Cannes Lions

Creatives You Should Know: Mike Sutherland and Antony Nelson

Senior Creative Team, AMV BBDO

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(From l.) Mike Sutherland and Antony Nelson, creative directors, AMV BBDO
(From l.) Mike Sutherland and Antony Nelson, creative directors, AMV BBDO  Credit: AMV BBDO

It's well known that the Christmas season is the Super Bowl of the U.K. advertising year -- and this year, AMV BBDO senior creative team Mike Sutherland and Antony Nelson scored a surprise touchdown.

In the face of strong opposition from the likes of John Lewis, their creative campaign for electriconics retailer Currys PC World, starring Jeff Goldblum, eschewed emotion and whimsy for well-scripted laughs, directed by comedy pro David Shane of O Postive. A series of spots titled "Spare the Act" saw Mr. Goldblum give people acting lessons in how to fake enthusiasm for unwanted holiday gifts. The campaign has already picked up awards including a Yellow Pencil at D&AD and two Silver Pencils at the One Show; the agency has its fingers crossed for Cannes.

According to Copywriter Mr. Sutherland and Art Director Mr. Nelson, the idea originated from looking around at other brands' Christmas work and finding it "saccharine" and "cheesy" – a "false world where everything was just so and every gift was the perfect gift."

In reality, Christmas isn't like that, said Mr. Sutherland. "Some people are just terrible at buying gifts. Nobody really wants a jigsaw puzzle or a novelty tie, but we pretend they're things we've always wanted. Acting at Christmas is something we can all relate to and teaching people how to deal with those situations seemed like a fun idea."

Mr. Goldblum's inspired performance is a huge factor in the campaign's success. "We always knew the scripts were funny, but his performances took them to another level. Jeff Goldblum, we owe you. Oh, and a huge amount of credit goes to [director] David Shane. He's a genius," added Mr. Nelson.

The pair has been at AMV for 10 years, but have worked together over half their lives, having first teamed up creatively as advertising students. Their first job was at Saatchi & Saatchi in London, working under David Droga. Among their early work was a controversial, very suggestive print campaign for Club 18-30 holidays – it won a Cannes Grand Prix.

After a spell at Fallon, Mr. Droga poached them to work in New York at Publicis. "It was an opportunity we couldn't say no to," says Nelson. "Dave is a one off. The way he thinks is totally unique. Not on one occasion did we ever leave his office without him making our work 10 times better."

The chance to work at AMV lured them back to London in 2006. Recent work has included campaigns for Guinness, including last year's "Made of Black," and the Department of Transport's anti-drunk driving ads.

Many promising young pairings go their separate ways later in their careers, but Messrs. Sutherland and Nelson have stuck together, and that helps creatively. "We've sat across from one another for so long that we don't have to play 'nice' with each other," said Mr. Sutherland. "We just tell each other straight if an idea is shit or if there's some merit in it and it's worth pursuing. Working this way means that we get to better, more interesting work a little bit faster."

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