Alex Grieve and Adrian Rossi
Alex Grieve and Adrian Rossi have been ECDs at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, London, since late in 2013, and a creative duo since way back in the second half of the 1990s, when they started out at Saatchi & Saatchi, London.
We rank second only to hairdressing in terms of award show infestation.
Around the turn of the millennium, they moved on to BBH, London, and stayed there for 14 years. Throughout their career, they have produced tons of brilliant work in print, film and digital, much of which has made its way into the pages of this magazine since as far back as 1997. We were therefore truly humbled to have them select their current crop of favorite digital work for our magazine. Michael Weinzettl caught up with the sensational and very prolific duo for the stimulating Q&A session that follows.
Hi Adrian, hi Alex. First off, thank you both very much for selecting the “Digital” works for this issue of Archive magazine. Your work has featured extensively in the pages of Lürzer’s Archive. (Among them is my favorite – period! – print campaign for Snickers from 2013.) More than anything else, you are known for outstanding and much-awarded print work. How come you volunteered to select digital work for this issue of Lürzer’s Archive?
Ever since we started out on placement in the last Ice Age, the ads we loved didn’t appear on a particular platform, they were just great ideas. The first ad that opened our eyes was a British Airways interactive cinema ad, “Weekend Breaks,” shot by the late, great Frank Budgen. At the time, there wasn’t even a category in award shows for it.
So, we didn’t select digital work, we just chose work we liked.
The first campaign of yours, done for Club 18-30 at Saatchi & Saatchi, London, was featured by us 20 years ago. Was Saatchi’s the first agency you worked at? Were you just out of art school at the time? How did you meet?
We met through a headhunter who put two naive, wannabe creatives from totally different backgrounds together. The usual merry-go-round of placements followed before we landed at Saatchi & Saatchi. At the time, it was not just the biggest and most creative ad agency in the UK – it was the biggest and the best in the world.
What do you remember about your time at Saatchi’s?
Anarchy. This led to unexpected answers to predictable briefs. All around us there was a whirlwind of ideas. A lot were what we would now call “non-traditional,” but back then they were just great ideas. In many ways, it was ahead of its time.
Can you briefly walk us through the agencies you have worked at since then? And please tell us in what way they differed or were, perhaps, the same?
Culture is a massively important thing to us and we have worked in some pretty diverse ones. We started at Saatchi & Saatchi. Then BBH, who we said no to the first time before they thankfully came knocking again and we went there. That was the most formative part of our career. Sir John Hegarty’s words – “Do interesting things and interesting things will happen to you” – were ringing in our ears when we thought about our next move. This meant we didn’t go to a big traditional agency but to the UK’s #1 digital agency, Glue, in a trendy part of town and a fraction of the size of anywhere we had worked previously. This opened our minds to different ways of working and different ways of thinking. In some ways, it was like learning a new language. Finally, we landed at AMV BBDO and in terms of culture this is the place that feels most at synch with what we think produces the best work. Within the first week of joining it felt like we were home.
Would you say advertising has changed very much since then? How?
Of course it has changed, but for all the bluster by some people who say they are reimagining advertising and they don’t do ads anymore, the one constant has, and always will be, great ideas.
When did you get involved in the “digital arena?” It didn’t yet exist at the beginning of your career, did it?
Ideas are, and will always be, the reason we get out of bed in the morning. We don’t wake up thinking: “Today we are going to create a great piece of VR, or today is the day for a great poster.” We just do great ideas, whatever platform they live on.
Do you think there’s a difference in how advertising is viewed nowadays by the general public, the consumers, as opposed to when you first started out? And what may be some of the factors contributing to this?
People talk less – and not just about advertising. When we were growing up, there were two commercial TV channels, now there are hundreds. There is social media. There are dozens of ways to see things. Social channels, in particular, allow us to be more personalized. This means we are appealing more to individuals than collectives, which in turn means there is going to be less chatter about a single ad.
That said, a big (as in idea, not necessarily in £££s) film can still get the country talking.
What are some of the campaigns you’ve done, or were created under your creative direction, that you’re proudest of?
Snickers is a great platform idea, and putting it on Twitter and it getting talked about in the House of Commons, showed how big ideas can transcend advertising.
Trash Isles is a cause we care passionately about, and luckily so did 40+ A list celebrities who became citizens.
We have always relished tackling unloved brands or sectors and turning them into something special. So, when the brief for Essity hit our desks we saw opportunity, and a great client more than matched our ambition. The result has been RedFit and Bloodnormal. Guinness, Currys PC World, Nicorette, Hiscox, Met Police, BT, and YouTube have all done some great stuff recently.
How do you keep your creativity fed? How do you get inspiration?
Hire people better than ourselves.
What do you think will be the future of print ads, or will there even be one? Are they bound to vanish in the future?
In 1986 a motorway, the M25, was built around London. It was meant to ease all the traffic problems on other roads. It didn’t. So, they added more lanes to the motorway to help. It didn’t. All that happened was more people used the roads more. The same is where we are in media. Yes, there are more and more channels that vie for our attention but all that is happening is we are spending more time consuming all of them. TV was not the death of cinema, digital will not be the death of print.
What were your criteria when selecting current digital work for this magazine?
We did not judge the work as “digital.” Consumers don’t differentiate between print, digital, or whatever. They just judge whether it is engaging or not. That was our criteria.
What are some of the recent campaigns, in print or film, that have impressed you most?
Apple, “Spike Jonze,” aka “Welcome Home.” Yes, it’s a Spike Jonze ad but just luxuriate in the craft and ambition.
Nike “Like a Londoner” – when something just works, it just works. Glorious.
Budweiser “Tagwords.” Like a lot of brilliant creative thinking, it turns a problem into a fantastic solution.
Did you follow the Cannes Lions this year? What struck you most about it? Do you think the various Grand Prix awards were well-deserved?
We loved the Grands Prix for Trash Isles (two) and Bloodnormal (one Grand Prix and one Titanium).
They should have won more GPs.
In radio, BT Sports “90 in 90” should have done better. The jury were obviously thinking about which party to go to, or were still too hungover from the party the night before when that was played.
You’ve won lots of awards. Do they still mean anything to you? What is your attitude towards the ad awards? Are there too many now?
When, as creative babies, we walked on stage to collect our very first award, it was the most emotional moment of our careers.
Now we see that same feeling in the eyes of our young teams as they make their first walk.
That is always a powerful moment for us.
If you gave us the choice between a famous idea and an award-winning idea, we would take fame every time. This is partly to do with the infestation of award schemes. The Best Opening of an Envelope Award Show/ Category is hurting our industry.
The fact we are second only to hairdressing in terms of award shows speaks volumes.
If you could cooperate with any artist or photographer, living or dead, who would it be?
Muhammad Ali. A poet out of the ring, an artist inside it.
Arguably the world’s first rap star.
A person who understood the power of an image. Just look at his Esquire front cover or him shadowboxing underwater. GOAT.
Would you say now was a particularly good time to get into advertising as a creative, or are there more promising options for young people?
There is no better job in the world because there have never been so many opportunities.
Advertising does not see age, it sees only talent.