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PERSPECTIVES: ANDY BLOOD @ TBWA WHYBIN | by Phillip Simpson

Welcome to the first article in our ongoing Perspectives series where we will be featuring interviews with some of the most well known and highly accomplished individuals working in New Zealand's creative industries.


We begin with Andy Blood, Creative Director of Auckland advertising agency TBWA/Whybin.


Phil Simpson: In 2006-2007 TBWA/Whybin pulled in a cache of Gold Lions in the Cannes Lions Advertising Awards, topped off with a couple of Grand Prix awards as well. What are the main photography led campaigns you are currently working on?

Andy Blood: Eco Store and Adidas. The latter being an ongoing project involving the All Blacks.


How is photography typically used within say the context of your Adidas work?

The cornerstone of any All Blacks campaign is a single unique and defining image for the year. So for example, for the Rugby World Cup, as in previous years, we created a stunning poster of the team shot by Ross Brown, that was given away to the fans. We also used the image on web-based micro sites and we make the image available for download as screensavers, etc. Because the All Blacks have a worldwide market, Adidas global will in a sense re-invent our campaign around the world. It all starts with photography and we build further interaction and engagement with the brand after that, through experiential approaches. 


What’s the best ad campaign (using photography) you have seen in the last few months?

I’ve recently come back from the international award shows. I was at D&AD, where you get exposed to a huge amount of the worlds best work, from beautifully executed photography, art direction, typography and killer TV spots.

I followed that by going to the Asian Advertising Awards, where there is huge exposure to ideas with an Australasian bent. While I was there I saw an incredibly beautiful Chinese Adidas campaign for the Olympics. In Asia the retouching and polish that goes into the work is incredible.


Apart from the D&AD awards, what was the highlight for you among the visual treats you saw on your recent trip back to the UK?

I went to an exhibition of 75 years of iconic Vanity Fair portraits at the National Portrait Gallery which was an amazing show and the kind of thing you just don’t get to see here. 


Did you notice any major differences in the way photography is currently used within advertising there compared to here in New Zealand?

Agencies probably have more respect for the classic art of photography than we do here. Budgets for big brands still enable people to do beautifully or indeed rawly executed campaigns for their clients.  

 
You once said advertising creatives should have a ‘wild mind and a disciplined eye’. What are the key attributes of a great advertising photographer?

Exactly the same... A wild mind and a disciplined eye.


If you could work with any photographer in the world, ‘dead or alive’ who would you choose?

Dead famous photographers! Well, there’s some people you’d choose for the experience of being around them in a particular time, for a particular shoot. Imagine being on a shoot with Man Ray! Or imagine being in the middle of a war zone with a Magnum photographer. The experience of those two shoots would be incredible.

In the ‘alive’ category and in the context of advertising, I’d like to work with David LaChappelle or Nadav Kander.
 

Those are two people who I imagine have a lot of say in the creative process, so where do you believe an advertising photographers role should start and finish when creating an advertising image/campaign and how far should a photographer push the brief?

David LaChapelle in particular has a very unique visual language, so you would trust that you would get a David LaChapelle version of your concept.

Nadav Kander has also developed a very strong visual language. You would probably go in knowing you have no control, but you would know you are going to get a Nadav Kander out of it.

It’s about having a willingness to go places that have never been gone to before, but somehow understanding that sometimes we have to reign ourselves in and do what’s appropriate for the job.


Outside New Zealand, particularly in the UK, fine art and documentary photographers sometimes cross over into the commercial world and are commissioned to shoot advertising campaigns, can you see that happening here?

The job of art director in England comes with a capital 'A' and there is less boundary between being a fine art photographer and being an advertising photographer.

In the early 90’s Damien Hirst and other emerging British artists, were unashamedly commercial artists. I think in the United States it’s the same, art is an unashamedly commercial enterprise. A New Yorker once said to me ‘Profit is Art’, which kind of says it all.

I think the reverse is true here. I think people like to be artists for arts sake, shunning commercialism in the name of great and pure art.

I personally think advertising when it is beautifully executed is the perfect marriage between commercialism and art. And you shouldn’t be able to see the line between the two. When that objective is met then everybody is fulfilled.


What’s the best and worst thing about working in New Zealand?

NZ is a country of 4 million people and budgets are very small. So we find ingenious ways of doing things and you are only a phone call or an email away from someone who can help you out… and more often than not they will. This leads to a thriving, brave creative community, with unique Polynesian influences.

But, because there is not so much money around we can find it hard to do things. Many companies have their headquarters in Australia, so the brand work is taken care of overseas. Consequently it’s a retail heavy market and people are less brand savvy.

Nonetheless, with a brand like Adidas we approach retail with a brand sensibility.


Has the relevance of commissioned stills photography declined, increased or stayed the same (within the advertising industry) in your view?

I think it’s declined. I have a lot of good mates who are photographers and I know they find it increasingly difficult to make a living in New Zealand. Some of them do really well with international commissions, but increasingly they struggle with the local market. A lot of the guys I know still get a huge amount of work from Asia, as there is still a good market for commissioned photography there.


So should NZ photographers be looking offshore for work?

To make money, yeah.

The dream scenario would be for us to do the brave and challenging work that makes New Zealand photographers famous, so that they can get paying jobs somewhere else!


Images are increasingly being viewed on small electronic devices. How has the ongoing shift from print media to various digital media affected production values?

You’re right, the requirements for an image on a mobile phone screen are obviously different from an image on a billboard skin, but certainly there is still a need for both.

We were only lamenting the fact this morning that it is 6–7 years now since I personally embarked on a major location shoot. I’m talking about the true definition of a classic photo shoot, where you scout your location, cast your talent, bring them all together and create 4 or 5 majestic images which form the basis of a campaign. The last was in 2000, working with Mark Lever on a Speights campaign. Sadly.


In recent years advertising agencies have employed a range of new ways of communicating with their audience through viral and experiential approaches. Where photography is used, there is an increasing use of stock photography. What impact do you see these trends having on commissioned photography and traditional media?

The cost of a really classy photo shoot is one thing, but when you add in the media costs of delivering those images to an audience, then this can be crippling. You can engage with audiences in so many different ways now, some of which don’t involve a media cost. With online advertising you can measure the response or measure engagement, because you get feedback via a two-way relationship with the target audience. So yes, we are reaching people in different ways. But we still need to create magic at the beginning of the process with killer images.


Presumably you can reach a wider audience this way as well?

Often you find your audience acting as advocates for a brand, where if they do see a great image they’ll take the image or a link to the image and post it in their blogs, myspace pages, facebook profiles, etc. So the audience creates a network of appreciation for a great image and that image can take on a life of its own.

In the trend towards word of mouth/word of mouse, we stop being the voice of the brand and the engaged audience becomes the voice of the brand. This lends credibility to the brand, because if it comes from a friend it’s perceived as true.

It’s an intangible but exponential process. As an example, we just created an ad for Eco Store featuring an overturned oil drum, which appears to be leaking toxic chemicals, but which is in fact earth, ready lawn and flowers. Although we had a single billboard skin of that image made, we did not then pay for a media budget to take that image to an audience. ‘Someone’ posted the image and a write up on a blog, which happened to be associated with one of the top five eco websites in the world. That website happened to get reported on CBS one day, and this happened to be the day when the Eco Store image was on the front page of the blog. It is now generating a great deal of discussion on blog and social-networking sites around the world.


How do New Zealand advertising agencies stay in touch with what is going on globally?

Most agencies now are on daily or weekly feeds from Best Ads or Campaign Brief, Ads of the World or Contagious. These tend to focus on digital, web, TV, experiential and occasionally print media. Which comes back to your earlier question, ‘where is print today?’


Do you have any predictions for the future of the advertising medium and the role of photography within it?

We should be asking our children that one. Those for whom the internet, mobile phones and having access to an Apple Mac at the age of 10 is second nature. The revolution is with those guys.
 

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