Somesuch Is Ad Age's 2018 Production Company of the Year
A simple mantra propelled Somesuch to the top of our Production Company A-List this year: "We give a fuck."
Industry vet Sally Campbell says that has fueled the company since she started it in 2007 in London with her husband, director and Atlantic Records alum Tim Nash, and fellow helmer Nick Gordon. Somesuch gives a fuck about ideas. It gives a fuck about craft. And in an industry notoriously known for giving male talent the choice opportunities, it continues to give a huge fuck that all its directors get a fair shot at doing a standout piece of work.
Somesuch created ads that helped propel the conversation about equality and social justice forward in powerful and artful ways with a roster containing, for the industry, an unusually high number of women (10 of its 27 directors).
Among its highlights were the Audi Super Bowl spot "Daughter," directed by Aoife McArdle; her "Equal Love" ad for Absolut featuring rollicking kissing sessions between all kinds of lovers; Kim Gehrig's latest for Sport England—another ebullient ad about women reveling in their athleticism set to Maya Angelou's lively voice-over; and Autumn de Wilde's head-twisting take on fashion for Uniqlo (a co-production with Anonymous Content). There was brilliant work from men too: Gordon's fabulously fun Amazon holiday ad featuring singing delivery boxes; Max Weiland's music video for Elton John's "Tiny Dancer," a love letter to the many faces that make up Los Angeles culture; and Daniel Wolfe's breathtaking, divisive examination of menstruation for feminine product brand Libresse.
The company's name, Campbell says, comes from the founders' struggle to find something that didn't sound pretentious and also reflects their love of literature. It plays off a moment in "Huckleberry Finn," when con artists put on a play, "The Royal Nonesuch."
But while "The Royal Nonesuch" was a whole lot of nothing, Somesuch is known for work that stands for something, marked by a combination of substance and style.
That's been the company's calling card since it began. Between them, the founders had built their creative reputations at companies such as storied production shop Academy and Atlantic Records before they decided to break out on their own. "On one side, you saw production companies making big advertisements, or wee production companies doing branded content," Campbell says. "You could see something was happening in the middle. There was a lot of content being made and the ideas were good, but the craft was terrible, so it didn't live up to the idea. We saw that we could get an idea but really make it good too. It's all about craft and filmmaking and writing for us. We'll take that brief and make something beautiful."
Campbell says that the company didn't set out to have such a large female bench of directors. At first, such diversity was only "semiconscious," she says. "We had Kim and Aoife from pretty much the beginning and it's very important to have a diverse roster, but also, we would never sign anyone purely based on gender, race or class."
Even before director Alma Har'el debuted Free the Bid, Somesuch was already home to talented women like Gehrig and McArdle. "When you attract one thing, you'll attract two or three more," Campbell says. "Women understood, because we had a roster with women on it, we knew how to represent them. They understood we were doing it for genuine reasons, not for tokenism or financial reasons."
Such thinking has paid off in the upward arc of careers across categories, such as automotive, which men dominated until recently. McArdle went on to shoot her first feature this year, "Kissing Candice," which Campbell produced. Her Audi ad scored third on USA Today's Ad Meter and in 2018 she returned to the big game with Toyota's Olympics-themed ad, "Good Odds," which hit No. 5 in this year's ranking. Gehrig remains one of the industry's most sought-after pros and also delivered stunning work for Uber and Eurostar.
As for its male directors, one of the best pieces on the company's reel is the artfully shocking "#BloodNormal" ad for Libresse feminine products. The commercial is unlike any other in its category, portraying what until now have been typically taboo moments, such as period sex and actual menstrual blood—which was shown on a pad and trickling down a woman's leg in the shower.
That project, surprisingly, went to a man, Daniel Wolfe. "Daniel doing that was a risk," says Campbell. "That came in for all our female directors, but the hilarity is they don't want to be pigeonholed in a feminine-product world, so most of them turned it down.
"A man doing ads for women's products is as important, if not more important, than women doing it because we have a man thinking about women's periods, thinking about stuff they would really shy away from," Campbell says.
Going forward, Campbell and crew want to keep the momentum going. While she says that their MO doesn't make Somesuch rich—their creative integrity means it turns down a lot of work—the company continues to build.
Somesuch benefits from its partnership with Anonymous Content, which has helped to boost its talents' profiles in the U.S. And in 2017, Campbell and Nash moved to Los Angeles to help push Somesuch into broadcast and film while Managing Director Seth Wilson helps to steer the ship in the U.K.
First and foremost, however, it's about the talent. "Depressingly, some of the strongest work is out of the U.S. right now, so our directors are wanting to work in the States more," Campbell says. "We need to be here and support them."