As true a Twincy holiday tradition as anything, today marks the month-long run of The British Arrow Awards at The Walker Art Center. The highly entertaining ad spots—some selling products, some doing social messages, all truly well done—will likely be some of the most creative pieces anyone sees all year. Yes, it’s true—and that’s why a bunch of the early screenings are already sold out.
Since many of our Regular Readers have been to The British Arrow Awards before, and will go again, we sent a Quick Q+A to chairman of the British Arrows Board of Directors Charlie Crompton to get a little deeper look at ads vs. art, what makes the awards have to work with, Brexit, and why we love British humor so much.
Secrets of the City: Are British advertisements more popular with the Americans than the Brits? Will British audiences, say, buy every single ticket to a month of screenings like Twincy goer-outers will for The Walker?
Charlie Crompton: The British Arrows Awards celebrates excellence in advertising. But the Brits of course, being well, British, hate being sold to, so you have to make short films that trick people into watching, even though they’re free. No one would admit to actually liking them though, that would like admitting that you liked Ed Sheeran or something, which is unthinkable—although not as unthinkable as liking James Blunt, obviously. There are mini comedies, mini tragedies and mini adverts for Mini Coopers, ads with epic stories, and ads with enormous stars. You lot love it unreservedly—and so do we really but we’d never say that out loud. It takes a lot of skill to craft ads that the whole country loves and takes to their hearts—and then of course, tells everyone that they could have done it better themselves.
There’s been a mix of clever, funny, technically impressive spots, but also some darker commercials—from a year or two ago, the plea to keep the women’s shelter open where the young homeless woman is invited home by two guys and then threateningly chased still haunts me. Do the Arrows aim for a certain mix or are you at the mercy of what came out that year?
We’re absolutely at the mercy of what’s come out that year—and that’s a great thing. The selection of ads that you’ll see at the show are the winners—the best ads of the year—and as such are a perfect time-capsule or snapshot of what our country is like in 2017. This is our 41st year—the Walker’s 31st year of taking the show . . . If you looked at any year, you’d get a better idea of the mood of the country, than watching a news reel. This year, we’ve been reeling from the uncertainty of Brexit, a government just hanging on by their fingertips and the Syrian refugee crisis . . . Great Britain hasn’t been feeling so great—so we do what the Brits do best: We celebrate what we are good at—We laugh at ourselves, we laugh at James Blunt, we make beautifully poignant PSA’s, we blew the doors off The Paralympics, we get out there and celebrate being fit—whatever shape or age we’re in; at this time of the year, we remind ourselves why it’s important to come home for Christmas . . . These are the things that make us feel safe in this world—and if we can make others less fortunate feel that we’re looking out for them too—it shows that these ads, in their own way can actually make a difference to people’s lives.
How much does an agency gain from winning an Arrow award? Is it something that goes front and center on their websites and sales pitches?
Definitely, they have a huge legacy in British advertising. The British Arrows is the most significant of the British awards to win . . . And after 40 years they’re not easy to win either . . . If you get a bronze—or a silver, it’s a major accomplishment . . . A gold is something that gets nailed straight away on your wall – even if your other half doesn’t think it looks as great in prime position above the fireplace, as you do. There are around 1000 entries every year which our juries, made up of the most talented advertisers, ad agency creatives, production companies and film crafts spend days locked in a dark room to choose the best from. And that’s what’s being shown here at the Walker.
To put you on the spot, what’s your all-time favorite British commercial?
I love this ad from 2000 for Marmite. Every time I watch it, it makes me laugh out loud. Marmite is so British . . . If you weren’t born there, you can’t understand how on earth we could thrive on something that is so disgusting. Our whole civilization is built on the stuff. They only do one ad a year, so each one has to punch way above its weight and this says so much about British advertising . . . The ad agency, Adam&EveDDB have never dropped a ball yet with this brand and their ads could only be made for British audiences. Half of the population love Marmite, the other half hate it, so they celebrate that. It’s even spawned its own parlance back home: If someone is regarded as a ‘Marmite character’, it means that you’ll either love them or hate them—there’s no middle ground. I’m thinking of getting Donald Trump a pot—that might sort him out.
What do you as Arrows Chairman think it says about contemporary art that some of the most daring and creative things an art-going audience will see all year are commercials peddling products?
Well, in Britain at least, ads are so much part of the zeitgeist, that I think they can be the most contemporary of contemporary art. So much craft goes into making these ads as good as they are . . . When you look at Waitrose’s – ‘Robin’ or ‘Buster the Boxer’ for John Lewis, the work that’s gone into bringing these to the screen is extraordinary, not only in the conception and shooting but in the weeks of seamless post production. And ‘Superhumans’, which was voted the best ad of the year, took a superhuman effort from so many people at the top of their game to bring to the screen, not least the actors themselves. The irony of course of showing them in Minneapolis, is that you can’t buy most of the products being sold here even if you wanted to—so you can just enjoy them for what they are—brilliantly produced bite-sized contemporary moving art. And if you don’t like one, as one of the audience said to me last year, “another one will be along in a minute” and there’s something here for everyone. Including that aunt who came to stay with you for Christmas, two weeks early, and looks like she might never leave. Better get the Marmite in then.
The British Arrow Awards run December 1st-30th at the Walker Art Center’s Cinema and McGuire Theater, various showtimes. $14 general, $11.20 Walker members.