Creative industry Leader Interview - 5 minutes with...

David Schneider

Creative Director, That Lot

David Scneider - That Lot

Career to date:

2014, Founder & Creative Director, That Lot

Creativebrief: As Creative Director of That Lot, what’s your primary focus?

David Schneider: There’s three founders, all called David and two of the founders, myself and David Levin are the Creative Directors. I’m more responsible for video output. We have Channel 4 which we have a sweat shop of keen young children who churn out videos for us. Obviously, it’s not a sweat shop we pay them appropriately. Just like to make that very clear for the record.

I tend to oversee the video output and David Levin tends to oversee the social content. There are certain accounts that feel more like me, like all the film accounts because I’m a film writer as well, and I look after Jesus Tweets You because even though I’m Jewish, I’m obsessed with religion.

Creativebrief: Can you just outline your career to date, where you started and how you ended up at That Lot?

David Schneider: Fasten your seatbelts because it’s a bit of a waltzer. I started off as an actor and writer on things like I’m Alan Partridge, The Day Today with Armando Iannucci, Steve Coogan, Chris Morris. Initially I was actor who then started writing rather than being a waiter in the down time and then I did more directing. Gradually over my career I’ve shifted from acting, I don’t really do any acting now. I’m behind the camera and writing.

A few years ago, I was wasting a lot of time on Twitter at the same time as directing above the line adverts and to justify all the time I was wasting on Twitter I thought why don’t we start a social media company? The sort of companies I was doing adverts for were awful on social media. It’s much easier to justify to friends and family live tweeting the X Factor if you’re doing it for money than when you were doing it just because you had no life. So, there was this space that we moved into.

I met David Levin and the other David, David Beresford. David Levin expresses it quite well, you had a lot of agencies who had good writers who didn’t know social media and then a lot of social media people who weren’t great writers. We were social media obsessives who could also write, design, make video, so we sat in the middle. That’s why we’ve grown so quickly and done so well. We’re all native to the platforms that we work on. Where we situate ourselves is platform specificity but bringing the rigour of my TV and film background to social media. There’s no hostages taken, no compromise just because it’s just a tweet. I will have the same rigour for a tweet as for a feature film and that obsessional quality is what we offer.

“Data is...very important for us but I'm a great believer in just lift your head up from the data. Some moments you bathe in the data, take it all in and then just forget it, look up and the creative can start." 

Creativebrief: What do you think’s unique about That Lot?

David Schneider: It’s to know the platforms really well and be very brilliant at creating content. There’s a lot of agencies that are great at creating content but don’t know the platforms so well or know the platforms very well but aren’t so great at creating the content. We make sure we live between those two.

Creativebrief: What do you think’s been your best work in the last year from That Lot?

David Schneider: When you look at what we’ve done with Channel 4, it was quite low down in the list of UK broadcasters on Facebook and now it’s top broadcaster on Facebook. We’ve brought them right up from down in the doldrums.

A lot of the things where I go that is fantastic is when we innovate. It might be what we call a timeline invasion for B&Q where we have two tweets and it looks like paint is being poured from one tweet to another, it’s just a beautiful thing. Or stuff we call parallax imagery where you take photos and you animate them a bit so they’re almost like videos and then we put a sound scape on them.

Creativebrief: Do you see brands being on these social platforms as an intrusion?

David Schneider: It’s an intrusion if it’s not brilliant work. It’s been very interesting because there’s a fear that it’ll shift away from organic, that people will have to pay money to get their brands seen. What we believe is that your owned and your earned, your organic stuff, is still vitally important. People don’t mind brands being in their timeline if it’s brilliant.

We do a thing on Twitter for instance, we call it reactive listening, searching for someone talking about holidays or cars and they’re not @ing the brand, then we reply to them. Because we reply in an amusing way it’s not seen as, oi brand get the hell off my timeline.

Creativebrief: What about industry wide, what work has excited you this year?

David Schneider: The Nike, Nothing Beats a Londoner, which is interesting for so many reasons. It’s brilliantly shot, brilliantly scripted, funny, moving, it’s a celebration. It’s caught the zeitgeist. But what’s really exciting about it is, it’s long. I watched it right to the end, I would love to know what their completion rates are.

We’ve experimented here for instance there was a big murder on Hollyoaks, I think there’s always a murder on Hollyoaks, and we experimented with putting together a supercut. It was 9 minutes long and it did really well, and it goes against all the things that you’re told. That’s what I loved about the Nike ad that it just said no, we’re going to make something brilliant. Brilliant will always cut through.

“I have a thing about career life in general that nothing is ever wasted. You've just got better."

Creativebrief: What about outside of the UK, is there a particular agency that you think is really pushing the boundaries?

David Schneider: I don’t speak agency, once it gets past two letters I don’t know, I can’t remember them. But I see work that I think is great like MoonPie on Twitter, it’s just funny. MoonPie is a great example of how, if you just engage and have good owned media so your page is great, then they [followers] will come.

Creativebrief: How do you see the digital landscape, advertising industry evolving over the next few years?

David Schneider: It’s an interesting question because most of the stuff we’re doing now you wouldn’t have predicted it five years ago. There are challenges, everyone’s trumpeting AI, I don’t think that’s there yet by a long way. It’s still hard for AI to compose Beethoven or tell a good joke. They’re just opening a door.

Comedy is my background, so I’m always interested in whether you can breakdown a joke into something that you can program a computer with. But there’s always that spark, that connection, that sense of what’s topical, what works. AI is a long way away from that. But five years, that’ll happen, that’ll move very quickly.

Data is the other big thing. It’s very important for us but I’m a great believer in just lift your head up from the data. Some moments you bathe in the data, take it all in and then just forget it, look up and the creative can start. That worries me about the way the industry goes. People are so data led. We use data loads but then we try to look away from it for the actual creative moment.

Creativebrief: What are your ambitions for That Lot?

David Schneider: To keep going and keep doing great work. We’re looking at expanding globally but then who isn’t? I always sound like Doctor Evil when I say that. I suspect the two worlds that I inhabit i.e. TV/film and social are going to come together more. We’re developing longer form TV shows that I would have once taken to a production company to go on a TV channel but now I’m not. I’m looking at putting them on Facebook or Snapchat. That’s the way forward, in collaboration with brands or possibly with the platforms themselves.

We do podcasts, the Strong and Stable podcast that we did with Deezer was a topical podcast about politics and the election. It felt where we’re going. The other place we’re going which is where that overlap comes is Facebook Live. We now have the kits to make it look like a TV show. We have multi cameras, vison mixing. We’re hoping to build our own studio, so we can do Facebook Lives there because I think that where it’s going to go.

Creativebrief: Something we talk about quite a lot at Creativebrief is the changing nature of the traditional pitch. What are your thoughts on that, have you seen it changing? Do you think it needs to change more?

David Schneider: Well I’m at a bit of a loss here because I don’t know what the traditional pitch was. I’ve only been pitching in this world for three years. I know what we do, and it seems to be successful. We do the strategy and then we mock up stuff so that they can really see what it’s going to be like.

When you’re pitching a TV show, it would be weird to say this is what the other channels are doing, this is what you’ve done before, this is why you should do this and here’s my nice little summery rubric that you can hang your coat on. When I first started I would go into a pitch and go here’s 20 brilliant ideas. I have learnt the technical side and how you need strategy and then you need to work from that.

We do still put a lot of energy into the bigger pitches. But I have a thing about career life in general that nothing is ever wasted, you’ve just got better. That said it costs a lot and it’s very disappointing if you don’t get it.

Creativebrief: Looking outside the industry, personally, who or what are you inspired by?

David Schneider: Because I still work outside of the industry it’s quite an easy question for me. I just did this film with Armando Iannucci, the Death of Stalin. Writing with him and seeing how he works and how he pushes himself to be better each time, how he never rests on his laurels, how he always challenges himself. I find that inspiring and the work that he comes up with is always great.

I saw Three Billboards [Outside Ebbing Missouri]. What’s great about that is it’s so human and that’s what we’re trying to do even with our tiny humble little things that we do on social. Something incredibly relatable. We started off doing mainly humour, mainly on Twitter and then it’s changed. There’s that human thing that Three Billboards captures so well where you just feel so much. When you get the feels on social, it’s remarkable. It’s complex but it’s still inspiring.

Topic of the moment

The trend that we’re focused on is the idea that customers want to know more about the social, economic and environmental impact of brands. How do you evaluate that in the brands you work with?

We always discuss who we’re going to work with and whether it’s acceptable to work with them or not. But we are in an industry where, if you have absolute morality, you wouldn’t be in this industry. I’m a great believer in what I call moral offsetting.

But obviously you want your company to have values that are reflected in who you work for and how your employees feel. It’s about the ethos within our company which is reflected in the work that we do and how we behave with our employees and hopefully that they are nurtured and respond. Part of the character of our company is that it isn’t full of agency people. It’s great to have that mix. But don’t get me wrong, there’s time where you go we’ve got to get someone who understands the language! But I think it is an advantage [the mix] because you have contact with the world outside.

About the author

Izzy Ashton, Writer/Researcher, BITE, Creativebrief

Izzy is a writer/researcher for BITE, Creativebrief’s daily insight into global marketing trends and the cultural movements driving them. She keeps abreast of the latest communication, technology and consumer news, and is responsible for conducting interviews with key agency strategists and creatives to gain insight into the most innovative global campaigns.