British Arrows: The best work stands up to repeat viewing
Ahead of tonight’s British Arrows Awards, jury chair 4Creative ECD Lynsey Atkin discusses the best of the shortlist
31 March 2022
Returning to the cinema post numerous lockdowns was a glorious affair. Not because I believe M Night Shyamalan’s Old is a horror worthy of anyone’s time, but because regardless of watching poorly developed characters heft a baggy high concept around a nonsensical beach, there’s something unquestionably special about big pictures in dark rooms.
It’s the same relief that comes with finally being back to judging awards in person, particularly those for film advertising. The same reasons why we all love people seeing our ads on a whacking great telly and not a cracked phone screen – the focus, the scale, the emotion in surround sound. I’m not a luddite, I realise the shift to digital media is more critical than ever, but tell me you’re okay with that sound mix playing out through tinny laptop speakers and I’ll tell you that ain’t true.
Film advertising holds a power no other medium can touch. Narratives, stories and emotions are how we communicate on a profoundly dumb level. It is the sort of work I love making and the kind of work I love watching. I maintain that it is the way we truly connect with audiences, and I can’t be the lone wolf wailing from the treetops given the biggest brands in the world still invest millions of pounds in it and people spend their lives trying to perfect the art of it – FILM: GOLD remains the category and classification most advertising creatives still shoot for.
Which brings me neatly to the British Arrows shortlist for the Best (over 60 second) Commercial of the last two years (remember that the Arrows this year incorporates work from the last two, owing to the pandemic). There are 16 films on the shortlist, and I’d venture it is a ‘good year’ in technical terminology – a year where the work is elevated, a collective raising of the bar. No duds. A tough crowd. You know this because you sit and watch the same work over and over again for 10 hours straight. Those ads that trade off of an emotion (and spoiler: all the best ones do), can become helpless victims to wear out in judging rooms. Fifth, sixth time around, the gut punch can hit less hard, the jokes less fizzy, the heart strings at risk of being all tugged out.
This year the work that shone had a common quality – quite simply, it stood up to repeat viewing, its emotion never faltering. I’ve seen "Whatever It Takes" for Macmillan Cancer Support upwards of twenty times now, and it never fails to feel so desperately urgent and important as to force forward tears. I have watched the same child hide-and-seek-evolve into a grown adult – in one of the three Set App spots up for the award – too many times to count, yet the moment the Chinese couple awkward-laugh about the possibility of what is actually the reality, I still snigger like an idiot. "Wombstories" not only gives you something new every single time, but compounds the pain – that moment of grief remains grossly unfair with every replay. Masterful editing aside, Nike’s "You Can’t Stop Us" can’t fail to pull me back into the years we’ve all just lived through and the power we hold as a collective, no matter the repetition. And I don’t even like team sports.
Because of course, these last two years cannot pass without comment. Our world has shrunk before our eyes, reduced to ever decreasing bubbles, maximum capacities and minimum joy. It has been the hardest time in most of our working lives – so perhaps it’s no surprise the big work this year is just that – big. It was quite astonishing to have not one but two Burberry Winter spots in one judging room, a Sophie’s choice of huge ambition and execution if ever there was. The twisting majesty of "Open Spaces" particularly I think speaks to a place in all of us these days – a want not just for imagination but for infinite freedom.
It’s funny, sound designer Parv Thind tweeted the other day how it was 23 years since they opened Wave Studios and how Guinness "Surfer" was the company’s first ever ad. Perhaps it’s much too simplistic a criteria, but you don’t get much bigger and much more rewatchable than Guinness "Surfer". They should play that at the start of every film in every theatre – after all, big screens are what great work deserves – and I for one look forward to watching such work play out tonight.
Lynsey Atkin is executive creative director of 4Creative