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The Big Bean Creators Talk Embarrassment, Dark Humour and Going Viral

Advertising Agency
London, UK
Tom Snell and Dylan Hartigan, creatives at The Or London, tell LBB’s Zoe Antonov about their recent success in creating a monster Heinz bean, making blankets for naked football fans and what advertising bootcamp was like

You might know Tom Snell and Dylan Hartigan, creatives at The Or London, from their infamous ‘Big Bean’ stunt earlier this month, where they created a massive Heinz bean. Originally, the big bean surfaced as an idea for Tom and Dylan back in Watford, two years ago, as an Easter thing - “We thought it would be funny if Heinz did a big orange Easter egg that looked like a giant baked bean,” they share. Although their tutor at the time didn’t approve of this creation, they decided to bring it back this year, but scrapped the whole Easter egg thing, as a giant baked bean made of two tins of real baked beans mushed together somehow seemed more sensible. “Creating the label and shooting the bean felt like the cherry on top. We wanted to make people believe that it was a genuine Heinz product.”

While the boys didn’t expect their bean to get as much attention as it did, once it started getting coverage things really picked up and the big Heinz bean took them places they never thought it would. “From Tom’s local newspaper in Hereford, all the way to LadBible, ITV and New York Post,” they say. “It’s probably because it’s blurring the boundary between funny and outright repulsive. People want to look away, but they can’t.” Seeing the bean reach ‘The Late Show’ in America was also a crazy experience for Tom and Dylan and they even saw it pop up as a quiz question on ‘Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway’. “The dream is to see an idea percolate its way into civilian culture,” the two say. “The ad world often gets too hung up on what other ad people think, so it’s exciting when everyday people resonate with something.”

However, Tom and Dylan’s story of partnership and insane ideas stretches way beyond the big bean. The two met at ad school in 2020, attending Tony Cullingham’s Watford course after they had just finished university - and this is where their partnership is rooted. Prior to the meeting, Tom had left Exeter university after a business degree and was not feeling particularly inspired - he felt he was craving something more creative, especially when he caught himself trying to infuse imagination into his short stints in tech (where it didn’t fit too well). Once he heard about the Watford course from a friend of his, he knew he had to take the leap with the ultimate goal to satisfy his creative hunger.

On the flip side, Dylan had just finished a graphic design degree in Bristol, so he was no stranger to imagination. He even ran a clothing brand called ‘OiBoy’, which quickly ran the pipeline from selling shirts to mates, to being featured at London Fashion Week and stocked in Selfridges. Besides this, he was working as a postman while trying to get his foot through adland’s door. When he handed in his portfolio to Wieden & Kennedy they took a look and said ‘You’ve got no advertising in here’, and told him to go to Watford.

At the course where they met, Tom and Dylan were wrangling about five briefs a day with different partners in an intenser advertising boot camp. “You get your ideas killed quicker than you can even come up with them,” they say. “You think your idea is great, but you’re soon humbled by a big red ‘IRRELEVANT’ stamp pressed onto your poster. Tony [their mentor on the course] used to tell us to never get too attached to an idea. Or ‘kill your babies’, as he’d say.” This kind of tough love is what made both Tom and Dylan resilient to the real world of advertising. Towards the end of the course, things got very ‘Love Island-y’ as everybody was secretly speaking of pairing up. “You hear whispers that X is thinking of partnering up with X, then panic sets in. Mind games everywhere. I think we both knew we wanted to work with each other,” explains Tom. “Whenever we did briefs together it just seemed to click. We had similar tastes, and our writing and art directing skills complemented each other very well.”

Weird stuff starts rolling in quite quickly, especially when you’re at an advertising boot camp and tutors come up with impossible things to sell. The first spec brief the pair had to work on together was to advertise the Channel 4 TV show, ‘Married to a Paedophile’. They wrote a bunch of really dark stuff, but ended up winning with this…

“We won Tony’s ‘Campaign of The Week’, which felt like we’d just won a Cannes Lion. It was so exciting. We both loved the edginess of writing and art directing something so provocative, and that one poster really motivated us to keep doing similar stuff. I showed my mum and she said, ‘Gosh Tom, that’s a bit dark’.” So, looking for a similar reaction from Tom’s mum in the future, the two kept going full-force.

The first real project they got out in the world was a self-initiated project aimed at raising awareness of sexual harassment in nightclubs, which they called ‘Change The Lineup’ and remains one of the projects they’re most proud of today. “It was an issue we both felt strongly about, especially with the country emerging from lockdown and flocking to clubs, so finding a creative solution to it was super rewarding,” the two say. “We had a really clear vision of the visual world we wanted to create, the tone, and for how we wanted the message to come across. We tried to get a brand or a charity involved but with no luck, so we went out into the world and did it ourselves. It ended up starting genuine conversations around the topic outside of just industry press, which was a real win for us. We then saw a big agency do a suspiciously similar idea a year later.”

Regardless of the hesitation from client side in the past, Tom and Dylan are super passionate about side projects and one-offs. “When you’re working day-to-day on real brands, it’s a nice relief to just create stuff that doesn’t need a big brand platform behind it,” Dylan says. “Ever since Watford, we always note stuff down in our notepads when little ideas come to us. Then we’ll meet up on the weekend and try to make stuff for real. A lot of the time they’re completely nonsensical, but that’s the fun of it.” They hope that by adding those one off ideas they can give future clients an idea of their creative style. One such project is their Stone Island transfer tattoos. ‘Getting the badge in’ seemed to be big in culture at the time, so the pair thought Stone Island fans should always be able to ‘get the badge in’, even when it’s too hot for a t-shirt. “Sometimes advertising gets a bit serious, but it’s often the weird stuff that people remember the most.”

When it comes to their creative style and how each of their work patterns match together, they go back to the way of creative thinking that was drilled into them at Watford. To both Tom and Dylan, there are certain things that always help kickstart an idea, like a human truth or a relatable insight - those are the things that, to them, make an idea solid. “So we’ll always try and make sure all our ideas have that embedded within them.” Even though Tom is a copywriter and Dylan is an art director, they always work through ideas together - they sit, chat, agree, disagree, laugh, write and draw until they reach the desired goal.

Of course, it’s not all chit-chat and laughs - creative disagreements between the two are a huge part of the process, but they believe that if their opinions matched fully they’d never get anywhere with an idea. “When people ask us why creatives work in pairs, it’s always the answer we give - so you can have someone to tell you your idea is shit. It’s that constant bouncing ideas back and forth that helps form bigger, better thoughts. Then if we still disagree, we’ll have a sprinting race outside on the street. Winner gets their idea. Then if that’s a draw, we’ll take it to someone more senior and they can decide.”

And while they believe they have each other for damage control - or telling the other when an idea is really bad - one of their favourite projects together is one they were certain won’t take off, because of how wild it was. Back during the Football World Cup in 2022, which was taking place for the first time in the UK’s winter months, English football fan culture felt like a ripe territory for disruption. 

“The one thing that stood out to us the most was that English fans always get naked during the World Cup. Shirts-off hours before kick off, sometimes even more. We’ve all seen them in the Daily Mail. We knew the cold weather wouldn't stop them. So we thought we should create an England flag that doubled as a blanket.” While Tom and Dylan couldn’t work out if the idea was good enough between themselves, they ended up pitching it to everyone at work. Their colleagues loved it instantly and got behind it, helping them make it a reality. Although done with a small budget, the pair ended up thrilled with the end result. 

“The flags were fully waterproof, insulated like a puffer jacket and each featured a bespoke label with a poem describing what it’s like to be an England fan. We worked with some amazingly talented people to make it happen - the team from Art Of Football, our textile designer Molly Sellars and photographer Aria Shahrokhshahi. The final images were better than we ever imagined, fully capturing that gritty reality of fan culture and the hope that comes around every four years.”

While Tom and Dylan’s very specific humour is something that works for some markets, others might not be quite ready for it yet, and they both know it. While still working out how to infuse their creativity with their personal style and wit, they’re slowly but steadily learning what works where and which parts of popular culture are prepared for the powerhouse that they are. “We’ve had plenty of situations where we’re presenting what we think is comedic genius to a client and they’re sat there staring back at us completely deadpan. Or the complete opposite, where you’re presenting a deadly serious idea and you get a laugh. Embarrassment is something we’ve learned to ignore. You’ve just got to ‘throw mud at the wall and see what sticks’ as they say.”

That approach seems to be working - regardless of if it’s a campaign about sexual harassment or the creation of a monster bean. This translates into awards too - last year Tom and Dylan won the Harry’s Razors account and since then they’ve been developing a new brand platform and campaign for them. “We’re super happy with how it’s gone, it still makes us laugh, and we can’t wait to share it with the world. It feels like exactly the type of work we want to continue making in the future.”

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