First Dates director takes on smaller screen with Cadbury Heroes mini-series

Cadbury: two-part series concludes with performance from Rhian
Cadbury: two-part series concludes with performance from Rhian

It is Bafta-winning director's first venture into advertising.

Cadbury Heroes has stepped away from the constraints of conventional TV advertising to create a YouTube mini-series, enlisting Bafta-winning First Dates director David Symmons to bring the concept to life. 

Created by VCCP, "Families reunited" seeks to reconcile family bonds through intensive sports training.

Released today (23 October), the final instalment of the two-part show follows truck-driving mum-of-four Rhian as she undertakes a crash course in figure-skating in an attempt to reconnect with her teenage son Harry. The tagline is: "The little things that bring us together." 

The work was created by Adam Sears and Ben Evans, and directed by Symmons through Curate Films. With credits including First Dates, First Dates Hotel and 24 Hours in A&E, this marks Symmons’ directorial debut in advertising.

"It was lovely to create something that could breathe a little bit – it didn’t have to be cut to time, so there are moments where I could hold on an emotional thought. It was exciting to take viewers on a journey without the restrictions of TV," Symmons said.

Taking inspiration from First Dates, which follows optimistic singletons as they are paired up with strangers in a restaurant, Symmons made a conscious decision not to talk directly with the people in the programme during filming so as not to compromise the integrity of the series.

He said: "We were very careful to make sure it was an honest journey for the families. As soon as people start having a main line of contact with a producer, the project loses its realism, so I wanted the experience to be a personal one." 

Also joining Symmons from the First Dates team is producer Rob Clifford, who has worked on shows including Hell’s Kitchen, Jo Frost: Extreme Parental Guidance and I’m a Celebrity… Get Me out of Here!.

"'Families reunited' is very similar to First Dates in that if you don't get the casting right, everything falls apart. With First Dates, if you don’t get that element right it’s just two people having dinner," Clifford said.

"I'd never done anything with an ad agency before. I don't understand the world, so it was an exciting experience for me."

As children grow up, research from Cadbury Heroes found that more than half (55%) of parents feel disconnected from them – a figure largely attributed to a lack of common interests between generations.

Clifford continued: "I believed in the concept. There are families where that disconnect exists and I felt that this was a genuine way of reconnecting these families."

Episode one saw personal trainer Heru as he struggled through a crash course in biking in an effort to reconnect with his son Jaidon.

The video has gained 112,000 views on Cadbury's YouTube channel since its release two weeks ago.

With almost two decades of production experience in television, Clifford claimed that "the old broadcast linear model of sitting down and watching The One Show is over".

Earlier this year, data from Ofcom’s Media Nations report found that 39% of households in the UK have signed up to one of the TV streaming platforms, a 19% rise from the year before.

YouTube viewing, on the other hand, was up six minutes to 34 minutes per day, pushing average viewing to 64 minutes among young people.

"Social media is the future," Jonny Parker, creative director at VCCP, added. "We often put things on YouTube and social channels, but never as exclusively as this. As TV audiences decline, we need to find new ways to interact with our audience. People are watching more content online, so this was a perfect opportunity for us to dip our toe into this new world that we know very little about."

Carbury is not the only brand to launch a YouTube mini-series in recent months. While Paddy Power celebrated the Rugby World Cup with a "Japanese-inspired" series, Lego continued its global "Rebuild the world" campaign with a series highlighting the brand’s influence on celebrities across music, sports and fashion.

Parker said that although the project had an "average budget" capable of funding two or three 30-second TV spots, the agency opted to create long-form, original content instead – a concept that was quickly embraced by Cadbury.

Alec Campbell, account director at VCCP, also hailed the concept for the "tremendous wealth" of footage the brand had at its disposal to promote the show. With this in mind, multiple cut-downs were created – some funny, some more emotional –  in order to target a range of audiences.

Moving forward, Clifford revealed plans to renew "Families reunited" for a second series, with the possibility of streaming future episodes on Netflix or Amazon Prime.

However, Parker admitted that he would like to raise the stakes for Cadbury, toying with the notion of creating "feature films" for the brand in the not-too-distant future.

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