see enough emotion in advertising? Has this decreased or increased over the years?
Anna> Most good advertising utilises emotion in some form or another. As we have a very limited time period, using emotional hooks allows us shorthand our storytelling and get and keep interest. There’s such a range of emotions we can use to make that connection with a viewer. I think we naturally think that something ‘emotional’ might make us cry but it might equally make us laugh or it might just make us think.
The new media landscapes now mean we’re working to different formats and communicating in different ways than we used to. Be that six second pre-rolls, Instagram stories or the myriad of other media out there. They are certainly more challenging in the respect of emotional engagement but I think we’re all learning more every day and are bringing increasingly creative solutions to this.
LBB> What emotions do you wish were explored more within advertising?
Anna> Authentic ones. The emotional response you elicit needs to work with the brand and the message you’re putting out there. If it’s not authentic or is oddly shoehorned in, then it can do the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve and actually turn people off.
LBB> What advertising cliches are you bored of seeing?
Anna> There’s been some real progress made in the last few years in looking at the role we play in perpetuating stereotypes in advertising. It’s really encouraging and positive that we’re all (agencies, production companies and clients) really considering how we portray stories and characters on screen. The space the content we create occupies in people’s daily lives means the daily decisions we make on this are really important.
LBB> Can you share some examples of work that explore emotion well?
Anna> For me our Rang-tan Greenpeace work does this really well. It tells you an important story in a really engaging, beautiful and poignant way. I’ve watched it dozens of times and it always makes me well up. But it leaves me feeling more than just sad for the orangutans. It has genuinely made me look at how I behave and what difference I might be able to make. That’s the key for me, if you can make someone feel something that’s one thing but if you can make them do something that’s another. I now look for palm oil in the products I buy and try to avoid it. Job done.
Outside of Mother, I’ve always loved Nike’s advertising through W+K. They utilise and harness emotion so well and their filmmaking is always on point.
LBB> What role do you feel that colour/grade and sound/music can play when it comes to eliciting emotions?
Anna> By virtue of being married to a sound designer I’m now unable to watch anything without thinking about the audio aspect of it. Mainly because he won’t let me watch anything without talking about it. But that aside, the role that colour and audio bring to a project is fundamental. The process doesn’t stop at the shoot, or the edit, or the shot selection. The craft after that brings the detail, the nuance and the layering that leads us in a particular direction emotionally. It’s also weirdly subconscious a lot of the time. It’s Jedi mind trick territory.
LBB> Moving on to the future, do you think that the struggles of the past year have taught us anything about the impact of emotion in advertising?
Anna> The last year has been exceptional in terms of shifts in culture and society; Covid-19, Black Lives Matter, environmental awareness and the continued discourse around #metoo and female empowerment.
Emotion is woven through everything we make and the impact of what we make is substantial. Therefore we have a responsibility to use our platforms thoughtfully. We all joke that by working in advertising we’re not saving the world but by being aware of our everyday decisions in the work we make, how we make it and importantly who we make it with, we might actually be able to make a difference.