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You can’t bore people into buying

Watch Peter Souter, Chairman & Chief Creative Officer at TBWA, look back on some of his favourite examples of stories that entertain, excite & disrupt
The only thing that you can’t afford to do in marketing is bore people.
You can’t bore people into buying anything. You have to involve them. You have to speak to their humanity, or their experience, or their needs, or the things that they love, or the things that they hate. And pretty much all, everything you’ve ever enjoyed is in some ways a story. But it is now a thing that creative people should be involved in, should be thinking about. And not accepting the media that suggested it immediately. There’s a great example from TBWA in Australia, where they were asked by ANZ bank to do a quarter page ad in the programme for a gay and lesbian festival there. And instead, they did GAYTM.
Well, sponsorship for Sydney’s gay and lesbian Mardi Gras has delivered a makeover. Ten cashpoints done. GAYTMs… The two things could not be more different but cost exactly the same. So to get eight - I think in the end it was eight - pieces of vacuum formed plastic that fit over an ATM and could be decorated by brilliant local gay artists in a way that attracts people’s attention, actually cost as much as paying for the slots in the programme. Paul and his gang down there, you know, thought that they could do more. If people can see that message from a bank like ANZ, it matters. It works.
And they had ambition, I guess, you know here’s the thing, so much for sponsorship in that context. Imagine banks sponsoring gay Mardi Gras. They’re sort of a little bit embarrassed about it, you know, “We’ll stand here but not too close”. And what they did brilliantly is they put their arm right around the festival, and the intention and the humanity of it. And that’s so much better for the brand. It tells the story of a bank that is proud to have gay and lesbian customers, and celebrates them. William Goldman is the smartest screenwriter in Hollywood.
One piece of guidance - a very grumpy man, it seems to me, in all the videos of his I watch - but he has a great piece of advice,
which is: give the audience what they want, but not the way that they expect. So the disruption for us at TBWA is the “not the way you expect”. In the US, D Rose is a household name. [CAMERA FLASH] A superstar basketball player who played his way off the violent streets of Englewood and onto the nation’s TVs. In the London Borough of Hackney, he’s just some American guy. We had exactly two hours to turn him into an urban icon for kids on council estates. OK, it’s a fairly traditional sporting celebrity endorsement, and yet it’s not at all about him. D Rose jump store, filled with hundreds of pairs of free D Rose signature shoes on shelves ten feet high.
There were no tricks, no technology,
no unrealistic promises: just ten feet of air and 24 seconds of effort between you and your new Adidas D Roses. And you think the ideas, Nick and Steve’s brilliant idea was simply to take the shelf and put it where the basketball hoop is. And that’s the simplicity of the story. And then Walter Campbell’s wonderful storytelling and the way that he captured that. But that storytelling, the idea the Walter has in his head, is that I need to talk to you about what it is to be a great, young, poor, black athlete in this country. And I need to point out to you that that’s exactly what Derrick Rose was.
So last year David Abbot, who was my great hero and my boss, died. But the thing that he was utterly brilliant at, better than anybody, is that when he spoke to 20 million people, he spoke to them one at a time. In the Chivas Regal Because ad, which is, very simply, 20 reasons why a son should buy his dad a bottle of expensive whiskey, what he actually wrote about was simultaneously his own relationship with his father and what he hoped his kids would think of him. And this, of course, they did in the end. But it was wildly autobiographical and hugely personal and yet relevant to everybody who has a dad.
Tremendously movie length details about who this man was came out in this one piece of copy. And although they’re not true of me and my dad, they’re kind of true. It’s a different restaurant, it’s a different clipping, it’s a different way to make me laugh. But it was incredibly insightful in the way that you compel people by having a damn good guess about what they care about. Two weathered, grumpy looking people sitting in a boat. It’s shot about 100 yards off the beach in Brighton, and it was not expensive. But it’s so simple.
Alka Seltzer.
When you’ve eaten something you shouldn’t have. Where’s the guy gone? Oh shit, he’s eaten him. The voice sounds like somebody who genuinely enjoys eating other people and then slightly regrets it because of the acid reflux, not because they’re dead. It’s a wonderful, incredibly simple piece of storytelling. He waits. That’s what he does. The Surfer works because, in an age where people start stabbing the lift button if the door doesn’t close straight away, they’re in that much of a hurry… Tick, follow, tock, follow, tick. …here’s a product that takes two minutes to settle properly. So that’s a disadvantage, isn’t it? I think often the solution is the problem flipped over. Ahab says I don’t care who you are.
So waiting is bad, but anticipation is fantastic.
All the amazing things that come out of it, that really expensive utterly brilliant best ever commercial, comes from a simple insight that waiting can be a good thing. And what is that sensation like? Here’s to waiting. There’s a fantastic logic to it, and it absolutely is about the product. But it’s also the work of a genius, a couple of geniuses, actually. And it’s just magic. (Russian accent) I am Aleksandr, founder of, where we compare meerkats. And you could never fully predict what’s going to work.
I don’t believe that the very clever boys who thought of the meerkats - I must ask them one time- I reckon that they wrote it down and thought, yeah, no, they would never buy that. Are now the most recognised brand in the insurance price comparison sector. It has all these little things in it that are sticky. There are millions of mathematical and scientific things that come together to make it work. But really, two kids, one kid, I’m not sure, sat there and thought, market sounds a bit like meerkats. In what critics are calling… …can’t call that maths and science. That’s creativity, that’s inspiration, that’s silliness, that’s fun.
The big difference between a long form and a short form piece of work is it’s more words. You have to write more. I sold my show to ITV. And then suddenly, having never written a TV show before, I had to write six hours’ worth. And that was quite scary, but it’s also the great liberation. I thoroughly recommend to any young creative that they try to write something else, because it feeds your commercial selling. So I now, having spent four years as a screenwriter, where you earn a lot less than you do as an exectutive creative director, you know, man, I write fast.
I learned that a deadline is good and that you could do much more than you think, and that actually, in an ideal world, if you’ve chosen your character and your story structure well, the characters start to talk to you.
Please note that this video contains some strong language.
Peter Souter is Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of TBWA\London. He’s the former Executive Creative Director of AMV, the former president of D&AD and the former screenwriter of ITV’s ‘Married Single Other’.
In 2013, he got bored of being ‘former’ and is currently throwing his considerable creative energy into making TBWA\London the capital’s creative powerhouse. Peter has a simple yet deadly effective approach to work which, in his world, must be “wonderfully written, beautifully art directed, deeply insightful and thoroughly modern.”
In this interview, Peter explores what he thinks makes a great, and more importantly, engaging story, taking influence from TV, advertising and cinema.
You can watch the full versions of the work Peter talks about by following the links below.
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Storytelling in Advertising

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