Lucky Generals creative directors Nick Bird and Lee Smith call for more laughter in advertising and say that poetry should be left to poets
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, Lucky Generals creative directors Nick Bird and Lee Smith share their creative insight on eliciting emotion and what advertising needs to learn from the lessons of the past year.
LBB> Tell us a bit about your backgrounds and how you came to work together?
Nick Bird> We met on the (now defunct) Hounslow College Copywriting & Art Direction course. It was pretty good at the time and some decent people emerged (Andy Mcleod, Jon Burley etc). You could also get a grant - remember them? Anyway, it all clicked and we’ve been in a loving relationship ever since.
Lee Smith> Aaah, sweet.
LBB> How would you describe your creative style?
Nick> I think it’s probably a strength not to have a certain style. We’re both from pretty working class backgrounds and that definitely makes for a good sense check or touch point when gauging creative work. If there’s a style in the stuff we do, it’s that those who come into contact with it engage with it, like it and hopefully act upon it.
Lee> I don’t think a creative team should have a certain style to be honest. You get to work on so many diverse briefs and you should be able to adapt to each one. The audiences think differently and we should be able to do the same.
LBB> Lucky Generals describes itself as “a creative company for people on a mission” - what is this mission?
Nick> A mission statement in its purest form - the people being the clients we work with and the people that fill the agency. We’re all on a mission.
Lee> We try to make the best work possible and have a lot of fun doing it. The fun and energy involved in making the work definitely gets reflected in the final product.
LBB> In your opinion, what makes a great, memorable ad? And how much do you think emotion plays into this?
Nick> Emotion is a response. And with great response comes great emotiabilty… wait that doesn’t work. Emotion definitely plays it’s part in the outcome; “I fucking hate this ad” or “I fucking love this ad”...that’s two of the biggies right there. But it’s tricky because surely emotion of some kind runs through everything. Funny, serious, shocking, irritating. Sometimes people only equate emotion with ‘tear jerking’. And that’s not the full ticket.
Lee> Emotion done well in advertising has to trigger a response. It might be picking up the phone to make a donation on one of those daytime TV ads. Or something in an ad that makes you laugh or that you can’t help quoting. Remember the Tango ad when kids in the playground were going around slapping each other? I’d say that was pretty memorable, but whether there was much emotion involved is debatable.
LBB> Do you think we see enough emotion in advertising? Has this decreased or increased over the years?
Nick> I see it quite a lot... whether it’s done well is another thing though.
Lee> A fair amount of brands try to play on people's emotions and not in the right way - their guilt, insecurity, inadequacy. The TV audience has grown into a cynical old bunch though and can smell it a mile off.
LBB> What advertising cliches are you bored of seeing? And what do you wish was seen more?
Nick> Too many! And I’d love to see more emotions that are genuine triggers.
Lee> I’ve seen a few of those self aware ‘This is an advert for XXXX’ campaigns. People really don’t care that much about advertising. Also, poetry in advertising continues to be a lazy go-to cliche.
Nick> Yeah, leave poetry to poets. We’re just not in the same league as John Cooper Clark or Benjamin Zephaniah - all ends up sounding a bit GCSE grade.
Lee> We don’t laugh enough when we watch ads. When was the last time you laughed at a TV ad?
LBB> Can you share some examples of work that you feel explore emotion well?
Nick> The christmas ad ‘Ballerina’ we created for Amazon last year was obviously born out of a pretty nuts 2020. The aim was to play back those ups and downs we’d all gone through, but champion that tenacious human spirit and show that with grit and determination, anything is possible.
We created the ‘Cancer is happening right now’ campaign for Cancer Research too. We quickly realised that the emotions we wanted to capture were playing out, for real, in hospitals all over the country. So instead of trying to go down a route of advertising analogies and metaphors, we worked with the makers of 24hrs in A&E and showed it for real. The ups and the downs. It was way more powerful than anything you could make up.
Frank Budgen’s NSPCC cartoon kid ad is still a masterclass in throwing your emotions all over the place. Canned laughter and slapstick visuals, which then land you with a harrowing ending.
LBB> What role do you feel that colour/grade and sound/music can play when it comes to eliciting emotions?
Lee> A grade can definitely be a tool that can trigger certain human responses and basic emotions such as happiness or fear or nostalgia. Great grading goes with how you shoot something and how you style it.
Nick> And music is massively, hugely, vitaly important to the emotion felt in an ad.
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?
Nick> Emotion has got to be well handled and not used gratuitously.
Lee> People today have less and less time for advertising and have become savvy to brands trying to get their attention. The last year has probably highlighted for certain brands to use a lighter touch and be sensitive to people rather than the sledgehammer that they previously used. Which has got to be a good thing.