A Butterfly Offers Hope in the Guardian's Artful Ad for Dark Times

'Hope Is Power,' says campaign from Uncommon

Seven years ago, the Guardian dropped "Three Little Pigs," a landmark campaign from BBH London that embodied the U.K. news organization's dedication to "open journalism" by inviting viewers to question whether the wee piggies from the fairy tale were, in fact, the innocent victims they appeared to be. 

That initiative struck a major chord, winning a Grand Clio in Film, among many other accolades. 

Now, of course, times have changed. The world's more chaotic than ever, and the mainstream press comes under fire seemingly at every turn. Some outlets have struggled amid accusations of "fake news," declining trust among the general public and dwindling revenue numbers. 

Against that backdrop, the Guardian, working with Uncommon Creative Studio and director James Marsh, today lunched its first global brand campaign since 2012.

The pigs are long gone, replaced by a persistent, tenacious butterfly and the aspirational theme "Hope Is Power."

This centerpiece spot from Marsh (who directed the 2008 Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire, and the more recent Theory of Everything), adopts a minimalist, almost claustrophobic style, as the butterfly attempts to exit a dreary room by repeatedly hurling itself against a windowpane:

Hope is Power | Guardian

Ultimately, the winged warrior shatters expectations, breaking through in dramatic fashion, accompanied by the phrase "Change is possible. Hope is power." 

This artsy foray is set to the unsettling strains of "Nothing Changes" from the Tony-winning musical Hadestown. In the play, which is a reworking of classical mythology, the Fates appear before Orpheus and taunt him by singing the song as he attempts to rescue his wife Eurydice from the Underworld. Orpheus succeeds, though his story ends in tragedy. 

That's probably parsing things too fine. Mainly, the track's there to provide a counterpoint to the visuals, and it's the repetition of the "Nothing Changes" line, juxtaposed with the butterfly's escape, that matters.

A 2017 essay by Guardian editor-in-chief Katharine Viner about the enduring importance of investigative reporting and the willingness of news organizations to speak truth to power inspired Uncommon's work. 

"The Guardian has an almost 200-year history of producing journalism which inspires hope," says client chief customer officer Anna Bateson. "We have chosen to take a bold creative approach which we hope will inspire readers to support Guardian journalism in a number of ways."

Aimed at both current and prospective readers, the campaign supports the outlet's quest to double its paid subscriber base and reach 2 million by 2022.

"We need the Guardian more now than ever," says Uncommon co-founder Nils Leonard. "Unafraid, they are a voice of challenge and change in a time that needs it most." 

Leonard offers these other campaign insights:

On the choice of a butterfly

"We wanted a visual icon for the idea. Something simple and memorable. We kept trying to find icons for hope. The dove came up, but was too [much like a] Grateful Dead poster. Then we went back to what really sat behind the idea of 'Hope is Power': a belief in change. The butterfly is the icon of change, but too often is represented in a soft way. So, we made it badass. We figured if we could redefine the fragile image of the butterfly, we could redefine the fragile perception of the word hope."

On following the iconic "Three Little Pigs"

"Both 'Three Little Pigs' and the excellent skinhead advert ('Points of View') before it were rooted in the same idea: the celebration of different viewpoints to form a balanced opinion. And both stood out in their time. That insight doesn't really cut it now. This was about something else. If we felt real pressure in this process, it was to make something original and powerful that could also leave people believing in something bigger than a news insight. Hopefully people respond to that." 

On making the commercial

"The film was a mix of carefully handled real butterflies, CG and [careful] editing. The challenge of course was to give the butterfly an intent it didn't really possess. But to try and do that in a way you might just believe was possible. The part that gets me is the inflection point: that when it stares blindly out of the window, [the scene looks] all blurred and saturated, and when the organ comes in, for a second you place yourself in its character, and you really want out."

On comparisons to campaigns from CNN and the NYT:

"We wanted to make some work that celebrated more than great journalism. This is for anyone who wants things to be different from the way they are. For anyone who wants to believe that the news can do more than inform, but can be a force for action, momentum and change. The target for this thinking is anyone that will read the last remaining truly independent global news platform and then act on what they have read to make things better, either by supporting the Guardian, or by making change in the world around them." 

The notion of "Hope" feels more ethereal than, say, "Facts" (the crux of CNN's high-profile ads), or "Truth" (unflinchingly served in The New York Times' commercials), or the Washington Post's warning that "Democracy Dies in Darkness."

And yet, much as "Three Little Pigs" echoed the beat of a more collegial era, perhaps "Hope Is Power" presents the most salient message for a troubled age. After all, hope is what the best journalism can provide when other recourses fail, liberating the oppressed from the trap of institutional lies and misinformation, even changing lives.

Posters, print and digital elements reinforce this notion, reminding us that "The way things are is not the way they have to be," especially with a vigilant public watchdog on guard. Click/tap the images to enlarge:


Campaign Name: Hope is Power 

Client: Guardian 

Creative Agency: Uncommon Creative Studio 

Production Company: Pulse Films
Director: James Marsh
Managing Director: James Sorton
Executive Producer: Lucy Kelly
Producer: David French
Production Manager: Tom Nutting
DOP: Rob Hardy
SFX: Machine Shop
Editor: Jinx Godfrey @ MSE.TV

Still Photographer: Giles Revell

Music and Sound: Soundtree Music Ltd
Song Title: Nothing Changes
Publisher: Candid Publishing
Composer: Anais Mitchell
Arranger and producer: Luis Almau
Sound Design: Henning Knoepfel
Music Supervisor: Jay James

Post Production: Freefolk
VFX Supervisor: Jason Watts
Flame Artist: Andy Copping
Colorist: Paul Harrison
Post Producer: Vittorio Giannini and Fi Kilroe

David Gianatasio
David Gianatasio is managing editor at Clio Awards.

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