For Mum: A Mother’s Day interview with VCCP Creative Director Jim Thornton

We'd like to thank Jim Thornton for chatting to AdForum about this great campaign..

By Jeff Finkle

AdForum: How much input did Nationwide Building Society have at the inception of the idea for the “Voices Nationwide” campaign that seems to have hit home with people in the UK.

Jim: The new CEO and CMO at Nationwide were adamant from their first day that they wanted to tell, in their words, ‘the greatest marketing story never told’ – the story of how the Building Society was started by ordinary people for ordinary people to help each other achieve things together that they never could alone. Like buying their own house. They wanted to reposition the brand away from a traditional bank and play to its heritage as a member-owned organisation. Given that buying your own home in the 19th Century also meant you qualified for a vote in national elections, it felt only right to do something about giving ordinary people a voice to speak up for what’s important to them in their lives.

But most importantly, because these are designed to be genuine voices expressing what’s important to them, right from the start the client agreed that neither we nor they had the right to change the poet’s words, except if there was a legal issue or a timelength problem. Otherwise they are entirely unedited.

AdForum: There’s a feeling of both loveliness and humor that all the #GotThisForMum spots on social media have, as well as the TV commercial.  How did the idea come about to take the initial input from people who wrote in offering up things their mother had done for them throughout their lives and turn that feedback into these sweet poems? 

Jim: There’s a fantastic organisation called The Poetry Take-Away run by a chap called Michael Bolger, father of poet Laurie Bolger, who has helped us find the majority of our spoken word artists. He takes a converted old burger van, which can hold up to four poets at a time, around schools, festivals, fairs, fetes and the like, and anyone can go up and ask a poet to write a poem for someone they know. The poets will then quiz them about that person, and about 30 minutes later will have produced a poem to the brief. We simply lifted the concept wholesale – with Michael’s blessing – for Mother’s Day. The fact that all the poets we used were used to the Poetry Take-Away format helped us enormously.

AdForum: How intentional was it to create a barebones, simplistic, not-over-produced feel to the social media spots for the #GotThisForMum campaign? 

Jim: Absolutely intentional. Our watchword for the whole campaign has been ‘authenticity’, by which I mean nothing should come between the spoken word artist and the viewer – it should feel entirely natural and personal. So all the ads are shot in locations that are the poet’s own, or similar, without any wardrobe, make-up, special effects and in most cases, music. We try to do most of them in one take too. They’re a kind of anti-advertising I suppose, and I even adapted the original Dogme 95 Vow of Chastity, designed to restore naturalism and humanity to film-making, and rewrote it as a Vow of Authenticity as a kind of bible for the campaign.

AdForum: What would you say was the biggest challenge in executing the #GotThisForMum campaign and how much influence did you have on the poet’s performances? Was there one poem that was performed for social media or sent to people that wrote in to Facebook that you had the most reaction to on a personal level?

Jim: The biggest challenge is generally for us to get the brief right. The tighter, more interesting and personal the brief, the better the poems we get as a result. The other challenge is to keep them as authentic as possible. One of the ways we do this is to get them to send their poems in as audition tapes filmed on their phones; we then choose the best poem and performance, and present it to the client, who simply says yes or no. What we’ve discovered is that because we’re only approaching spoken word artists, their performances are what they are – they’re not actors so require very little direction.

The poem that had the greatest reaction on social media, apart from Laurie’s poem for Gavin & Mo, was the one by Matt Abbott for Marie Oldham’s mum which was about her mum’s baking skills – clearly something shared with a lot of other mums out there!

AdForum: We all have mothers and there’s nobody who can’t relate to this campaign. When Laurie Ogden delivers her poem that she wrote for Gavin and his mother Mo it resonates in a powerful way. How were you able to achieve this beautifully honest moment in the TV spot without it coming off looking like you were trying to create an emotional TV spot?

Jim: The first thing we did was make sure it was always going to be a complete surprise for Mo so that her reaction was entirely genuine and authentic, and Gav was brilliant at helping us make sure this was the case. But it was always important to us that the story had light and shade, that it was funny as well as moving, and it was on this basis that we chose Gav’s story about why he wanted to do this for his mum, because there was clearly a warmth and a good level of ‘piss-taking’ between them which would stop it getting too heavy. However in the end we were totally reliant on Laurie to deliver a poem which trod the fine line between humour and emotion. Fortunately her extensive experience with The Poetry Take-Away meant she was able to do this almost intuitively.