Arable Histories

While my upbringing may have been considered sheltered by some, my horizons have always been pretty broad.

Quite literally.

Crowle moors looking West towards Thorne
The view of Crowle moors from my childhood home

It’s true, I wasn’t born to this life of integrated creative strategies, PowerPoint ‘decks’ are not my birthright and conference calls are not in my blood.

I first drew breath in Scunthorpe, in the hospital on top of the only hill in our very flat part of North Lincolnshire, but was raised in of Crowle. A humble, former market town of little repute, Crowle sits on stretch of land that was once cut off on all sides by rivers. It was drained in the 1600s to create more workable farmland, though to this day the area is still known as the Isle of Axholme.

Rerouting a couple of rivers and digging a few ditches made for the kind of large fertile fields that taties, wheat and sugar beet just love, though it’s still marshy in places and way off in the distance of that photo, they still dig for peat.

I grew up with tales of Willo’ the Wisps – ghost lights on the moors who would lure farmers to their doom – and rumours of a mummified pilot that came down en route to one of the nearby airfields in the 1940s, forever to be preserved in the peat. I was surrounded by some of the widest, openest landscape in the UK, and the industry that loomed large in my formative years wasn’t so much the Steelworks of Scunthorpe to the East or the coalfields of Thorne to the West (though I could see the colliery lights from my bedroom window), it was farming.

Growing up in ‘The Isle’ it felt like everyone was connected to land in some way and I was no exception. My mum was a farmer’s daughter and my Uncle Tom was a big noise in the olde worlde shire horse ploughing scene.

Festival of the plough
c1980s | Nancy Spivey and Tom Howell at The Festival of The Plough

Where I live now we have the ‘Leamington Peace Festival’, a sort of micro Glastonbury where middle class types can buy handwoven hammocks and rain sticks. Near where I grew up we had ‘The Festival of The Plough’. Though I guess, compared to nearby Haxey where there’s an annual organised fight over a stick, at least ploughing with big horses is rooted in some logic.

I spent my childhood tramping across fields, making forts in haystacks, stealing peas straight from the pod and trying to snog lasses in cornfields. Crowle in the 70s and 80s was still a bit like the idealised Britain of Worzel Gummidge and Cider with Rosie.

I eventually exchanged this rural idyll for the original ‘concrete jungle‘ and a few years into my career at Parenthesis we got on the pitch list for Massey Ferguson. Working at an agency in Coventry they were the local account we always wanted and for me growing up around farm machinery, it was familiar territory. We put everything we had into the pitch and even decked our boardroom out with bales of straw inspired by my romaticised memories of straw forts.

It was a big deal when we won the work, but for me, Massey’s was a funny account to work on – and I remember the creative being incredibly client-led. I have worked into the wee small hour many times over the years, but have only actually worked through the night on two occasions. One was pitching for Barclaycard’s sponsorship of Wembley Arena, but the other was creating every single size and format variation of ads in a campaign for Massey’s entire range of tractors that the client wanted to present at a meeting in France.

To this day I am not convinced he ever showed them.

Let alone get all that foam board on the plane.

However, amid all the bit dramatically shot hardware, brushed steel and ‘power words’, I did design this sweet little brochure for their flagship combine harvester – the Cerea MF 7200…

Massey Ferguson Cerea brochure cover

The Massey Ferguson Cerea MF 7200 – a Very Hungry Combine Harvester
c2002 | Massey Ferguson Cerea MF 7200 brochure

The idea of the combine making short work of a whole list of harvest problems put the benefits ahead of all the engineering and I think we did well to get this little piece of whimsy signed off and into production.

The agency’s design output ultimately found a spiritual home in Lead Creative Paul Barton, whose Dad had been an engineer at the firm, and it was Paul who added the short cut ‘Very Hungry Caterpillar’ pages that really made this work.

Masseys were around for a matter of months before I took my leave from Parenthesis, but I’ll always by chuffed to have helped land the account and pleased with the work I did in its early days at the agency.

In more recent years I found myself back in rural Lincolnshire, checking out a grain store in Grantham while helping promote a crop rather than the harvester that chomped it up.

Brewers Select was created by über agri-business, Graincorp, specifically to serve the needs of the growing number of craft and micro breweries in the UK. There was Vital, with an abundance of experience in the brewing trade and there was Brewers Select, with a blank sheet of paper and a brief to create them a brand from scratch. Though as with a lot of open briefs there was a bit of narrowing down to be done up front. So I presented a range of options that ran from the handcrafted to the utterly modern.

Brewers select logo options
2013 | Brewers Select logo options

And they went modern.

To be honest, of all the things we showed them it was the outside runner, but the science angle (the circles representing the constituent parts of beer – water, malt, hops and yeast) struck a chord with client and served to give them a confident, cool image unlike anything else in their market.

Basic RGB

Brewers Select leaflet
2013 | Brewers Select leaflet

The identity was rolled out across all the usual bits and bobs and worked particularly well online with a website designed develop by another old Parenthesis mucker Dave Evans.

2013 | Brewers Select website
2013 | Brewers Select website

A lot of time was also spent on branding their sacks, as the various sources of grain and malt types made for a complex matrix of designs that were bulk ordered from china in scarily large quantities. I happened upon them during a brewery visit last year. They looked pretty cool in the end.

Brewer's select images
2013 | Brewers Select signage and grain sack

My experience in working for agricultural clients clattered headlong into another field of expertise when I helped to win a pitch for the UK’s leading financial services provider to farmers and rural communities.

As always, when I write about existing clients, I deftly have to avoid using such googlebot-friendly signposts as their actual name and stuff, but you’re a human, you can read the name on the logo below and clock the wheatsheaf logo and realise I am not just throwing this shit together.

It’s been a joy to work for this outfit for the last two or three years and I have got to ply my trade on a number of farming-related and more general rural-flavoured campaigns, including this above-the-line campaign for home insurance…

022635 NFUM Peg People 297x210mm MASTER.indd
2012 | Home insurance press ad

At the time these were briefed there’d been changes at the top internally, the insurance market was dominated by red phones and nodding dogs and this rather gentlemanly brand was being forced to shout a bit to get heard.

The ads were ultimately trying to do too much – shouting about their Which? award, a money off deal, a customer testimonial and present a suitably aspirational rural slice of life via the imagery – proved a lot of elements to balance. A chain of stakeholders with differing views didn’t help matters but a series of six ads were signed off and produced alongside a number of radio ads.

ad options
2012 | Insurance campaign ads

At the time, Rachel blogged about the photo shoot. I had to twist the client’s arm to work up the pegs ad, though as it was a simple shot to do, we managed to squeeze it in. I’m not sure if all the others ran but the pegs were certainly used more than the other, as it appeared in banner ads, on the inside front cover of the Radio Times and in many of the national papers the morning after the 2012 London Olympics closing ceremony.

2012 | National press ads

As kids we grew quite adept at avoiding farmers, we vaguely knew that playing on and around farms was a bit tresspassy and that trampling crops was a bit vandalismy and that eating peas from the pods was a bit stealy and after regular schools showing of Apaches we understood that mucking about on farms could get a bit deathy.

Stuff like that stays with you forever and it was very much in my mind when I was asked to work on a farm safety campaign.

Farmers know all the risks that come with their job, but for various reasons, they take them anyway. A whole history of high-profile campaigns from various bodies have done sterling work to raise awareness and I felt our client was in the perfect position to build on that and offer some practical help.

Farm safety design-a-sign website
2011 | Farm safety design-a-sign

From the farmer’s point of view the benefit of being able to create a free sign tailored to the hazards on their particular farm and then translate it for the benefit of foreign workers was obvious. It also allowed the client’s agents the opportunity to remind farmers of their Farm Safety Assessment service.

The design of the site was yet another Spivey/Barton collaboration and I was really proud of it. It was simple and I like to think it helped stop a couple of daft accidents. I often try to calm stressed colleagues with the observation that ‘we are not saving lives’, though this is maybe the closest I have come to doing so.

While the site was a key feature and acted as a proof point for the campaign there was still the job of continuing to hammer home the message, outline the clients commitment to farm safety and drive traffic to the site. So taking the iconography of warning signs I designed this…

Farm safety leaflet
2011 | Farm safety leaflet

Once you see the ‘big wheel at the back, little wheel at the front’ correlation between a tractor and a wheelchair, you can’t unsee it, which I figured was a great visual hook for the campaign. Though it took ages to get the actual image to work in both guises.

This image revealed itself through cleverly folded leaflets and a four page insert in Farmers Weekly, but it really came to life online with some banner ads, developed by Leigh Dunks and beautifully animated by Ed Lewis.

(Below are the clunky gifs. Ed’s flash banners are here and really worth a click.)

skyscraper_02         mpu_04

My industry peers seemed to dig the campaign, though while it was nominated for a total of four creative awards, only managed to reap a Bronze for Best Trade Campaign in that year’s Fresh Awards.

nfu mag 13

NFUM FW insert

4 page magazine insert in Farmer's Weekly
2011 | Farm safety Farmers Weekly insert

Now for someone writing a loosely farming-themed blog about his work, to be able to jump from an image of a tractor on a yellow background to another image of a tractor with a yellow background is a bit of a gift.

Tyrells bag sm
2012 | Tyrrell’s Furrows bag

I didn’t design this. Nor have I ever officially worked for Tyrrells, though I was asked some years ago to contribute a few ideas for some consumer and trade ads by Oxfordshire-based agency, Jump To.

Sadly no more, Jump To were long-standing creative associates of Vital and I first crossed paths with their MD and Creative Director, Mark Glynne-Jones, when we collaborated on a (as it turned out) award-winning viral game for Marston’s in 2002. I was more than happy to help out Mark with some thoughts on flogging crisps, especially because, while my Mum was a farmer’s daughter, my Dad worked at a potato merchants who supplied to the snack industry.

So if I didn’t design the Furrows bag and my relationship with the brand was tenuous at best, how come it made it to this little round-up?

Because a line from one of the ads I presented actually ended up appearing on the packet.

2009 | The original Tyrrell’s ad concept

I never even saw this until a year or so later. I was in the pub with Mark when he came back from the bar with a round and a couple of bags of Furrows. It was one of those jobs you do, then never hear anything and assume has just gone away, but I was happy that a little bit of that presentation saw the light of day.

It was fun to do and Tyrrell’s seemed like a nice bunch, but if you thought the ‘ploughing things in’ line was a terrible pun, you should have seen some of the others…

team scamps

200? | Tyrrell's ad concepts
2009 | Tyrrell’s ad concepts

The family connection not withstanding, my affinity with crisp bags actually goes way back to the beginning of my career, when as a youth I held a junior role at Teasdale Graphic Advertising.

Teasdales was headed up by an ex-Ogilvy Art Director and ran out of a purpose-built studio in the grounds of Redbourne Hall, set in more of that never-ending flat countryside.

I loved the place.

Among their clients (a lot of whom seemed to start with Lin – Lincat, Linpac, Linturf, er.. Lincoln City Council) was Scunny crisp maker Rileys who were part of Sooner Snacks, the home of Nik Naks and Wheat Crunchies. To be fair my job wasn’t much more than paid work experience, but I was let lose on paste-up artwork for crisp boxes, advertising a various promotional items.

Not much exists of that stuff now but I did find this beauty for sale on eBay for £1.99 but it didn’t even sell.

rileys crisps
c1989 | Rileys crisp packet

Having a relationship with the local go-to agency was a real asset in the final year of my BTEC at North Lindsey College and so in a bid to give my end of year project that whiff of authenticity, I invited them to play client, write a brief and review my designs like it was a real job. I was set the task of rebranding Wheat Crunchies. Ignoring the fact that they were baked in a big industrial oven I christened them Fried Pipers and created a jolly Thom Yorke-a-like piper character whose poor rat catching abilities were reinforced by the rodent on his shoulder. His pied outfit afforded a great opportunity to colour code the different flavours and I created the full suite of packaging, point of sale and even camera ready artwork with acetate separations made from bromides and rubylith and stuff.

The work earned me the top mark of my year and my future of one day coming up with a line that appeared on a bag of Tyrrell’s furrows was assured.

btec show 3 crop

btec show 1
1989 | My BTEC final year show

My job at Teasdales lasted into the first summer break from my degree in Coventry, where I returned to cover off the holidays of various designers taking their time off.

ghostbusters crisps
1989 | The Real Ghostbusters bag (Only 10p flash by me)

They kept me busy operating the PMT camera and general studio dogsbodying, though on my very last morning I was briefed on what, to this day, remains my only real contribution to popular culture. I became the guy who designed the ‘Only 10p’ flash on ‘The Real Ghostbusters’ potato snack bag. I was given a pretty free rein and the big book of Ghostbusters guidelines, but it was clear to me which direction this should take from the start. I wasn’t going to waste this opportunity on a simple old corner flash and I made it look like an unseen member of the Ghostbustin’ team were zapping and narrowly missing the famous ghost in the logo. I paid particular attention to the way the blast merged with the glow around the type and disappeared behind the ghost. See? I properly think about this stuff.

I remain immensely chuffed with this completely rubbish claim to fame.

My role as a designer has only ever been to play a small part in the food chain or merely grease the wheels of the farm machinery industry, but there’s poetry to me occasionally getting to work ‘in farming’.

All that said, my other Grandad was in the motor trade, though that’s a blog post for another day.


Arable Histories

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