Leo Burnett's Justin Tindall on the Brave New Freeview World
When UK free-to-air TV service Freeview were readying themselves to launch their new (free) on-demand platform, their creative agency Leo Burnett London knew that they’d have to make one hell of a statement. And their recent ad, Set Yourself Free, does exactly that.
The inventive animation smashes together elements of Orwell, vintage Soviet propaganda posters, distinctively British cobbled streets, a West End musical hit, blaring electric colours and some unexpected humour to create a very new, very different kind of dystopia.
According to Leo Burnett London’s ECD Justin Tindall – speaking to LBB at the London International Awards judging in Las Vegas last week – the new campaign is an ambitious project and purposefully provocative evolution in the brand’s advertising, which the agency has been working on since 2011.
“Freeview Play is one of the biggest things they’ve done in their history and it does justifiably place them alongside the big players in the TV world, but it’s free-to-air and it felt like the right time to do something quite provocative,” he says. “. I think they wanted something ‘statement’ and they wanted something that was a clear step away from what we’d been doing before.”
When Leo Burnett first won the account, their initial objective was to give the brand a distinctive and memorable visual identity and a cohesive voice. “We started off with the balloons; their work prior to that was a bit all over the place, it shot off in lots of different directions. You had this brand that was in tens of millions of households and hardly anyone had heard of it. So the first job was really to give them a very clear purpose, which was to spread TV happiness, and to give them an ownable visual device that was representative of happiness, like balloons, but which could also carry content messaging as well.”
After that the next phase was to counter public scepticism about the service being free. And now, Freeview is entering the on-demand video arena, hoping to blast subscription services out the water with its free model. “The latest one needed to be a very clear departure away for that, but as the ECD it was very important that I could still trace that idea of TV happiness. That final scene uplifts into a world of positivity and a way out of this dystopian view of the world.”
In order to bring that world to life, Leo Burnett turned to animation collective The Line, director Sam Brown and Electric Theatre Collective (ETC), and Justin is full of praise about the detailed world they have created. Before production started, the team worked hard to develop their vision of the environment and characters and refused to rely on obvious tropes, instead finding inspired solutions.
“One of the things I really remember was the characterisation of the uber-boss,” recalls Justin. “Other treatments had classic, Orwellian, large, dominant figures, but The Line and Sam Brown came with this little character that was effectively based on Thatcher. It’s a little table with a doily on it and a little old fashioned TV whose aerial becomes the control and command stick. If you look at it again and see her on the stage it’s an inspired piece of characterisation. The small dictator.”
Similarly the creative team at Leo’s and the production team also used TV wall brackets to inspire the bodies of the robotic TVs.
That attention to detail and unswerving commitment to craft has also helped to improve the emotional impact of the spot. Justin explained that during research, the film wasn’t quite stimulating the levels of emotion that they wanted to see – and in the end it was a very tiny touch that elevated the spot to something that has had grown men and women around the UK sobbing. The hero of the piece, a little blue TV, was originally depicted with blank white discs for eyes but towards the end of the production process the team added two tiny pupils which immediately rendered him more human and relatable.
Leo Burnett and Freeview have worked with ETC and Sam Brown previously, on the Left Behind spot. This time the process was extremely collaborative and animation studio The Line (which is also repped by ETC) was keen to make a statement with the project. “It’s a whole other level for them – they wanted to do something that would let them make their mark and I think they have. It’s extraordinary. They’ve been so much part of the journey.”
Another major element of the spot is the re-worked version of Les Misérables’ ‘I Dreamed a Dream’. The suggestion for the song came up relatively early in the creative process. “We’ve re-written the lyrics and so a) to get permission to use it and b) to get permission to rewrite the lyrics was amazing. And then it was a case of finding the right voice to deliver it, instead of going for a big, full orchestrated sound.”
The spot was launched with a teaser during the ad break for the England vs. Wales World Cup Rugby match, which saw an older Freeview ad, Cat & Budgie, hacked. “When we launched the teaser – we used one of our most loved ads and broke it up so it looked like it was hacked and it worked a treat. Immediately people were asking, ‘did you just see that?’ A week later the big film followed up and it goes from ‘the people who made that Freeview ad should be destroyed’ to ‘this is the greatest ad I’ve seen in my life’ to ‘I cant believe I’m crying at an ad about a television’. There’s been some really, really positive chat about it.”
What’s striking about Set Yourself Free is that the ambition and level of craft marks the ad out from other brands in the on demand TV sector, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, whose output is largely recut content from the shows they carry. This, says Justin, is testament to the bravery and creativity of the marketing team at Freeview.
“If you’re just going to recut content it’s very difficult for the brand to be visible in that landscape. The team over at Freeview are a creative bunch. It’s in their DNA to do creative things and have a brand which is strong and meaningful and has a clear sense of purpose,” he says.
“I think the broader thing to understand is that the way the world has changed means that the audience can just remove you from their lives. Unless you’re delivering them things that actually make the world a little bit better. The enlightened brands and marketers understand that. Nothing you put out into the world is neutral. It either pollutes it or enriches it and we need to be in the position of enriching it.”