Trevor Beattie On The Spot

The chairman and creative director at TBWA\London is king of the hill these days: Last month he picked up the film Grand Prix at Cannes for the PlayStation 2 spot “Mountain.” Beattie, who joined TBWA in 1990, is best known for controversial work such as the “Hello Boys” Wonderbra ad and French Connection’s FCUK positioning. The 41-year-old copywriter’s latest projects include a three-and-a-half-minute spot—an entire commercial break—for an undisclosed client and his role as “creative director” for a band. In his free time, the Birmingham native putters in his garden.

Q. What was the inspiration for “Mountain”?

A. To explore the sociability of gaming. Gaming has begun to be portrayed as a lonely existence. With that as the starting point, it wasn’t a very long journey to playing the world online and what would that feel like? It’s a very straightforward idea actually.

Whose idea was the Shirley Temple song?

Frank Budgen. Originally, we had an old Herman’s Hermits song and a Canadian children’s choir singing, “I’m into something good.” Quite late on in the process, Frank discovered “Get on Board.” It works because the gravitas of the film is counterpointed by the lightness of the music.

What does Frank bring to a production?

He adapts to match the project he’s on, and that’s the important thing. With a lot of directors, you can tell at a glance who’s directing. As soon as a Traktor commercial comes on, you’ve got an ugly-looking Scandinavian bloke, some sardonic humor and perhaps a professor in a coat. I don’t like that. The style of the film should match the idea.

Did anything interesting happen on the set of “Mountain” in Rio de Janeiro?

Towards the last day, we had everyone piled in a human pyramid on top of a cylindrical building. They were all on top of a wooden structure, and the whole thing collapsed, and a couple of guys broke their legs. But because they were all acrobats and dancers—I think we had every performer in South America—they all sprung up and took a bow. If it had been Britain or America, they would have closed down the set. But these guys were so into it. The next day they came back with their legs in a cast and ready to go again.

Why did you get involved as creative director of Hussey, the band?

Music and advertising are the loves of my life, so why not combine the two? What I’m trying to do is create a genuine fusion between music and advertising. Rather than steal someone’s hit and stick it on a commercial, let’s do something more organic. Let’s create music with advertising hand in hand. We’re working with FCUK at the moment [performing in stores]. Ideally, you can put an MTV video out there which everyone knows represents a brand, but it doesn’t mention the brand. Where I’m going with it is, branding isn’t about logos, branding is a deeper thing—branding is about attitude.

Who had the greatest influence on your career?

Muhammad Ali and Nelson Mandela. Ali is the greatest adman who ever lived. He transcended what he did; he transcended his sport; he transcended his lack of education and against the odds won through. I’ve learned far more from Ali than I will from some jerk who writes ads. I discourage the hero worship of blokes—and they’re always blokes—who write ads, because I don’t believe admen are people to look up to.

What’s your vote for the best agency out there besides TBWA?

I like BBH. We all have a lot to learn from them in terms of integrity and class.

Who’s one person you’re dying to work with?

Prince—he’s a genius. I’d love to sit down with him and see what we could create. If you could think of some daft project we could work on, that would be great; something very unlikely. Me and Prince locked in a room in Paisley Park, working on Cheerios—that would be my dream job.

What’s the most disappointing creative trend?

Taking a piece of American guitar music and putting it on your commercial—it’s lazy. Which leads me to my other big gripe: Starting a commercial with the word “imagine” and then showing me what you’ve asked me to imagine—so it’s a redundant word. You know the commercial: It’s a bit of mellow music, and then, “Imagine a world, imagine a car …” It’s this lazy, lazy word. John Lennon did it, and he’s ruined it for everyone else.

What’s the most overrated campaign?

Probably Nike. Every single Nike commercial is a bunch of overpaid fools all juggling the football. I see the same commercial revisited 27 times—it’s pretty uninspiring.

What’s the last ad that made you think, “I wish I’d done that”?

[180\TBWA’s Adidas ads with] Muhammad Ali and Laila. I’m so jealous of the guys doing that. I also love the Apple iPod stuff, which is under-rewarded. It’s such a simple, class piece of art direction. It deserved at least a gold [at Cannes], and everybody knows it.

What’s the work you’re most proud of?

I would probably say FCUK, because of the impact on the business, the disruption it caused—the impact on the fashion business, the retail business and the advertising business. The fact we can open stores in the States now. I can go to San Francisco and see someone wearing an FCUK T-shirt.

Give me three words to describe yourself.

Not finished yet.

And three words others use to describe you?

Who’s that bloke? Cause I’d like to think I don’t fulfill the advertising stereotype.