At OKAY STUDIO we’ve become known for eye-opening campaigns, made by creatives that go that little bit further - ensuring that the work really means something.
We believe that advertising, and film in particular, has the power to enact cultural shifts that will take us closer to a society that is fairer for all. That is why we are thrilled to support this LBB interview series to hear about our industry peers’ favourite ground-breaking work, the kind of pieces that make you stop and think.
Today, we speak with the UK partners of the creative studio Object & Animal, Dominic Thomas and Morgan Clement. Here, the pair reflect on the taboo-busting campaigns that inspired them, the best ways to cut through modern multi-platform noise, and how TikTok helped them get through lockdown…
Q> Hello, Dom and Morgan! Thanks for taking the time to chat. Great advertising has the ability to break social taboos, and transform society. Looking back, was there a particular campaign or piece of work which really resonated with you in your formative years?
Hello! I was lucky enough to work with Frank Budgen
earlier in my career, and his ‘Cartoon’ film for NSPCC has really stayed with me. The light and dark between the Roger Rabbit style animation and the live action performance creates a nightmarish feel. It’s such a clever idea, so well crafted and haunting. Simply, it makes you think - which is what great advertising is about. We don’t really talk about domestic abuse, especially with regard to children, and I get it - it’s such a heavy subject and people are busy living their lives - so these campaigns and the work these charities undertake really makes a huge difference to young people. And thanks to Frank’s skills as a filmmaker I’m sure this had a huge impact at the time.
Morgan> I was obsessed with those DVDs with ‘The Work of Jon Glazer, Spike Jonze, etc..’ which were mostly music videos, but would include some iconic commercial work as well. So I always had it lodged in my consciousness that music videos and commercials can affect culture, and push the boundaries of what’s acceptable.
Q> And has there been a recent piece of work that you feel has broken taboos and had a transformative effect?
Dom> Yes, many! The incredible work Libresse has done, or Dove’s ‘Reverse Selfie’, Gillette’s ‘The Best A Man Can Be’, or Nike’s work with Colin Kaepernick and ‘Dream Crazier’, Beats ‘You Love Me’, Greenpeace ‘Rangtan’… even when there’s a backlash it shows the work is really cutting through. It’s touching a nerve and sparking a debate, and hopefully making people think about their behaviour, the decisions they make and examples they set.
Morgan> Genuinely, and not just because it’s one of our pieces, I think the new H&M Swimwear suite that Amber Grace Johnson directed is such a simple but significant piece of work. Just having never seen a campaign of that scale featuring plus-size cast for swimwear, when campaigns go beyond just box-ticking and flip the accepted standards on their head, that’s when I think things become transformative.
Above: Amber Grace Johnson’s work with H&M celebrates all body types and forms
Q> Looking at your own careers, is there a project which you have worked on that you feel stands out as especially significant for you personally?
Morgan> There was a project which Dom and I both worked on which unfortunately never saw the light of day - it was quite a large scale project, but turned out to be ahead of it’s time for where the industry was, it was too black, too queer and ended up falling at the last hurdle because the brand wasn’t prepared to take the perceived risk. It felt like most brands weren’t ready to make that kind of statement. Thankfully the landscape has changed since then, and the experience of that project did nothing but reaffirm that this was the type of work we wanted to be making more of.
Dom> Absolutely. We founded Object & Animal on the basis of ‘Impact Production’ so we’re proud of any project that pushes social reform, and we really pour our hearts into those opportunities.
Amber Grace Johnson’s ‘Mozart’ for Free The Work
really stands out for us, as it was there to give a voice to so many filmmakers we respect that hadn’t had the same opportunities as some of their white, male, straight counterparts. Having that screen during Cannes Lions in front of most of the industry felt like a pivotal moment in realising that ambition for us as a company, but it’s in the subsequent two years where we’ve noticed the most change in the breadth of different voices starting to breakthrough that is most encouraging, even though there’s still a long way to go, it’s been great to track that progress.
More recently Natalie Rae’s ‘Play New: A New Day’ for Nike
to reclaim the joy of sport by highlighting the systemic abuse of Korean athletes by their coaches and showing that there is ‘another way’ - it was such a brave and important statement to have made and Natalie, Nike, W+K Tokyo, DOP Rina Yang and editor Tom Lindsay and the whole team really nailed how to tackle a super sensitive issue with care. They balanced that with the fun and freedom sport should offer all young people.
Q> Given the upheavals of the past year and a half, both in terms of the pandemic and with technology, do you think that advertising still has the power to move hearts and minds en-masse? Can creativity still transform society?
Morgan> There’s maybe no better time for advertising to come back in full force and go back to the braver, stronger creative ideas - we’re living in a time where a kid in their bedroom can have a greater reach than a full worldwide media spend. A killer idea, perfectly crafted, will still cut through the noise and make an impact.
Dom> Tech has evolved to suit the way we want to consume media, the immediacy and convenience of it, the cross-border nature of it, so in that sense it is easier to reach that audience than ever before, but it’s the cutting through all the noise to really engage with an audience that takes the most effort and that’s where great stories, craft and collaboration come into full effect.
This year alone we’ve been lucky enough to be involved in a number of such projects with really talented teams across the globe, whether that’s tackling abuse in sports (Nike by Natalie Rae), challenging preconceived ideas of what it means to be a woman (Quinn Wilson for Billie), championing Asian heritage and culture in the wake of anti-Asian sentiment in the US (Facebook by Christine Yuan), showing the personal and environmental benefits of switching up ones diet (Sainsbury’s by Filip Nilsson), or celebrating body-positivity and anti-trolling for a swimwear campaign (H&M by Amber Grace Johnson) - so yes, there’s definitely the scope and desire to impact on society in a positive way - it will be interesting to see how certain brands rise to the challenge of tackling racism in football and what difference that can make. Let’s see...
Q> Morgan, you have a background and expertise in music. Leaving advertising aside for a moment, do you feel that there is something unique about music in its power to make us feel something deeply?
Morgan> Music is the shortcut to making people connect on a deeper level. Music and music videos are ingrained in the DNA of Object & Animal as it’s always been a space for us to explore really creative ideas, and create work which has cultural significance.
I don’t think we can separate advertising from this entirely, as music is one of the key tools advertisers use to connect to their audience. Agencies and brands are realising also that for their work to resonate they need to be collaborating with companies and directors who are authentically part of this music culture, not just sitting on the surface.
Above: Subservient Chicken out of Crispin, Porter + Bogusky
Q> I’ve noticed that you’ve also been involved in some of the more out-of-the-box creative ideas of recent times, including Pot Noodle: The Musical. What kind of creative process do you use to land on these ideas, and how do you know once you’ve ‘struck gold’ as it were?
Morgan> One of the first commercial jobs I worked on as a junior PA was Subservient Chicken out of Crispin, Porter + Bogusky. It was one of the first integrated campaigns of its kind and basically involved weeks of telling someone in a chicken costume to do random actions - I think from there it really opened my eyes to how advertising can be pretty much anything, and I naturally gravitated to those projects like Pot Noodle: The Musical, which fit just outside of the traditional 60” TVC. I still find these kinds of projects the most exciting.
Q> Dom, a couple of years ago you noted that ‘future production needs to be as versatile as possible'. Do you think you’ve been proven right, and will that trend of versatility continue into the future?
Dom> Absolutely, I think that still rings true. Our world is constantly in a state of flux; be that politics, climate, human rights, economics, trends - and brands need to respond to those changing landscapes. We are no different, we exist in the same ecosystem. For us it was always about embracing those changes and challenges, to think and act differently, and continuing to learn as we move forward, but ultimately a big part of what we do is problem solving, putting together the right team for the job, and creating a safe space to make the best work possible.
Really, the pandemic has just highlighted that need for versatility and accelerated it across the board in the most obvious ways. What will be interesting is seeing to what degree people want to ‘go back’ or embrace the ‘new normal’ and the opportunities that come as a result.
Q> If you could both give one piece of advice to a young person looking to get their break in the industry today, what would it be and why?
Morgan> Ha, I spend a lot of my time asking advice from young people! Their understanding of the world and their willingness to put intent into action is so impressive. The only thing I personally would give as advice is to not let any perceived gate-keeping deter you from getting into the industry. Also, it’s not a process which happens overnight - every shoot is an opportunity to make yourself useful and to learn a new skill.
Dom> There’s no right or wrong way to get into the industry if you’re truly passionate about the work you’re making. Everything is connected so continue to broaden your horizons, as your life-experiences will give your work more depth and help you stay grounded. And make sure you study the greats like Budgen, Glazer, and Gehrig!
Q> Post-production house OKAY STUDIO is supporting this interview series. From your perspectives as producers, in what ways can great post elevate a piece of work?
Dom> Having the confidence to pursue a specific vision, and go down a certain route to achieve it is the make or break of any production. We like to engage our post production partners before we’ve even pitched or won a job. That’s because the service that they offer at the conception stage is absolutely fundamental to the success of a project, to achieving a shot, or creating an environment on schedule and budget. Hopefully it also means we never get a Batman ‘fix it in post’ slap in the face.
Q> And finally, the past year has been a challenging one for many. How have you both been staying creatively inspired throughout it all?
Morgan> It’s really the roster of directors and photographers who have taken the challenges of the past year and risen to the occasion that inspires me - that ‘no-challenge-is-too-great’ attitude is infectious.
Dom> Yup. Well, that and TikTok ;)