'Walking the walk and talking the talk': behind the scenes of Virgin Media's 'Skatergirl'

Adam & Eve/DDB: Melanin Skate Gals & Pals helped with the "Skatergirl" casting process
Adam & Eve/DDB: Melanin Skate Gals & Pals helped with the "Skatergirl" casting process

Adam & Eve/DDB copywriter Edward Usher and planning director Claire Strickett talk authenticity in their three-part series for Virgin Media.

On the surface, Virgin Media’s work by Adam & Eve/DDB promotes online connectivity, but it also strives to dig deeper in an effort to create authentic narratives for consumers.

The brand's mission to feature underrepresented people in its marketing has so far comprised three TV ads since last year, each created by Edward Usher and Xander Hart at Adam & Eve/DDB and all featuring a lead from a minority group. The latest instalment, “Skatergirl”, was released on 4 February.

For copywriter Usher and planning director Claire Strickett, “it's about walking the walk as well as talking the talk”. Authenticity was key in delivering Virgin Media’s messages of community and connection, and this theme was abundant behind the scenes as well as in the finished product.

“Skatergirl” stars a female skateboarder, named Aamira, who befriends a skate crew after falling off her board trying to perform a new trick. The skate crew sends Aamira online videos in an effort to push her to keep practising and not to give up.

The first ad in Virgin Media's pointedly inclusive approach was last year's “Faster brings us closer”, which tells the love story of two students who meet via a video game. The second part of "Faster brings us closer", "For you", was an exploration of intergenerational music starring Lava La Rue, who creates a track dedicated to their father after discovering one of his 1990s jungle tracks, For You.

Strickett refers to the ads as “episodes” adding: “One thing we wanted to do is find a rhythm or handwriting for the brand that didn't tie us to using the same characters or certain situations every time.”

This use of storytelling played a pivotal role in the campaign in an effort to relate to the consumer.

Usher says: “I feel like stories capture your attention and stay in your memory a lot longer than flashing up a product. You get a more interesting, deeper experience as the viewer and the brand also lands better.”

After Usher and Hart chose skateboarding as the backdrop for the third spot, Usher recalls taking part in the sport when he was younger. “I saw these groups of older kids hanging out and being super cool,” he says. “If they'd reached out to me, I would have felt fantastic.”

The series plays on this same desire for connection and the role technology plays in people “finding their tribe”. Usher and Strickett explain how this theme of community played a vital role during the ad’s production.

For example, Adam & Eve/DDB appointed On Road as its strategic insights partner to consult on the campaign.

On Road was integral to the process and enlisted the help of Melanin Skate Gals & Pals, a London-based group that aims to give a voice to marginalised communities within the skateboarding world.

Usher says that the group’s input proved useful in their research and how helpful they were in “getting everything as authentic as possible”.

Melanin Skate Gals & Pals helped with the casting process, which is where Zahirah was cast as the hero character, Aamira, as well as ensuring elements like costume and set were as true to the community as possible.

“Virgin Media is a fantastic client to work on because they're actually walking the walk and doing things a bit differently,” Usher adds. “Casting faces you don't see every day on TV, which is fantastic for creatives as well, because we get to make more interesting, current, relevant films.”

Diversity was an important factor for both Virgin Media and Adam & Eve/DDB when creating these narratives, but Strickett emphasises that the series is not specifically about inclusivity.

Instead, the best way to ensure that advertising is being truly inclusive is by not labouring the point.

One of the leads in the first ad for instance was a wheelchair user whose disability is never referenced. “It's just part of how he is, and there's no reason to speak about it,” Usher adds.

Strickett also stresses how “it's so much about behind the camera as well as in front of the camera”, in terms of diversity, which is something the agency learned as the series progressed.

For example, “For you” was directed by Maceo Frost, who is mixed race, and “Skatergirl” was directed by an all-female director team called the Fridman Sisters at Stink Films.

“It's been a real learning process for us,” Strickett says. “We can still carry on doing more and doing better, but I'm proud of the fact that we've got better every time.”

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