Grand Entrance

Copywriter Mike Sutherland is surprisingly laid back about winning the Cannes Grand Prix at the tender age of 26. “No complaints really. It’s nice to have it recognized,” he says of Saatchi & Saatchi London’s wild Club 18-30 campaign that he created with art director Antony Nelson.

Most agree that the print and outdoor work, showing young vacationers arranged in highly suggestive groupings, would never fly stateside. In the U.K., says Sutherland, it was a pretty easy sell. The challenge was in devising a campaign that touted the vacation firm’s party reputation in a blunt but original way. “The client knows exactly why people go. The hard bit for us was to show that in a clever and subtle way,” he says. “You want to be more interesting than to say, ‘Come on out and get drunk and have sex.’ “

Earlier work had relied on copy to get the message across, and the team decided the next ads should be visual. “Then you start getting into problems of exactly what you can and can’t show,” says Nelson, “so we thought, ‘How can we show it, but not show it, so to speak?’ It evolved.”

The team planned the 13-day shoot for late September, hoping most of the dance clubs in Ibiza, Club 18-30’s main island resort, would be closed. “We were taking 20 models—19 to 21 years old—and it was way too much of a distraction,” Nelson says. But a few hot spots were still open, he says, just enough to cause trouble. “Two guys [models] got arrested and ended up spending one night in a cell,” he says. While it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity, “the account guy had a few sleepless nights.”

“Apart from that,” Nelson says dryly, “it was pretty smooth.”

The campaign went on to win awards at the Clios, D&AD and The One Show before topping off the season with the Grand Prix. Not a bad record for two guys who’d spent only four years apiece in advertising.

Nelson and Sutherland met in Doncaster College’s advertising program six years ago. They became friends immediately and have worked together ever since. “We’re pretty similar,” Nelson explains, “which is unusual, because usually people at opposite ends of the scale work together well. We’ve always just seemed to click. We’ve got a similar sense of humor—it seems a bit clichéd, but we are pretty good friends as well.”

They signed on at Saatchi straight out of college, quickly landing enviable assignments for an army campaign. Their portfolio has since expanded with work for Visa, Head and Shoulders and the NSPCC. The team’s latest effort was a World Cup spot for Carlsberg beer. Continuing the campaign’s theme that if Carlsberg were to do anything besides brew beer, it would be the best in the world, the ad shows an agent negotiating a celebrity lifestyle for his mediocre soccer player.

“The great thing about Saatchi is that everyone has a fair shot at all the good briefs. Teams are not allocated to one client or products,” says Sutherland. So does the pressure of competition get to them? “A little bit. But if anything, that encourages people not only to be the best that they can, but to be the best in the department.”