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Creative Is Native: “Don’t Say We’ve a Long Tradition of Storytelling”


Boys + Girls creative director Kris Clarkin on vowing that advertising wasn’t for him before falling in love with it, the briefs that changed his career and why Irish film and TV is inspiring him right now

Creative Is Native: “Don’t Say We’ve a Long Tradition of Storytelling”

“The quality of work that Kris and his team create is testament to his experience and craftmanship,” says says Charley Stoney, CEO, IAPI (Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland). “His production background has given him an eye for detail that shows in the work he generates for both domestic and international clients of Boys + Girls. His star quality is firmly established now.”

LBB> How did you end up in an advertising career? You began on the production side right?

Kris> I got into advertising relatively late. Although, it could have been six years earlier had I not left DIT’s Masters in Advertising after two weeks vowing that “advertising wasn’t for me!”
I left with the inclination that I wanted to work in film or TV and I was lucky enough to blag a job as an editor in a new sports channel called Setanta. I say blag, as I had no idea how to edit when I did my interview, but I spent a week or so before I started desperately trying to learn the software.
I started on live programmes, editing the opening/closing packages and cutting together the talking point segments for the pundits. The output wasn’t particularly creative but I learned to edit quickly and the nature of live TV taught me how to work well under pressure.
From there I moved into promo production, which was actually a perfect precursor to advertising. As a promo producer in Setanta we had to do the job of about 20 people in advertising. We came up with the idea, wrote the script, found the clips, directed the talent, edited the footage, sourced the music, directed the VO, created the graphics, clocked the promo, put it on air, and did everything else in-between. I loved it because I was really into sports and I had three or four things on air every week, but after a while it became repetitive, so I took voluntary redundancy (which were all the rage in 2009).
I spent the money on a year in London studying a Masters in Motion Design at Kingston University. That year changed my career forever. I was lucky enough to study under the iconic British graphic designer, Vaughan Oliver who, along with many of the other amazing tutors, taught me about the value of ideas…which was really useful for me because, as it turns out, I was shit at design! A point that was confirmed by my first boss in advertising who told me that my copywriting was a lot* better than my art direction.
*he may have said ‘marginally better’

LBB> What have been the most important projects you've worked on in shaping what you do and why? The Connected Island springs to mind as one I'll never stop telling people about. But maybe there's another one you love particularly.

Kris> There are different projects for different reasons. When I was starting out in advertising I felt way out of my depth. I didn’t think I had the talent or ability of anyone else on the creative floor. I was still finding my feet when my art director and I were gifted a Christmas brief for a brand ad for SPAR. We worked tirelessly on that spot and I learned so much about the craft of advertising. That was the first time I felt like I might actually belong in advertising and while it's not the most thought-provoking piece in the world, I’m really proud that it’s been on air every Christmas for a decade since.  

But it is hard to overlook the work that we did for Three on Arranmore. By bringing Three’s technology and connectivity to the island we were able to help secure its future, hopefully for many years after the campaign is long forgotten. That was a once-in-a-lifetime project to work on and also a brilliant example of seeing the opportunity in every brief, as the idea originally came from a fairly standard B2B brief which, 99 times out of a 100, would become a fairly standard (a VERY boring) talking head testimonial.

LBB> Ireland's been through a period of radical change in the time you've grown up and entered the industry. With the two historic referenda and the campaigns around them being an obvious manifestation of this. How do you think that generational shift has impacted the country's creativity?

Kris> The referenda on marriage equality and repealing the 8th amendment (which banned abortion in Ireland) were transformative. Nobody would have believed that these things were remotely possible when I was growing up in Ireland in the ‘90s, but over the years we have slowly come out from the shadow cast by conservative Ireland, which had been led for the most part by the Catholic Church.
The campaigns in both were hard fought and bitter. The creativity shown by the Yes sides were bold and powerful, and helped to bring about two results that were so utterly convincing that, I believe, they instilled a confidence in us as a people, that hasn’t always been there. Traditionally, Irish people have been quick to put ourselves down, but these votes helped us to see ourselves in a global context, equal to other nations around the world.
I believe that’s true of advertising creatives now too. We are starting to feel more comfortable on the international stage. We are starting to feel like we belong.

LBB> Are there any fundamental aspects of Irish culture that affect the way creativity is done there?

“Don’t say we’ve a long tradition of storytelling”
“Don’t say we’ve a long tradition of storytelling”
“Don’t say we’ve a long tradition of storytelling”
“Don’t say we’ve a long tradition of storytelling”
“Don’t say we’ve a long tradition of storytelling”
“Don’t say we’ve a long tradition of storytelling”
“Don’t say we’ve a long tradition of storytelling”
“Don’t say we’ve a long tradition of storytelling”
“Don’t say we’ve a long tradition of storytelling”
“Don’t say we’ve a long tradition of storytelling”
We …eh…

LBB> What do you think is most interesting about Boys + Girls as an agency right now?

Kris> The diversity of the work. I’m genuinely excited about a number of projects, big and small, that are in the agency at the moment. None of them are the same. On one side we’re working on a beautifully crafted traditional radio campaign, and on the other we’re breaking new ground in tech. It’s a lot of hard work, and some of these campaigns may never see the light of day, but they’re exciting ideas that I can’t help be excited by. The most recent example is ‘The LEGO Brick Café’ – the agency has been working on that one since 2019 and we’ve a lot more interesting work to come.

LBB> What other projects have you been most proud to be involved in recently?

Kris> We did a spot this year for Three Ireland, called ‘Jeff’s World’ which I was really proud to CD. It was a brilliant idea from the creative team, Michael Whelan and Dean Ryan, which took an enormous amount of creativity, craft, and faith from everyone involved. It was the first live action spot I have ever worked on where our lead didn’t appear in a single frame on set but was brilliantly brought to life in post by the team at Framestore working alongside long time Boys + Girls collaborator, Tomas Jonsgarden. The final piece was even better than we had hoped and reassuringly, it is having the effect we had hoped for the brand.

LBB> What are you most hoping to see changing in the Irish ad industry in the coming months and years?

Kris> I’d love to see some more playful campaigns coming out because advertising is taking itself far too seriously these days. There is no denying that there are a lot of serious things happening in the world these days but, guess what? Not everything has to be serious. The reaction to ‘Jeff’s World’ is evidence enough that there is an appetite for work that makes you smile. We need to remember that people do not want to look at our ads (and they never did even in the good aul days) but they’ll be glad they did if we manage to entertain them.

LBB> Finally, what's inspiring you in culture or society at the moment? Feel free to just pick the first thing that springs to mind!

Kris> I’m really inspired by the Irish film and TV industry at the moment. The quality of work is world class. From small Irish-language films like, An Cailin Ciuin (The Quiet Girl) which has been tipped for an Oscar in 2023, to giant global productions like Apple’s Foundation, it is a serious endorsement of the creative talent in this country. 


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The Institute Of Advertising Practitioners In Ireland, Fri, 04 Nov 2022 12:25:00 GMT