The Spot: Origin Story

A British children's charity follows a trail of hope by going back to heartbreak

Headshot of Tim Nudd

GENESIS: For a new spot, BBH creatives Rory Hall and Melanie Lynch found a poignant way of illustrating British children's charity Barnardo's healing effect on youth. Instead of showing an emotional recovery chronologically, the ad goes in reverse, beginning with a stable adult and visiting his former selves—through seamless transitions—back to the 5-year-old boy blindsided by trouble. The effect is heartbreaking, and may generate empathy in viewers who aren't always sympathetic to wayward teens. "People rarely ask why an angry teenager acts that way," says Hall. Adds Lynch: "Society can sometimes brand troublesome teenagers as lost causes. We wanted to challenge that apathetic attitude, showing what can happen if you choose to stick by them."

COPYWRITING: Six actors play Michael across the three "acts" of his life— calm and hopeful adult, angry teen, and vulnerable child. His language becomes more unhinged through his teen years, then simpler as a child. (The 5-year-old Michael simply says, "I'm scared.") Hall and Lynch watched Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, and Shane Meadows films to get a feel for dialogue. The reverse chronology is interesting and surprising to the viewer, even though it ends on a downbeat note. "In some ways it breaks the traditional storytelling format, with Barnardo's intervention in the middle as opposed to the end, and the beginning upbeat with a heartbreaking last frame," says Lynch. "Ending the ad on Michael aged 5 is a reminder that there are many children like him who need help now." "It doesn't have to end like it began," says on-screen copy, followed by, "Join us to fight for a child's future." The tagline is, "Believe in children."

ART DIRECTION: The spot was filmed over two days at a grade school in Fulham, West London. The classroom setting is more neutral than a therapist's office, and gave Michael space to roam. Director Ringan Ledwidge (who did Puma's Grand Prix-winning "After Hours Athlete" spot through Droga5) wanted the transitions to be subtle—so, he went with simple techniques like hiding Michael's face and moving the frame around, with CGI used only for touch-ups. For continuity, each actor was also given a mole in the same place on his right cheek. The lighting and camera movements have a naturalistic feel. "The film is all about the performance of our cast," says Hall. "Tricky transitions, an over-stylized environment, and Steadicam movements would have made it feel less real."

TALENT: Casting was crucial. The actors had to convincingly deliver the lines and look similar to each other. The casting director, Des Hamilton, who casts for Shane Meadows' films, visited youth and acting clubs to find the talent. The oldest actor overheard the casting team discussing Barnardo's in a coffee shop, and introduced himself. He had a story similar to Michael's. He's "a rounded, together, and very genuine guy who has overcome a heartbreaking childhood," says Hall. "When we showed him the script, he couldn't believe just how close it was to his own life story."

SOUND: Quiet strings and piano begin about halfway through, just as Michael becomes an angry teenager. "We felt the soft, subtle music was the perfect foil for the aggressive, visceral performance," says Hall. "It then felt natural to let the music run through the rest of the film, ending perfectly on the piano as the camera held on the 5-year-old Michael."

MEDIA: The spot is running nationally on TV in the U.K. and online.



Client: Barnardo's

Agency: Bartle Bogle Hegarty, London

Creative Director: Nick Gill

Creative Team: Mel Lynch

Creative Team: Rory Hall

Producer: Davud Karbassioun

Assistant Producer: Zak Razvi

Team Manager: Charlotte Bowden

Strategy Director: John Harrison

Strategic Business Lead: Helen James

Production Company: Rattling Stick

Director: Ringan Ledwidge

Producer: Sally Humphries

Director of Photography: Theo Garland

Post-Production: The Mill

Editing: Work Post

Sound: Wave

Photographer: Mark Stenning

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.