Matthew Burns

The Spirit of Sedbergh

[Blog post created by Miles Latham – Affixxius Films]

As an organisation with a speciality in the Independent Education sector, alongside our work with high brands worldwide, to be approached by a school with the history and pedigree of Sedbergh is, in and of itself, a huge privilege.  It was particularly interesting, moreover, when a detailed brief was put forward to us, that the school had appetite far beyond the ‘norm’ of school marketing to bring its story to life.  There were, in essence, three main features of the challenge for this particular campaign – which was to exist across mediums but be driven by film in the form of a ‘brand advert’.

First, we were clearly entering into a process of modernisation (in brand messaging) that needed to hold on to, and protect, the rich history of the institution as a distinguishing feature.  Any attempt to ‘force through’ an overly-contemporary filmic style would not be congruent with the genuine ‘feel’ of Sedbergh, and yet this had to feel like a campaign for 2019 and beyond, rather than a harking back to tradition in the face of a fast-changing world.  Secondly, the involvement of Casterton as a key part of the messaging meant that our campaign was to act as something of a ‘unification’ process – both internally and externally – and make a very clear statement that these ‘two sides of the same coin’ are aligned in how they consider their identities.

Finally, the idea of ‘distinctiveness’ could not have been writ clearer in our initial challenge.  It is very normal for organisations to approach us with the desire to be ‘different’, but remarkably few are genuinely willing and able to follow through on that challenge.  Sedbergh was to be very different.  We had both the desire to stand out and the backing to distribute the message with great energy.  With the above points in mind, we found ourselves with the incredible ‘canvas’ of the Sedbergh aesthetic onto which we could paint a story of togetherness, community, resilience and success.

Nearly all successful ‘challenger’ campaigns of this type bring with them creative tension, and this was no different in this case.  We, as a leading UK creative agency, were pushed to our limits to find both a narrative and tonality that would accurately reflect the school as well as push its brand understanding forward.  Underpinning our creative suggestions – which deliberately ranged in tone and technique – was an in-depth and in-person research phase (including the wonderful hospitality of a set of Houseparents for the full Sedbergh experience).  With a sound understanding of the intangible ‘magic’ of being part of the Sedbergh community in place, we were able to consider a very broad range of concepts that explored what the school isn’t as much as what it is.

Our eventual approach – harnessing the analogous ’symbol’ of the wolf (influenced by the school crest) – brought with it huge opportunities on thematic and visual levels.  There is so much contained in the analogy from which we could build a scene-based narrative that took us around the Sedbergh community.  Immediately one thinks of a pack; something true of Sedbergh both on a macro level – as an overall school identity – and on a more micro level as boys and girls associate so fiercely with their Houses.  Beyond this, the senses of family, of protection and fairness, of curiousness and intelligence and of grit and resilience are all conjured up by our lead symbol.  So long as any sense of ‘aggression’ could be channeled into the correct areas of school life, we had the chance to tell a very authentic and compelling story.

The reality of the concept’s execution was, arguably, as exciting as its conceptualisation.  Working with two trained wolf-dogs on location on two separate shoots, we were able to put the visual and performance quality of our end result to the forefront of our minds.  The resulting film is epically cinematic – one of the most dramatic we have ever produced – and lands the symbol of the wolf as the true ’Spirit of Sedbergh’ in a number of innovative ways.  The ‘real’ presence of the wolf (or otherwise) is played-with throughout our narrative to intrigue the audience – almost giving the idea that the spirit is at its most visible and strongest amongst the young people of the school.

One feature of the production worth significant note is the performance levels achieved by our lead protagonists.  It has come as a huge surprise to many of our known Casting Agents that none of the boys and girls in the film (or, indeed, the teaching staff) are ‘professional’ actors.  Our Creative Director is firmly of the belief that ‘The Spirit of Sedbergh’ contains some of the most compelling on-screen performances we have ever captured from any talent – cast or otherwise.  Even within our supporting photography campaign, we see a wonderful on-screen endearment to our characters imbued with a pride in their school and an understated self-confidence.

Ultimately, any campaign of this type should be judged by its reception – and that reception has, thus far, exceeded our expectations.  Along with the vast statistical results from social media (that are growing so quickly that reporting them here seems futile!) we have been particularly excited by how ubiquitously we have heard about “…the Sedbergh wolf campaign…” from other schools around the UK and across the world.  From the USA to mainland Europe we have seen the campaign recognised and appreciated for its boldness, intelligence and production quality.

It leaves us only to thank the school, and especially the Marketing Team, for such an incredibly brave and supportive commission.  The results are speaking for themselves, and we believe there is far more to come.

Here’s, then, to the Spirit of Sedbergh.

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