By Alex Mawby
The agency model is truly f**ked’ – Hollie Newton, Grey, talks Volvo LifePaint and the Future of Advertising
Did you watch the video? No? Go and watch it then you lazy prick.
Right, seen it? Oh, you already knew about the idea?
Well of course you did, it’s bloody amazing. An invisible, spray-on paint that makes bicyclists light up brighter than Rolf Harris’s eyes when you tell him the girl guide group’s pet gerbil is getting a whole episode on Animal Hospital.
LifePaint is the idea and Hollie Newton, Creative Director at Grey, is the person responsible (along with her painfully talented team, Jonas Roth and Rasmus Smith Bech).
I sat down with Hollie at Grey and found out how she brought a paint idea to life.
So, Hollie, tell us the story of LifePaint, how did it all start?
It was when we were looking to launch the Volvo XC90 and they wanted us to talk about it without anyone being able to see it. At first we thought they were mad, but it was quite liberating in how we approached the creative. What do you do if you don’t have the product to look at? Essentially we had to look at all the different aspects of the car as projects.
Jonas and Rasmus, fabulous team I work with, Danish, completely mental, saw this little tiny article about the Finnish Reindeer herding association and how they were trialling reflective see-through paint on antlers to stop people crashing into the deer. It’s like hitting a wall, they wander across the open plans in pitch black and cause these awful crashes. Everyone dies. It’s insane.
So being a little slow at first, we thought this could be a Volvo initiative. We’ll team up with them and roll it our across to Sweden. Brilliant! Anyway we got in touch with them and as we were talking realised that it might be better to bring it onto the roads, rather than just keep on reindeer.
Volvo have such a brilliant, pro-active safety approach. They’re really looking now to not being able to crash in a Volvo. That’s their aim. It seemed like the right sort of thing to bring their philosophy to the road.
Is it working? Have people been using it?
We had to do a Beta phase first. The deal was we’d prove how popular it was before it went into production and it was. It was mad. It sold out in under 72 hours. Five independent bike shops and it just went mental. It was the front page of the internet, Time magazine, The Huffington Post. Were were like, ‘Fuck, we need more cans!’
Towards the end of the summer it will be going out globally. It will probably take us a year to get it into shops. This tiny little company that makes it is having to upscale!
How does it feel to have done something so potentially life changing?
I love advertising, making films is wonderful, but actually making useful things, stuff that surprises people, is far more fascinating and freeing.
It seems to be a common thread with a lot of stuff you’re doing for Volvo, like the Swedish Air project.
That was more like a little art piece. A good way to think about work sometimes is, ‘how does it appear in a blog?’ It’s a really good way of judging work. How does it get into culture?
When we did Christmas McVities we wanted to make people laugh. So we knew we had to get into the Daily Mail and Heat. It doesn’t always have to be ‘culture’ as in The Times, it’s nice when we get into Time magazine though.
What’s happening next with LifePaint?
We’re sorting out the supply chain and we’re doing a thing for CNN soon. Which is terrifying!
What do you think about this friction in advertising now between making nice adverts to look at and actually creating stuff that has a useful impact on people’s lives?
Basically, increasingly, the agency model is truly fucked. I’d be surprised if in 10 years the big agencies we’re doing what they’ve always done. You’ve got clients going to agencies for individual projects and old work doesn’t work like it used to. People don’t like being sold to. If you invade someone’s Twitter feed or Instagram it better be good. Liberty of London and Waitrose, they do it right on Instagram by actually making beautiful content, but the people who come in with an ad can fuck off.
Innovation is wonderful, but equally making a proper big brand that people love is hard. It has to be something that resonates with everyone. We’re going to have to get more creative.