The Guardian approached BMP with a brief for a fresh concept to highlight the paper’s distinctive independence
In 1985, Boase Massimi Pollitt (BMP) was selected to handle advertising for The Guardian, and during that time, the agency produced several remarkable campaigns.
The Guardian, the only British broadsheet that has never had a clear political slant, has long taken pride in its commitment to unbiased reporting and discussion. Thus, the observation that “‘only getting the whole story from different points of view'” is a reality that rises brilliantly from a unique perspective on the product.
There was the Conservative Party in power in Downing Street, the economy was in shambles, unemployment hit a postwar high, and debate raged over whether or not the United Kingdom should join the European Union’s single market.
From a different vantage point, things might look quite different. John McCarthy, a British journalist, was abducted in Beirut, and The Sun claimed that Freddie Starr, a British comedian, had eaten a live hamster. There has never been a time when trust in the media and press freedom were more crucial.
The Guardian launched a campaign to reaffirm its commitment to covering all sides of an issue so that it could continue to be the newspaper of choice for the UK’s liberals.
The Guardian approached BMP with a brief for a fresh concept to highlight the paper’s distinctive independence at a period when most publications firmly mirrored the opinions of their owners, with everything that entailed. John Webster proposed a series of scenarios that each dramatically illustrated the distinct impacts of this attitude. But it was the use of a film to portray the paper’s objective stance that would go down in advertising lore.
At the time, John was assisted by Frank Budgen. Frank Budgen was a copywriter but had a keen eye for photographs. His ability to strike a balance between the rigour of a writer and the openness of a photographer set him apart.
The idea originated from the observation that reading eyewitness accounts of a crime or other incident frequently gives the impression that three different events took place.
An iconic Don McCullin shot showing British troops charging down a street in Derry, Ulster, with local ladies hiding in doorways served as inspiration for the film’s creative team as they sought a journalistic, photo-reportage approach.
Their first attempt at creating this advertisement was scrapped. In the original idea, there was a brawl on the streets. A police officer who seems to be threatening a black youngster with a truncheon is shielding him from a group of white supremacists. Not unexpectedly, Peter Preston, editor of the Guardian, thought it was too divisive to publish.
After another revision with a Japanese guy presumably assaulting a politician, the final “skinhead” screenplay was ultimately accepted. Preston told John that the script effectively captured the spirit of The Guardian after reading it.
Paul Weiland, a famous comedy filmmaker, was an unexpected choice as the film’s director, and he was never able to figure out why John had made that decision.
Paul saw immediately upon reading the screenplay that this was an exceptional piece of writing. To be able to communicate such a wonderful narrative in 30 seconds was fantastic.
The filming in South London was everything but smooth. John was dead set on his idea that the picture would be filmed in the most realistic way possible, with three cameras capturing the same scene simultaneously. In his opinion, not doing so would have been a major breach of the advertisement’s credibility. The theory relied on contrasting perspectives on the same event.
Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” served as inspiration for this film’s innovative (first-ever) usage of a three-perspective narrative structure.
However, this became a major obstacle for Paul. There was no way to cover up cameras with paint back then. Half the day (although it was just a one-day shoot) he spent attempting to impress John and hiding the cameras so that no one camera could see any others, but he still couldn’t obtain the perfect angles. There was much back and forth as he assured John that no one would ever suspect that the two events weren’t identical.
The standoff was broken only after tensions with the locals reached a breaking point. The filming happened in Southwark, a fairly tough neighbourhood. Some local criminals had stolen the rubber bricks used in the previous frame and were throwing them at unsuspecting bystanders. John’s anxiety was rising, and he added, “You know what? You may take the shot however you want; I just want to get out of here.
Paul also filmed many more instances, including a little youngster kicking his toys around in the street while a skinhead rushed by. The visual excitement was palpable. However, it was concluded that the picture fared best in its most basic form.
The ideas presented in this film are timeless. The success of “points of view” was due to its lack of dialogue. It’s mesmerising to watch this unfold without any music or sound effects. The lack of sound added some drama to the proceedings.
It was intended differently, however. The sound effects of traffic and the characters yelling were planned for the film. When John and Paul first saw the rushes without any additional sound, they were astounded by how much more potent the image was without dialogue or music.
The end effect is the best advertisement ever for a liberal publication. And it is the gold standard of advertisement for many.
A great concept should be simple, relevant, surprising, unique, and engaging; this timeless treasure has all of these qualities and more.
In only 30 seconds (engagement), our audience has gone on an emotional roller coaster, going from fearing to reviling to cheering the skinhead. Also, when our reasoning catches up with our emotions, we get the idea that several perspectives are better than one for providing a whole picture of a situation.