IDEA: British furniture maker DFS has traditionally used its massive ad budget—some $130 million a year—mostly to annoy people. Its obnoxious, price-led, hard-sell messaging bludgeoned viewers into submission. "They had gained a reputation for being shouty," admitted Nick Hastings, co-founder and creative director of London ad agency Krow, which took over the account last November. Now, Krow and DFS are trying something new: advertising that is actually—gasp!—likeable. A new 90-second brand film, set to an emotional song by a Scottish indie artist, tells the touching tale of a young boy who suffers through a typically tough day—finding respite only at the end of it, on a big, comfy DFS sofa. The approach isn't rocket science. "By aiming to become a brand that is well-liked as well as well-known," said Hastings, "DFS hopes to achieve more sustainable and even greater success among a broader range of people."
COPYWRITING: The boy's story is familiar and poignant. School, classmates, girls, dogs, the world at large—everything is against him. Even his brother, the other main character, is mostly ambivalent about him—until the end, when he grudgingly gives him a piggyback ride home. "The little schoolboy's tough day is emblematic of the tough day all of us have now and again," said Hastings. "Because he's little, he's an underdog. People will feel for him and side with him." There's no dialogue until a voiceover at the end by the Scottish actor Dougray Scott. "After a tough day, get the sit-down you deserve," he says. "All our sofas are handmade to order, with a free, 10-year guarantee." The logo and tagline appear on screen and are spoken as well: "DFS. Making every day more comfortable."
ART DIRECTION/FILMING: Director Owen Harris filmed the spot over three days near Orpington, a town southeast of London. "We weren't going for a nostalgic look, although the story itself is likely to make the viewer feel nostalgic," said Hastings. The props and costumes were simple—they just had to feel real and natural. Harris quickly understood the vibe the agency wanted. "It needed to be beautifully crafted, with no gimmickry," said Hastings. "He added some gorgeous touches—you'll notice that going to school the kids move left to right, and when returning they move right to left. He also added nice touches to the story line, especially the idea of the big brother giving the little one a piggyback."
TALENT: The young boy has a face that wears pathos well. "I knew we had the right chap when my teenage daughters both said how sweet he was when they happened to see him on my laptop," Hastings said. Likewise, the older brother delivers a nicely understated performance.
SOUND: The song, Paolo Nutini's "Growing Up Beside You,"  adds to the emotion of the spot perhaps more than any other element. "We obviously did a rigorous music search, but the Paolo track stood out a mile," said Hastings. "The words are somehow bang-on, his voice is heartfelt, and crucially, the track is exactly the right pace for the film. It's very emotional." As indie tracks often do, this one gives the ad much greater reach, particularly among young people.
MEDIA: The spot broke as a :90 on long-running soap Coronation Street in late July and will air for six weeks as a :60 and a :40—along with a batch of 20-second commercials featuring the boy and the dog that are focused more on price and credit options. Print ads are running in support—some focused on price, others on the brand.
Agency: Krow Communications, London
Creative: Nick Hastings / Jon Mitchell
TV Producer: Emma Rookledge
Production Co: Outsider
Director: Owen Harris
Producer: Tex Travi
Photography: Stephen Keith-Roach
Post Production: The Mill
Editing House: Work Post
Editor: Bill Smedley