Nate Camponi, a Director at Chief TV, made a series of beautiful short films for M&S with celebrity chef Tom Kerridge earlier this year. In this piece, Nate explores how to tell big corporate stories in a more digestible way and what you can do from the creative standpoint to elevate brand messaging and move beyond forgettable advertising.
Back in January, my girlfriend and I were living at a friends’ house whilst a group of highly enthusiastic builders smashed my loft to pieces. I felt a bit all over the shop after an incredibly busy 2022, during which a handful of tricky commercial projects nearly saw me off (sounds dramatic but you weren’t there, man), and if I’m honest, I didn’t know what I wanted to do next.
But on a freezing cold Monday morning in London, I get a call from one of my producers, Tess, who said she thought I would be interested in a project for M&S Food, featuring Tom Kerridge. My immediate thought? Sounds great. Couple of days in a nice warm studio with decent coffee with a highly respected British chef? Easy. Bring it on.
But what came next turned into nothing short of one of the most fulfilling and enjoyable experiences of my career. M&S Farm to Foodhall turned out to be pretty life changing. The challenge? To make the complex, often misunderstood world of sustainable food sourcing accessible and appealing to the average consumer for their new advertising campaign.
Sounds simple enough. After all, we had a powerful and exciting narrative: a major supermarket takes significant steps towards ethical food sourcing, regenerative farming and 100% traceable products. Yet, it’s tricky territory because isn’t that what every advertiser out there claims to do now? So how do we stand out? And do we really believe they’re sticking to their promise? Well, aside from it sounding like an interesting job, I also wanted to find out for myself. So I jumped in.
Now, we’ve all seen a celebrity chef head up a campaign before, but I was convinced the way to do something different was to give people something good to watch, a reason to tune in. It’s the easiest thing in the world to stumble into a messy tangle of contrived visual pitfalls to ‘woo’ the audience into believing what they are watching is ‘real’, ‘authentic’, ‘honest’ and any other buzz words we can think of. But wobbly cameras, wistful gazing and dubious ‘noddy’ cutaways are spotted a mile off these days by an increasingly savvy audience. We needed to entertain.
Tom Kerridge is superb on camera and his infectious personality and genuine love for food and ingredients made him the perfect ambassador for M&S’s pledge and from the moment I met him, I just knew letting him be himself was the way to unlock a truly entertaining route. He wouldn’t want it any other way, either. I had to get out of the way and let him just be.
Then, I wanted to make each of these farmers heroes in their own movie. Each farmer’s unique story became the heartbeat of the campaign and added true emotional depth. I needed to capture genuine moments of connection and discovery between Tom and the farmers.
One story that sticks with me features David Wainwright, a beekeeper, who’s business was in trouble before M&S stocked his amazing honey. The films came out and sales went through the roof. The viewers felt a connection to him. This is a testament to the power of captivating storytelling and the positive impact that it can have on small businesses and communities.
Finally, I set out to create a sensory experience that would transport viewers to the farms and immerse them in the colourful textures, sounds and atmosphere of each place. What does it look like to be inside a beehive? What would it be like to be down in the mud with the insects that contribute to great quality soils? We already had gritty realism with Tom and the farmer, so why not be cinematically intriguing and elevate the campaign from a typical piece of docu-advertising into a lush piece of visual storytelling?
I loved every second of it. The sheer number of farmers carrying the family torch through the generations was astonishing. What connected them all was their unwavering commitment and passion for the importance of preserving traditional methods alongside embracing innovation. Genuine sustainability and regenerative farming has to be the way forward, and I was learning that M&S Food arguably were doing it better than anyone.
Now, before we go any further, for complete transparency, I’ll admit, there was a script. These are commercials, so you have to have something to submit to Clearcast and get a wider sign off and bla bla bla. But once the script was received, we highlighted the important messages and embarked on documenting Tom and the farmer’s real conversation.
Tom nailed it every single time - because he was interested. And M&S were never trying to manipulate or claim something that wasn’t true or something the farmers felt uncomfortable speaking about. And that was the key to leaving the script behind and pushing the campaign into a place that feels truly discovered.
Hats off to M&S Food who were aggressively supportive of my approach and allowed such freedom to experiment and explore. Without that space to play around, we can’t stumble upon ways to move the game on. It’s about communicating a message and the only way to do that is to give the viewer something to enjoy.
The Farm to Foodhall campaign was an enormous success for M&S Food and I can’t think of anyone better to front it than Tom Kerridge. I think we created a dynamic between Tom and each farmer that kept viewers engaged and took on an episodic style that had people looking forward to the next one. Entertainment is crucial in a world where consumers are bombarded with advertising messages almost every second of every day, but when done right, advertising can be more than just a sales pitch. It can and should be emotionally resonant.
And for those of you still wondering, you’ll be glad to hear the builders finished my loft on time and did a really good job. Thanks, lads.