Wieden+Kennedy creatives Tom Bender and Tom Corcoran on how they really felt about Nike’s Londoner campaign and the importance of knowing your audience to create something that will stand out
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.
LBB’s Natasha Patel catches up with Wieden+Kennedy’s creative duo Tom Bender and Tom Corcoran to hear about their time on Nike’s Londoner campaign, why advertising is a means of problem solving and how music is one of the most powerful ways to evoke emotion.
LBB> Neither of you took the ‘traditional’ route into the advertising industry - so where did your interests in creativity begin?
Tom Bender and Tom Corcoran> We were lucky enough to recognise that we both wanted to pursue our interest in something creative at school, but to be completely honest the fear of doing shit jobs like our parents was enough to force us to look for fun jobs. Advertising was just a place in which we ended up rather than it being a conscious choice. The creative department is so open, as long as you have good ideas you can get in - no qualifications necessary.
LBB> Tom B you studied industrial design and Tom C you studied English, how has this impacted the way you view advertising?
Tom B and Tom C> Having non-traditional backgrounds has always given us a different perspective on advertising - we never drank the Kool-Aid of ad-school so we came to it being pretty realistic that most ads are shit and this drives us to try and to not make shit.
We have very different perspectives on the world - Tom B is extremely visual while Tom C is more copy focused but both of us share the vision for good ideas. Our backgrounds have that shared value.
LBB> You mentioned that you view your jobs in advertising as a means to ‘problem solve’. Tell us more about this.
Tom B and Tom C> If a struggling brand comes to an agency it’s our job to work out what is wrong and how best to fix it, no matter the execution - it could be a new product, it could be a TV campaign, it could be anything. The strategic role as creatives is to identify where the issues are as well as how to respond to them.
LBB> The Nike Londoner campaign is a favourite of so many, but the story behind it and what you managed to achieve with the youngsters and sport is so moving. What was it like to work on this?
Tom B and Tom C> The research that went into this project was probably the most interesting thing about it. Every scene was based on a real story or situation of a real kid we found in research. Slamming together that authenticity with Nike’s Hollywood-esque production level made something quite unique, we thought.
At the end of the project we were, to be honest, completely shattered. We still haven’t quite shaken the PTSD of it all, but it was amazing to get on a bus and hear kids repeating the ad to each other - that made the whole thing worth it.
LBB> This campaign ignited a lot of emotions in a lot of people. What were you hoping to make viewers feel?
Tom B and Tom C> Pride. The project was the first ‘city-attack’ project from Nike and by getting under the skin of the city, we ensured that we were able to illuminate a part of the city’s identity. The flip of the cocky, more American ‘one-upmanship’ to a more humble ‘one-downmanship’ hit a nerve and made it unique and relevant for that moment.
LBB> You mentioned that at the start of your careers there wasn’t a need for creating ideas that are entertaining. How important is it to create a compelling story now?
Tom B and Tom C> We joined the industry right on the end of a wave of different shaped agencies popping up creating non-traditional creative products - things that would create headlines without needing any story or film asset.
But with the rise of social video formats, every idea regardless of it being a PR stunt or an experiential idea, needs a film and it makes total sense - an experience is great for someone who has it but it’s pointless for 99% of people who don’t. So it’s not simply about coming up with a great idea - it’s about then creating a narrative and assets around that thing so more of the audience can engage with it.
LBB> In your opinions, how can advertising and emotion work well together to get a message across?
Tom B and Tom C> We think it’s important to understand your audience and the reason you are doing something. We really like to push the strategy on everything we work on to make sure that what we are doing will resonate with an audience, emotion is just a reaction to how connected we are to an idea.
Working on Liverpool FC recently we had so many good insights into the city and its people, we opened the film with the word ‘England’ being crossed out and replaced by ‘Liverpool’ - this was commented on by so many Scousers due to their belief about feeling independent from the UK. This was a powerful emotional response from something really simple, but it connected the audience with an idea and this is how we see work being most effective.
LBB> Social media, and in particular TikTok and Snapchat, has caused a rise in shorter video formats – and shorter attention spans. What do you think this means for the future of advertising?
Tom B and Tom C> We started our career in advertising with everyone throwing pens at us screaming: ‘film is dead!’ But the platforms that have partially replaced TV are literally called things like ‘stories’.
Humans crave good stories, long or short, so it’s simply about learning and adapting to those platforms and being willing to be flexible in how we bring ideas to life. The whole industry was the same for so long it’s not a surprise that it’s going to take some time for brands and agencies to adjust to these relatively new forms of media. As long as the core idea is good it shouldn’t matter too much what the format is - that’s just the challenge of the job.
LBB> Is there a challenge in triggering emotions in such a short space of time and how do you see this playing out?
Tom B and Tom C> Time probably isn’t that relevant to be honest - it might be a misconception that you need hours of time to convey emotion or elicit an emotional response from an audience. I think it depends more on the specific emotion, clearly a ten second TikTok campaign isn’t going to send people into floods of tears, but you can quickly trigger humour, schock, awe and almost every other emotion. It’s all about considering your media and working around that.
LBB> The Three advert you both worked on is a very memorable one and music obviously plays such a big part in this. Tell us why and how you think the music in a campaign has the power to evoke emotions?
Tom B and Tom C> Music is obviously one of the most powerful tools when it comes to people’s emotional state. Put Hans Zimmer over the top of a cat taking a poo and you’ve got a good chance of making people well up with tears. Put joyous music over someone getting brutally tortured like Tarantino and you turn something horrible into comedy.
You can have one film but ten different emotional outtakes depending on the music. We have worked with countless music searching companies and it’s people that understand this like Mr Pape, that really make that job easier for us.
LBB> How important is it to touch viewers in an emotional way especially right now?
Tom B and Tom C> We are very aware that viewers are becoming more and more savvy to brand communication, and this makes things more complicated for marketeers. We can’t simply do emotional advertising without really considering the landscape of other work, we saw a wave of emotional manifesto adverts made from Getty images after Covid-19 hit and the public became bored pretty quick.
So for us it’s about taking the temperature of the country and then look at doing something that they haven’t seen yet - something that will stand out, regardless of a specific emotion.
LBB> What are your favourite examples of emotions in advertising?
Tom B and Tom C> We don’t watch many adverts but this interview has made us realise that there should be more adverts that elicit the emotions of fear and disgust. That will be our goal going forward.