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Creativity Squared in association withLBB Pro
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Creativity Squared: Andrew Long and James Millers on the Craft of Populist Creativity

28/06/2024
Advertising Agency
London, UK
95
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The Leo Burnett UK ECDs talk through what shapes their approach to creativity, and how they’ve demonstrated it in action for brands such as McDonald’s and Confused.com
Andrew Long and James Millers are the executive creative directors of Leo Burnett UK. Together they’ve spent the last two decades collaborating with the biggest brands in the world to create some of the most famous and effective marketing campaigns in the industry. 
 
They are multiple Cannes Lions, D&AD, One Show and Clio winners – and their work has been recognised by every other major creativity and effectiveness award body, including Gold Effie’s, IPA’s and APG’s. In addition to this, they are the proud recipient of the Sony World Photography Award and were voted in the top 20 viral video creators of all time by Channel 4.

Personal highlights include an ongoing collaboration with McDonald’s that has seen them lead the creative output of the brand for the past five years. During that time, McDonald’s has been recognised as the Most Innovative Company Of The Year by Fast Company and Brand Of The Year by Campaign Magazine. Resulting in the most successful period of creative and effectiveness award performances in the brand's history.
 
Most recently, James and Andrew were part of the creative leadership team that helped Leo Burnett UK earn consecutive Campaign Creative Agency Of The Year awards in both 2023 and 2024. Their role is to oversee and inspire a multi-disciplinary team of creatives, pitch for new business, and mentor the next generation of talent.

Person

 
Andrew> I grew up in a typical Northern city. So, like many, my exposure to creativity was primarily through television. And back then, television was linear, with few choices. Which meant shows, movies, and yes, adverts, had to appeal to the masses. They had to innovate while keeping in mind a broad audience. I think that’s how I developed an appreciation for populist creativity. The stuff that everyone got together to talk about at school or work the next morning. Which has always been the thing that inspires me the most.
 
Of course, over time my exposure to creativity has broadened far beyond linear TV.
Things like the internet and social media have connected me to niche interests and sub-cultures across fashion, design, music, and gaming, to name just a few. Alongside new technology trends which have had a huge influence on my craft.
 
It’s a combination of all these inspirations that have shaped me as a creative person, and informed my view on what makes a great creative product.


James> As a young lad growing up in a council estate that covered 11 square miles of South Manchester, I’ll be honest, there wasn’t a whole lot to do. We didn’t have the money for the latest gadgets or toys, so creativity was kind of a necessity, whether that was inventing new games with friends on the streets or just drawing all the time, ALL THE TIME. We didn’t have much, but coloured pencils and paper were something my mum made sure we always had around from an early age. I guess they’re cheap and they last for ages.
 
I was bored a lot, something maybe not many kids are today but something that I think is really important. I probably didn’t enjoy it at the time, but I think it fuels creativity and ingenuity. That upbringing probably formed the base of my personality. I like figuring out ways around things, thinking of solutions to problems, and generally getting involved.
 
This definitely comes to life in how I work. I love to be hands-on, learning new processes and skills that stretch the remit of the literal creative process, meddling basically (probably to the annoyance of many people I work with). If it’s any consolation to them though, this also plays out in life away from work, stretching into other things I do to express creativity like photography, but also more random creative-adjacent things like carpentry.
 

Product

 
Andrew> I love work that combines populist appeal with creative execution.
 
Populist insights that are built on truths that people care about. Brought to life with bold, unexpected creative choices.
 
Looking at the industry broadly, I don’t think enough work is effectively combining these two key ingredients.
 
You see a lot of work in the wild that is very broad and perhaps lands its point, but not in a way that feels innovative. Then you see a lot of work in industry circles that is immensely creative, but it's real-world impact could be called into question.
 
When you get both things right, that’s when you create work that people really want to talk about and get involved in, which at Leo Burnett is always our main goal.
 
You can see that in some of the recent work I’m most proud of.
 
Whether that’s work for long standing partners McDonald’s, like ‘Fries Claims’, which saw a simple truth about stealing fries turn into a legal firm anyone could interact with; or ‘Raise Your Arches’, which turned an insight around unspoken invitations into a trend that got fans in 40 countries raising their eyebrows.
 
           
Or work for new partners like Confused.com, where we turned the feeling of reassurance you get when you sort your insurance out into an infectious whistle that you can’t help but want to get involved in.
 

James> It’s not always easy to judge the creativity of work; the process is never the same twice, the brief is never the same, and the outputs are always different too.
 
I think I have quite a broad but populist taste, which is handy given we build our work around ‘populist creativity’. But when it comes to sitting down and looking at work, it’s hugely subjective. Why does someone like a film or a piece of music? I think liking creative work isn’t all that different really, it’s quite instinctive.
 
The main question before you get to that thought, though, is: ‘Is it right?’ Does it answer the brief and does it have truth at the heart of it? I think that’s what’s important. Once you get that right, it’s a question of how innovative a piece of work is and how fresh the idea and execution are.

Twenty years ago, that would have mostly been how clever a print ad was or how entertaining and well-told a film could be, but the landscape of advertising has changed massively in that time.
 
Sure, print and film are still a massive part of it, but with the work we make now, we're looking for more active participation, work that pulls from, or lives in culture. The adage of ‘hearing people talk about it in the pub’ is still true, it’s just the pub has changed. It’s now in your pocket everywhere you go, and every brand is also sitting at the table, being able to chip in with the conversation.
 
So, we look for work with a story that can kick-start that conversation and ignite active participation. Some of our best examples of that are recent things like ‘Fries Claims’ and ‘Raise Your Arches’ on McDonald’s. Both are entirely different campaigns with different truths at their heart, but both were active and they invited the consumer to play with the brand.



Process


Andrew> The key to our process when it comes to creating work that is both populist and creative, is collaboration.
 
To get to genuine truths that will appeal to the masses, it’s important we’re drawing on every member of the team’s lived experience. And to get to executions that are innovative and fit for the platform you need to trust in each person’s role and specialist skill set within the process.
 
The added benefit of this collaboration is there’s always someone to push or prod the work into a new place, which always results in a bolder choice. A bolder idea articulation, a bolder use of media, a bolder choice of director, you get the picture.
 
There’s an expression we encourage everyone to use at Leo’s to make this easier, that sums up our entire process.
 
‘How can we make that better?’
 
This question keeps discussion focused on the work and gives everyone a tangible way to interrogate the product. So many of our recent campaigns have been pushed to new levels because of this simple question. One recent example was the ‘Keep Up With The Times’ campaign for McDonald’s. We had already developed a great 360 creative approach based on the simple truth that McDonald’s sceptics are stuck in the past, with executions across every media channel which the brand and agency were all happy with.
 
But by questioning if anything could make the campaign better at that point, it led us to developing the Teletext execution which became a real creative highlight and the most talked-about execution in the whole campaign.


James> I mentioned this in a point above, but the process to great creative work is always different. The one thing I didn’t mention, though, is the people. The people you work with are different too, with different skills, voices, and opinions. I’m not just talking about the creatives; I mean across the whole agency. I love how it works at Leo Burnett. It’s a very collaborative team across all disciplines: creative, strategy, account management, production, design, etc. Those guys know way more than I do anyway. I’m not a massive fan of the old-fashioned siloed way of working. It’s important for work to be challenged and made better at every point. But also, it’s important for teams and individuals from every department to learn how to stand up to that challenge when the work is right.mOur door is always open – well, actually, we don’t have a door – and as I type this, I can see the group CEO just perched on the end of a row of desks on the other side of the office.
 
I digress. But the point is that working in an open environment for ideas means there is no superficial hierarchy, no stupid questions. And if there were any stupid questions, I’d probably be the first to ask them. I think this way of working means the work has a greater opportunity to be improved, stress-tested, and pushed.
 
Everyone obviously has their own way of working, and they should work in the way that’s best for them, we all need a bit of quiet time every now and again. But in today’s world, this is how I think you can get to that piece of work where you can stand back, marvel in all its glory, and say: ‘right, that’s done, there’s nothing that could make that better.’ Although we all know the work is never actually done, and it can always be better.

 

Press

 
Andrew> Of course, all of this sounds simple. But we all know the reality of creating anything is that the process is far from that, with so many external factors that can and usually do play a role.
 
This is one of the reasons we put such a big emphasis on collective responsibility. It’s important to us that everyone involved in the work has a shared language around the creative, from agency through to brand team, that we can use as our north star.
 
Moving from concept into production, we deal with the live feedback that is a by-product of creating work that people want to talk about. It can throw up any number of challenges that could alter our course or cause the creative drift if we’re not all super clear on what the idea is and what is crucial to the storytelling of it.
 
Of course it takes time to develop that shared language, but there are simple things we like to do which make the process easier. Inspiration sharing is a great way of discovering each other’s tastes away from the pressure of a campaign in development.
 
We will often share newsletters curated by different members of the team with our brand partners for example, to provoke those discussions and debates. Or agency wrap-ups of the various awards shows, where we share thoughts and frustrations on trends that we can channel into our own work.
 
All of this encourages the entire agency to take interest in and responsibility for the work, which ensures that everyone can have an opinion on and contribute to the finished product. And I think that’s what leads to the most populist creativity. Which is what made me love this job in the first place.


James> There are so many things that have helped me grow into the creative person I am today. My childhood had a huge impact in the formative years, but also the people I’ve worked for and alongside in my career too. From the tough love creative directors who really put you through the wringer to the ones who inspire you, there’s something you learn from everyone. I certainly have, even if at the time I may not have enjoyed it.
 
But one of the things I’ve found just as useful as learning from the people you work with every day, is learning from the people you don’t work with every day. The ones who aren’t in your department, like the planners or the account team, or the people who aren’t even in an advertising agency at all. The people that help you bring an idea to life through production.
 
Taking the time to learn the things around your job, even if just a little bit, can give you a real advantage in helping you get to better work. It’s brilliant remembering great photographers, directors, and designers, but understanding enough of those processes to be able to squeeze the most out of your ideas and the people you collaborate with is invaluable. So, watch directors direct, memorise the lighting setups on a shoot, sit with designers and retouchers if you have the time, and then practise as many of those things as you can.
 
I think all of this will help anyone make any bit of work that little bit better, turn average work into decent work, decent work into great work, and great work into the kind of work that people talk about, work that is much more memorable—the kind of work we all got into this game to make.
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