Mother Births First Feature Film

Breaks Down Borders of Advertising, Content to Create 'Somers Town'

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LONDON (AdAge.com) -- Agency Mother has been steadily breaking down the borders between advertising and content for some time -- first with a mini-film for Unilever's PG Tips tea, then with a magazine bound into Time Out London, and a variety of in-house projects. But now it has smashed the boundaries entirely to produce a full-length feature film.
'Somers Town' explores the regeneration of a North London neighborhood.
'Somers Town' explores the regeneration of a North London neighborhood.

"Somers Town," a story about the regeneration of an area of North London seen through the eyes of two young boys, made its U.S. debut last month at the Tribeca Film Festival, where the two leads, Thomas Turgoose and Piotr Jagiello, jointly won the award for best actor in a narrative feature film. "Somers Town" will be shown at the Cannes Film Festival this month and has secured international theatrical distribution. The first London screening, on June 22, is already sold out.

Eurostar -- the train service that links London to mainland Europe -- provided financial backing for the film (Mother does not own a stake in it). Eurostar's landmark London terminal borders the Somers Town area, so the brand fits seamlessly into the film without ever being mentioned by name. Eurostar's marketing chief, Greg Nugent, got an executive-producer credit on the film.

Interestingly, Eurostar is not a Mother client. In fact, the "Somers Town" project began when Mother was eliminated early on from a pitch for its ad account. The agency's original idea had been to create a series of episodes that would add up to one feature film but would also work on their own. After the agency was eliminated, Mother founder Robert Saville, who spent much of his youth in the Somers Town area, developed the idea and persuaded Mr. Nugent to back it as a separate project, which eventually became "Somers Town."

Mr. Saville, who is the film's other executive producer, said, "It's incredibly subtle; the terminal and the connection to Paris just happen to be in the film. But there is a halo effect on the brand, and this should eventually be a profitable piece of marketing with cinema release, TV and DVD revenues."

Mother Vision
"Somers Town" was directed by Shane Meadows, whose last film, "This is England," won best British film at this year's British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards. He was nervous at first about the commercial connection, but was won over by the script, which was written by Paul Fraser in collaboration with a team of creatives from Mother.

Mother recently created a content division called Mother Vision and is working on an animated children's series with the BBC, as well as a musical and other events. Mother's other offices, a New York location and one in Buenos Aires called Madre, are also developing Mother Vision projects.

"Mother Vision is a desire to say that the world is changing," Mr. Saville said. "We get pissed off with the headlong rush toward everything digital. Our view is that consumers have choices. And if we want their time and money, entertainment -- in whatever medium -- is king. You have to give consumers something they want to connect with, and the less [branding] you put in, the more powerful it becomes because consumers feel more genuine toward it. I call it 'unbranded content' or 'entertainment.'"

This doesn't mean Mother is abandoning its advertising roots, just that the company is determined to work harder at it. "You have to find a level of quality that makes people want to receive the message," Mr. Saville said. "Communications has become about telling people what we want them to hear, not giving them what they want to hear.

"Consumers need to feel rewarded. They don't want a heavy-handed sell -- it makes them feel invaded and resentful. Consumers are savvy and we have to remember that they have control of the commercial messages they see," he said.
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