The Creative Melting Pot

British Creativity The Gallic Way

In the first in a new series, BMB's new CCO explains what he feels his French identity has lent to his career as a creative in the UK

By laurent simon

Despite having lived nearly half of my life in the UK, I still feel about 90 per cent French. I’m reminded of my roots every day (often because you Brits take any opportunity to poke fun at the French) and my Gallic way of thinking is so ingrained that no amount of scrambled eggs could ever fully disarrange it.

Whilst I’m resigned to the fact that I will never be fluent in all British references or know the back catalogue of The Beatles by heart, there are a few advantages to being a foreigner in our creative industry.

People living abroad are naturally curious and profoundly hopeful. They have left what and who they know behind to see ‘what if’. Could the grass on the other side of the fence possibly be greener?

Brighter? Better? Fairer? Anyone who left their childhood villages to go and try and their luck in the big city or crossed the tracks for glitzier districts will know that feeling. Why not me? You need that naïve yet adventurous spirit to progress in advertising.

Another advantage about being a foreigner is that you’re a fly on the wall. As an outsider looking in, it’s often easier than for a native to spot what makes people tick and click. Sometimes it has meant using the right references when Brits would overlook them for fear of them being too obvious. Early on in my career, I drew from Agatha Christie’s 'Murder on the Orient Express' to devise a campaign for the Metropolitan Police, ‘Who killed Deon?’ It was ultimately the most-awarded campaign that year.

As an outsider looking in, I also can’t avoid seeing cultural differences and similarities, which in turn means I provide a fresh perspective for clients. I don’t think it’s an accident that some of my biggest career highlights were for idiosyncratically British brands, including John Lewis, Boots, Colman’s, The Government, and of course the BBC. The ‘Bear & the Hare’ and the ‘Supporting Act’ were both Christmas no. 1s, whilst ‘Bags of Joy’ signalled an exciting new chapter for everyone’s favourite chemist.

For all my sins, I’m more than a foreigner, I’m also…French. Honi soit qui mal y pense. Whilst we have many defects, including the one where we pretend that we don’t have any, being French has an undeniable upside - we know what good looks like. It’s all around us: in our books, paintings, architecture, films, fashion, even in our food. Beauty matters. We’re force-fed it from a very early age.

My foie dis gras on aestheticism, which, in my role means that every pixel matters. Something that I hope is visible in the BBC 2 idents for instance. I will always champion that craft sells because it shows your audience that you care for them.

I couldn’t possibly not mention ‘The Other Half’ as this is probably the most French bit of work that I’ve ever done for a British audience. With the help of Monsieur Ledwidge, I think this film oozes of Chanel number 5: a whirlwind romance, intellectual new wave vibes, even the lead cast is French. It concludes by saying that what’s important doesn’t change, and that couldn’t be truer for what makes our industry so special - great ideas can come from anywhere, anyone, at any time.

Laurent Simon is chief creative officer at BMB


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