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Talking the World Cup 2018 ITV campaign with John McKenna

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In the lead up to this year's FIFA World Cup, I was lucky enough to speak with John McKenna, CEO of Noah Media Group, the specialist sport production company who are delivering the creative campaign for the ITV coverage. Below, we discuss the infuence of the Russian circus on the identity of the campaign, the pressures of working on such a major event and, of course, victory predictions.

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What would you say is the overall theme of this year’s World Cup? From an advertising perspective.

It is a celebration of the Greatest Show on Earth coming to Russia. The sequence is a celebration of Russian history – its circus tradition, incredible architecture and beautiful music, packaged around the most amazing moments in World Cup history.

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There’s obviously a fair amount of controversy attached to this particular World Cup. Have you tried your best to ignore it? Or have you in some way used it as a creative tool?

We needed to put together a concept that was a celebration of the event that is to come. We decided to go with “The Greatest Show” as our overall theme (before the film came out!). We filmed in Russia with a big cast of incredible Russian performers. We felt it was important to make the sequence feel Russian but the star had to be the football.

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Are you keeping a close eye on the BBC campaign? Or are you trying to remain focused on your own work?

You only see the BBC piece once you’ve finished yours! So you hope that it is suitably different. All you can do is try and make the best piece you can and not worry about what anyone else is doing.

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Where do you start when creating a campaign like this?

With an idea that’s usually relatively simple. If you can say it in a sentence then it should make sense at the end. I think if you feel the idea is exciting at an early stage then you can convey that and, hopefully ultimately, deliver it on screen. For this piece we worked with an external director, Mike Fisher, and a Russian Producer, Julia Beliaeva – they both brought a huge amount to the concept.

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On a similar note, how do you know when enough is enough and you’ve done all that you can do?

That’s the hardest thing, especially in a sequence like this, which has the editing as a key component. We shot for two days and got hours of footage. You could deliver this in many ways and you can tweak and tweak. But after a certain point you know you’re in the right area – and then you have to just stop. Then sound design and grade come in to take it on a level more.

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Can you go into any detail regarding specific choices on the design/colour schemes and typography used in the campaign?

For the projections we used architectural models of famous Russian landmarks to act as a backdrop to the performances, alongside the key moments from World Cup. The colours were either gold or silver, which complemented the artists and gave us a clear link to Russia’s rich history. Tonally this gave us a good counterpoint and scenes that felt warm and colder.

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Did you look back to any previous World Cup TV campaigns when building your own? Or did you go completely your own way (so to speak)?

You know that there’s a history of really good sequences that you want to live up to. It adds a bit of pressure for sure. I directed the ITV sequence in 2010. That was very helpful – to have gone through this process once before. You have a sense of what you think went well and what you’d change this time around in the process. Music was the key thing for me. It’s so important in a sequence like this. And I think we have a music accompaniment that really adds to the piece – it has changes of pace and drama.

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Did you work with any brans partners or sponsors on the work? If so, did they have much input?

We work directly to Paul McNamara, Executive Producer at ITV Sport. Paul and I have worked together for many years. He added some thoughts of what he would like to see and came back into the process as we were editing. I think it’s really important to keep the client involved, rather than just delivering your take. He was really supportive throughout the process.

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How do you think you captured the spirit/emotion of this World Cup? And how much inspiration did you take from Russia and Russian culture?

We had a cast of 40 Russian theatre and circus performers. We reference some of the incredible architecture and we have a new take on a very famous piece of Russian classical music. We wanted it to be a mixture of traditional and modern performance to try and show both the old and the new of this vast host country.

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Finally, favourites to win?

I’ve never done well with World Cup predictions. Would love to see England go for it and just be good to watch. I’d quite like Messi and Argentina to win it and think they might.

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