The Goldstein Awards!

September 8, 2010 1 comment

When TBWA-Whybin cast Stephen Mellor cast in the role of Ira Goldstein all those years ago who would’ve guessed that the campaign was destined to become one of the most popular in NZ television history?

Concept-wise the campaign was smart, snappy and enabled the fun delivery of some fairly dry banking product benefits. But it’s doubtful anyone thought it was a high-water mark of originality or creativity. So what was the secret ingredient that lifted the campaign to legendary status, dominating viewer popularity surveys for a decade?

Put simply, Stephen himself.

It was his personal charm, comic timing and sense of character that New Zealanders connected with. It was Stephen they laughed at, his pitch-perfect goofy delivery that they enjoyed rewatching often enough to pick up on the latest ASB interest rate.  He gave genuine personality to the brand, which, in the banking sector, is a real achievement.

This is not to downplay the contributions of the agency team, the production company and the other actors; but the fact is that when the cameras rolled, it was Stephen Mellor’s magic that made it work.

As the curtain is likely to finally come down on the Goldstein era, we here at Motley, Punting & Shiller want to take this opportunity to recognise more outstanding work from actors in local campaigns. We doubt anyone is about to take Stephen’s crown as the most beloved character in advertising, but all of these people manage to lift the material off the page, and in one of the most demanding performance environments an actor can experience, deliver priceless moments.

Ladies and gentlemen, Motley, Punting & Shiller are proud to present…

The Goldstein Awards.

Down the Barrel

Appearing natural while talking to a strange three-legged contraption is no easy task, as many owner-operator spots attest. Even experienced broadcasters and performers can miss the mark and come off as stiff and wooden while trying to look authoritative and credible in areas far outside their expertise. Strange nervous hand gestures, slightly deranged smiles and rabbit-in-the-headlights sports ‘personalities’ abound in this sector. Which is why the fresh, easy charm of our first winner stands out head and shoulders above the competition – no easy feat for a man of his stature!

Jared Turner’s work for EECNZ’s Energy Spot ads is some of the best to-camera presenting we have ever seen. Effortlessly natural, he doesn’t rely on any character veneer to carry him through. He is warmly and bravely himself. His credibility is sold not by props like a suit and tie, frown and stentorian tones, but by his open smile and sincere, direct gaze. Clearly, he believes what he’s saying to be true, so doesn’t need to sell it.

Yes, this may be helped by the public service rather than nakedly commercial message, but even so his achievement is notable. Presenting to camera may be one of those areas where it’s hard to comprehend just how incredibly difficult it is to do well until you try it. Jarred shows how it should be done.

Making it Work

Continuing on the theme of warmth and charm here is one of the highly popular Mitre 10 ‘It’s in our DNA’ spots from Draft FCB.

The performance key to this ad, for our money, is not so much the kids – who are, yes, naturally cute, but also layered in wardrobe in order to sell the gags. It’s their teacher, played by Kiri Lightfoot, who not only has a perfect girl-next-door look, but with her recognisable, totally believable ‘kindy teacher tone’ makes the commercial work, despite relatively little screen time. A credible mixture of warmth plus no-nonsense in her manner grounds the otherwise over-the-top puns and makes them funny. Put simply, because she’s not at all silly, the silly names pay off. It came as no surprise to learn that Ms. Lightfoot has a background working with kids.

But it’s not just for that ad that Kiri wins the Goldstein. It’s for this.

In the shot when the waiter appears she hits a beautifully endearing note of flustered innocence to miraculous effect:  The audience falls immediately in love with the character and forgives a premise so ludicrous it might’ve killed the ad – the idea that anyone would take instant coffee to an Italian café. For making an ad that could easily have been deeply annoying totally lovable instead, she deserves huge credit.

Viral Outbreak

L&P’s ‘Tourism Paeroa’ online campaign from Ogilvy could only work with a couple of consummate professionals in the lead roles. In Cohen Holloway & Peter Hambleton they found two performers whose contribution to the campaign went far beyond simply reading lines. Unlike the other winners they did have the luxury of multiple long videos to work with, but their work is of such quality they had to be mentioned. Clearly containing significant amounts of improvisation the fly-on-the-wall/mockumentary spots played to the strengths of the online channel. The genius of Cohen and Peter’s work is that while extracting laughs from a couple of bumbling small-town idiots they never lose affection for them, and neither do we. It’s a quintessentially Kiwi style of humour which perfectly suits a quintessentially Kiwi brand.

The One-Liner

Our final award recognises a performance which is the distillation of everything difficult about TVC acting. One shot, one look, one line, upon which hinges the entire operation; months of work from scores of people, a set full of crew, agency, clients, money dripping away and the tension rising with each take.

Sound, speed…action!

The final Goldstein goes to Erroll Shand for Stihl Chainsaws – ‘Bequeathed’. The punchline of this ad is a classic reveal, pulling the carpet out from beneath the audience and creating maximum engagement just as we hit the product shot. In order to work as well as it does, the line has to be placed with incredible intelligence and care. The character can’t just blurt it out insensitively or we’ll recoil at the bad taste. He has to walk a tightrope. Watch again and see how much is going on during the line. We know he’s lying, we sense his excitement at his own chutzpah, yet it’s concealed beneath an expression of grief so as not to break the reality of the scene, or give away the lie. It’s a brilliant, complex comedic moment, and the director wisely lingers on it to pick up as much of the performance as he can, as well as the beautiful contrasting support from the other actor.

The busy team at Motley, Punting & Shiller concede we may have missed some other outstanding performances, so are willing to present some supplementary awards on suggestion from the audience. In the meantime, please join us in congratulating the winners. We also congratulate those who gave the winners their opportunity to shine, as well as the fine post-production work which complements all of the highlighted comments.

Thanks for visiting.

Categories: Uncategorized

Sowing the SEEyDs of doom?

August 19, 2010 2 comments

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The December Brother opened at Downstage last weekend to generally positive reviews. With SEEyD, Tim Spite has carved a niche creating work that speaks to and about contemporary New Zealand society, with a thought-provoking directness that is all but Brechtian.

But, for the purposes of this blog, what interests me is not the main bill presentation itself, but the short advertisement beforehand. John Smythe calls it a community service announcement  but it is a commissioned advertisement according to NZTA and their Advertising Manager. It’s allied with the huge ongoing Road Safety campaign for the NZ Transport Agency that Clemenger BBDO has managed for many years. The campaign has been no stranger to controversy in the past, usually for the use of graphic content to drive the safety message home. It’s unequivocally a positive societal message, though, rather than a commercial one, and this tends to give NZTA a public mandate to push boundaries. Now, however, they have pushed through a boundary of another kind and into the theatre space.

This initiative came about through ClemengerBBDO seeking alternative effective channels for their client’s message. Perhaps it was literally one of those ‘staring out the window’ revelations, as the ClemengerBBDO Wellington office is directly across the road from Downstage! Those of us in the theatre should take it as a compliment that our ancient industry is seen as a viable and unique communication format by people whose focus these days in increasingly on the new technology-dependent media.

Tim Spite’s working relationship with ClemengerBBDO dates back to the days of the famous National Bank Cricket campaign where Tim played the apprentice groundskeeper. In the years since he’s voiced innumerable radio and TV work for the agency. As such, when the idea came to move into the theatrical arena, Tim was a natural choice as go-to-guy.

My understanding is the process was collaborative between agency creatives and Tim and SEEyD actors. The agency arrived with a concept which was the developed theatrically by the SEEyD team. The illusory style of the piece, which plays the magic of theatre against its tangible presence in the space offered new opportunities for the talented Clems team, as well as affording them a messaging time of several minutes to work with, rather than 30, 45, 60 seconds. This creative work actually pre-dated work on The December Brother itself.

When word got out that this experiment was going to take place, there were some raised eyebrows in the theatre community, perhaps some muttered discontent and almost certainly some unspoken ‘now-why-didn’t-we-think-of-that?’s. This is because what SEEyD is doing seems to stray awfully close to a commercial intrusion into the artistic space. It’s not – but it’s close, and could be seen as the thin end of a wedge.

In many ways it’s a great deal for all parties:

SEEyD gets an awful lot out of the deal:

Money. It’s tough out there and this short addition will make a significant difference to the production’s bottom line.

Media that the show may not otherwise have got. As well as an additional mainstream angle, there’ll be coverage in both ad industry channels and NZTA-related outlets.

Connections and contacts with a couple of important local organisations, namely NZTA & ClemengerBBDO. This is an investment in the future of the company.

– Another talking point about the production (another publicity narrative in addition to the ‘Bain’ angle).

– Some community goodwill, perhaps – it is a public service message after all.

– Credit for a groundbreaking approach to theatrical production that extends beyond the work and encompasses the whole enterprise in the search for innovation.

As far as downsides go, I suppose CNZ might have some questions the next time SEEyD applies for funding. Perhaps they need less if they’re sourcing such great sponsorship – that’s the kind of growth-retardant thinking WINZ used to go in for, so hopefully not.

Then there’s the backlash from some theatre practitioners and self-appointed guardians of the industry. The sticking points will be:

– First this – what next? Infomercials at interval?

– This is a betrayal of the audience contract. They come to the theatre in part to get away from the ubiquity of ads.

–  This is also one of our points of difference to tv/film – a aspirational high-culture status which is compromised by such naked commercialism, even for a socially responsible client.

Suspension of disbelief. How can we invest in these actors as characters in a story after they have been out front in service of an unrelated message?

Some of these concerns are legitimate. I’m sure no one wants to sit in the theatre watching actors endorse cutlery brands before the curtain goes up on the Scottish play, (“is this a Ginsu I see before me?). But some points do need to be made:

Firstly the theatre is not a pristine, commercial-free environment. All programmes contain ads – generally the more expensive the production, the more sponsorship sought, the more bold the ads. Sponsor signage is also common both within and without the building. And let’s not pretend product placement has never occurred. I’ll put my hand up to being part of a co-op production where we worked with a beer company looking to promote a British beer brand in our market. We prominently displayed their product on stage (as well as giving away samples to the audience). I’ve got no regrets – they gave us 30 doz. – far more than we needed for the season!

Secondly, there’s a danger in overestimating the degree to which the audience will feel alienated or put off by the presence of such a message up front. In part this is due to the successful ‘theatricalisation’ of the message can successfully disguise the fact it’s an ad. In other words, it’s such a good looking piece of theatre in it’s own right, that the audience enjoys it on it’s merits and the message comes along for the ride. It may well actually add to their enjoyment of the evening rather than detract.

Thirdly, the fact is meeting the costs of theatre is hard and will only get harder unless new revenue streams are found. We in the theatre cannot offset inflating costs of production by increasing production levels (as every other industry does), we can only increase prices. And if audiences are unwilling to pay (as in times of recession), and funding bodies are reluctant to meet the shortfall, (as in times of recession!) then we must consider all possibilities to survive. Remember: all your favourite free-to-air television content is free-to-you not because of NZ on Air, but because of commercial advertisers.

The other question that remains is: what value do the NZTA get for their money?

From Clemenger’s point of view this collaboration is both a useful experience for the creatives and a exemplar of out-of-the-box thinking. ClemengerBBDO can add this New Zealand- (possibly world-) first approach to its diverse portfolio of communication channels. It may well be a contender in awards season, although categorising it may be a trick!

Most importantly, though, for both the agency and NZTA is, again, the earned media component, which is directly linked to the first-of-its-kind nature of the ad. While the bottom-line cost of the ad is insignificant in the context of NZTA’s media budget, the return on investment in terms of eyeballs reached per dollar is not likely to be spectacular. Factor in the additional media time – a two minute network news item for example – then it starts to look like money very well spent.

For those who worry about the potential of more commercial variations on this theme, this should be a comfort. Any additional media component; any ‘buzz’ is so tied to the innovation aspect that copycats are likely to find these returns significantly diminished. Just as no one is going to be trying to produce fast-turnaround video responses to Twitter questions despite the phenomenal success of the Old Spice campaign , I don’t expect to see repeats of the SEEyD/ClemengerBBDO collaboration any time soon.

Finally, and most satisfyingly for me, the concept is so successful because it suits SEEyD’s brand. As I said at the top of the post, Tim’s company has created an identity based on theatricalising real social issues in a thought provoking manner. I don’t know of another producer better placed philosophically –  artistically – to break this ground, nor of a client whose message is a better match.

Comments, as always, very welcome.

Auckland Fringe Challenges Creatives

AdShel is the company responsible for those unique advertising spaces alongside your local bus stop. On Wednesday night they ran their inaugural Creative Challenge, with a grand prize of $125,00 for the winning team.

Such a juicy prize attracted teams from the top ad agencies in Auckland. The brief chosen was to create an AdShel campaign for the Auckland Fringe Festival.

The teams set about submitting designs in sketch form. It’s not often we get to see the results of that many professional creatives focusing on a performing arts campaign. The approaches varied greatly, from interactive exploitations of an AdShel’s physical properties to spare text-based signage where the cleverness was in the words.

The winners, (and standout entry for my money) were the team from Publicis Mojo with their campaign “Leave With More Questions Than Answers” – a superb encapsulation of the Fringe ethos matched with some eyecatching visuals.

Read about the contest here and see some of the entries, including the winners here.

Is content the issue?

July 26, 2010 3 comments

Creative New Zealand’s recently issued document, on the Arts Leadership Investment Programme, has raised a good deal of discussion within the theatre community. As well as the concerns about funding for the likes of Centrepoint,  and The Fortune, there is the understandable soul-searching from practitioners and interested parties as to the nature and value of our work. The theatre is looking at itself in the mirror and once again searching for it’s identity. The conversation has begun on John Smythe’s theatreview.org and also at a forum organised by Downstage and hosted by artistic director Hilary Beaton. I was interested enough to participate in both spaces.

The questions raised, in part by the CNZ document but essentially always under consideration, are many and broad. I don’t consider myself qualified to comment on all of them, by any stretch. I do, however, want to beat the drum I’ve begun carrying since the discussions began. At least if I beat it here, those who think my priorities are all wrong or I’m sadly misguided can very easily ignore me.

What I’ve come to notice is how, from the CNZ level down, the conversation has been focussed on content – on the artwork. CNZ’s document names, (page 25), the ‘key roles in arts infrastructure’ for theatre as:

“Creating, presenting and distributing consistently high-quality New Zealand theatre,”

This provoked some discussion about the nature of ‘quality’, and who gets to define it. While this is an important point, I’ve come to believe that it’s, in practice, not the greatest issue. Here’s what I believe we need to look at closely:

“Creating, presenting and distributing consistently high-quality New Zealand theatre,”

Frankly, quality content is not an issue, and never has been. The creativity and talent is in the industry. New Zealand can and does produce quality scripts, productions, acting, designs, etc. It has done for years. We don’t need additional incentives or funding benchmarks around quality of content. Our content is great. Our distribution is not.

Put simply – our struggle is not making good theatre; our struggle is getting good audiences.

I’ve lost count of how many productions I’ve been involved in which didn’t reach the audiences they’ve deserved. The productions were successful, the seasons were not.

Let me be clear; this is not about pure numbers, B’s on S’s. There is and should be a range of work which appeals to a range of audiences, some of which are larger and broader than others. I’m talking about audiences reached/potential audience for each individual show. Some people in town may not enjoy a night watching The Tragedy of Lefty the Shrimp Fisherman – but did all of those who would have come? Did all of them even know about it??

This is not to attack publicity or marketing people either. Rather it’s about empowering them, putting them closer to the centre of what goes on. Someone once said:

All business is driven by either innovation or marketing – everything else is a cost.

In the theatre we seem to have bulk innovation and insufficient marketing. I think, as we face increasing competition for attention, marketing needs to come to the fore. When creating work, who the audience will be, what they will enjoy about it and how we tell them as much needs to enter the discussion right at the top.

Waiting for Godot may have supposedly gone unappreciated at first (although Wikipedia suggests that’s debatable), but the fact it was later recognised as one of the greatest works of the 20th Century was of use to nobody but Samuel Beckett.

By the way, I don’t pretend I’m like John the Baptist here, bringing revelations from the desert no-one’s ever thought of before. Obviously many, many people in the theatre, and the theatres themselves have cottoned on. Audience development positions are multiplying, social media is being enthusiastically taken up. I’d like to see it more clearly identified from CNZ, however. I’d like to see the ‘distribution’ element highlighted and incentivised. I’d like to see significant funding specifically tied to marketing development and innovation. It’s the old ‘teach a man to fish’ trope…

And I like seeing creators themselves taking this aspect of the game seriously. Too often when bad houses occur the response from inside is to point to external out-of-our-hands factors (the rugby, the weather, the recession) or to talk of tinkering with the content. I’d like to hear more talk of what lessons can be learned regarding communicating the value of shows to audiences – more specific segmentation and targeting, more innovative communication channels and more application of the vast reserves of creativity within the industry to this end.

A stand-out that I’ve encountered is talking with James Ashcroft of Taki Rua Theatre. Their undertaking to record in full short interviews with audience members after performances is a great piece of forward thinking. Most importantly, this is not an exercise in fishing for effusive quotes for publicity; audiences are questioned in some depth, and their responses are pro-actively fed back into the development of both the work in question and future work. It’s simple, it’s brilliant and it’s open minded. It’s an acknowledgement that we ought not to be isolated ‘artistes’ creating works that we then invite audiences to witness, but instead partners in an ongoing creative conversation, a two-way conversation that can lead both viewer and viewed to places neither of them could’ve gone to alone.