How JWT broadcast live ads from Afghanistan

When JWT had the idea of broadcasting ads live from Afghanistan’s conflict zone for its campaign for the Territorial Army, it had to venture into uncharted territory. The team behind it talks to us about how they did it.

When JWT had the idea of broadcasting ads live from Afghanistan’s conflict zone for its campaign for the Territorial Army, it had to venture into uncharted territory. The team behind it talks to us about how they did it.

As Toby Clifton, integrated production director at JWT, says, “When you bring advertising, multi-live broadcasts and conflicts together, every bit of the production is a challenge”, and Anita Davis, JWT creative director, adds, “You need a brave client and the capability of the British Army to pull off an idea like this.”

JWT was commissioned by Capita (the outsourcing company commissioned by the MoD to run a recruitment drive for the TA) to come up with a campaign to drum up new recruits for the TA. The agency realised it needed to counter the perception of the TA recruits as ‘weekend warriors’ or ‘glorified boy scouts’, highlighting the division’s history of serving in major wars, and active duty alongside the career army.

“When we found out they were in Afghanistan, we realised we should just show that, unvarnished – sometimes the facts are the best things in advertising,” says Jonathan Budds, copywriter and creative director at JWT. Then they decided to take that idea further and show the action live – to beam it into the living rooms of the very same people they were looking to recruit, at prime time.

The live TV commercial has been done before – notably in this ad (see below) by Wieden + Kennedy London and 4 Creative for Honda in 2008, which fitted in nicely with its ‘Difficult is Worth Doing’ tagline at the time. However, transmitting live from a war zone, depending on the cut and thrust of army duties, took this idea to another level.

One of the biggest challenges was finding the right director. “Having been told that no agency could go to Afghanistan and we could only inject one non-military person into the mix, casting the right director was everything,” explains Clifton. “We needed someone with documentary, drama and miliatry experience, who could shoot and edit if required, had the necessary charisma and didn’t give a damn about spending two weeks in a conflict zone with no alcohol.”

That director was documentary and film maker Nick Murphy, who also had to undergo intense hostile environment training and ship some of his blood in advance to Camp Bastion Hospital. He directed the action as a one-man band, embedding for three weeks with the army.

Nick Murphy introducing the first weekend of live broadcast ads from Camp Bastion in Afghanistan

Another obvious consideration was security, with the army imposing a number of necessary restrictions on the agency – including keeping the exact location secret until the day before the first broadcast. JWT partnered with ITN, as the news production company’s experience in live broadcasting from war zones made it the perfect candidate to coordiinate logistics – such as transporting a satellite truck via army plane.

The agency also had to undergo a significant mindshift, says Budds, as live broadcast left no room for meticulous post-production, dubbing or editing. “You don’t really know what to expect,” he explains. “No concept of what’s coming down the tube – if there’s a stumble on a word or the hair doesn’t look right it doesn’t matter – that’s where you have to lead your mind.”

In addition, each of the slots, which were broadcast over two weekends last month, had to be approved by the agency, the army, the client and broadcast advertising compliance monitoring body Clearcast within a matter of minutes to be allowed to display the official ‘Live’ badge.

Out of a total of 17 one-minute slots, 14 went out truly live, with the others broadcast as ‘recorded earlier’ for differing reasons. For example, the team was keen to include a segment featuring the Mastiff Ambulance, but due to unpredictability of timings, it had had to be shot earlier.

JWT was also aware that in a war zone anything could go wrong at any time, so the agency had a number of contingency films lined up. “Commiting that amount of media without any real clarity on locations, cast or scenarios was interesting,” say Clifton. “The vast number of things that could go wrong when continually broadcasting live from a conflict zone – be it technical or life threatening – meant we had to have a number of different safety films on standby for a number of different potential scenarios. Thank god we never had to use them, but we were lucky.”

The broadcasts were part of a wider campaign that aims to increase recruits to the TA to 30,000 by 2018, and includes a dedicated TA Live YouTube channel and website.

Despite the campaign going out successfully, Budds can’t envisage a new trend for live TV ads. “Never say never, but most projects rightly can’t afford to take the risks involved and need a lot of planning, control and complex approvals,” he points out. “For now it only suits very specific projects.”

TA Live TV ads credits:
JWT Integrated Production Director/Producer:  Toby Clifton
Art Director/Creative Director: Anita Davis
Copy Writer/Creative Director: Jonathan Budds
Creative Directors: Hugh Todd & Adam Scholes
Live Broadcast & Post Production: ITN Productions
ITN Executive Producer: Derek Dyson
ITN Producer: Chris Church
Director: Nick Murphy
Line Producer: Derek Tedder
Cameraman/DP: Kevin Capon
Satellite Engineer: Steve Ryder

The April print issue of CR presents the work of three young animators and animation teams to watch. Plus, we go in search of illustrator John Hanna, test out the claims of a new app to have uncovered the secrets of viral ad success and see how visual communications can both help keep us safe and help us recover in hospital

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