Tom Rainsford freaked out watching Ghostbusters as a kid but went on to create laugh-out-loud horror campaigns which have established giffgaff as the mobile company to end your network nightmares. We talk with the maverick brand director, creative director and now film director about collaboration and the collective will to create a brand that’s different
As brand director and one of giffgaff founders you’ve created a mobile network that resonates with humour through your film campaigns, notably the Halloween Horrors but also the ridiculously blissful summer spot The Big Swim.
We suspect the brand is part of your own DNA. Have you always been involved in writing the narratives – from the initial series which were created in agencies until you famously brought the creative in-house?
When we launched giffgaff, it was very much all hands on deck. We had a ridiculous amount to do and it meant that you needed to be across lots of different work.
To build a brand you need to have a clear vision and identity – luckily we had that, so it was the (not insignificant) challenge of delivering against it.
giffgaff is built on doing this differently and not following the status quo. That’s why I work for giffgaff, that’s what gets me up on a rainy Monday morning.
This desire to challenge the old way of doing things, shouldn’t only be in our business model but how we work with ourselves and others. People use the word a lot, but being collaborative, and open helps the creative process and end result. It’s my job to make sure that happens and regardless of who is meant to do what, everyone has the opportunity to get involved, suggest, challenge and ultimately create good work. We’ve worked with various different models over the years, from a more-traditional Agency + Client relationship to our current setup.
All I want is for people to care about what they are working on. You can’t buy that and for me, that’s the difference between the good work and great work.
What’s your process for writing scripts?
After receiving the brief, I get some initial thoughts down, that just fall out of my head. Most will never see the light of day but I try to capture them as much as possible and as quickly as I can. Something I see, hear, do, might trigger something worth jotting down.
I have a 10-hour Halloween Playlist (no Monster Mash) which goes on and I start working up the ideas. The backdrop to last year’s was slightly more interesting, as I happened to be on holiday in New Orleans when writing, so touring the cemeteries and going on Ghost Tours in a spooky old city helped. London, although great, wasn’t quite the same.
I worked up two ideas, one darker and more dystopian and the idea we eventually made. Bringing it to life with words and visuals is one of the best parts, you’re creating a new world and the characters that live within it.
What are the principles of the brand you adhere to in the narratives? For instance the taglines have cleverly evolved with the visuals – such as End the Nightmare; Free to Go. Free to Stay.
The Brand values and personality need to be within the work. Some are unweighted and flexed harder depending on the campaigns – so for Halloween, one of our personality traits of being Disruptive is played on.
We like to have some synergy and coherency with our main messaging, across all of our other communications, including Halloween. The big challenge this year was that the ‘Stay or Go’ message. People don’t really want to Stay in a horror movie, they tend to want to Go as far as they can away from the monster, person chasing them, scary house as they can, so that was a significant challenge to fit into the narrative.
Did you immerse yourself in horror flicks to learn every trick or is it a genre you’ve always been interested in since a kid? What are your favourite horror films?
As a child I was terrified of Ghostbusters. My mates would get their older brothers to rent Hellraiser but I was far too scared to watch it with them.
I think my love of horror came from an interest in all things Gothic, which eventually led into Horror and Halloween. Both Horror and Halloween entertains us, it shows us what’s in the corner of the dark room. It challenges us, confronts us, daring us not to pick up the cushion and cover our eyes. It lets us stretch our beliefs and suspend disbelief. “Don’t run up the stairs,” “Don’t go round the corner”, “Don’t open that door”. That’s what I love about it.
As for favourite Horror film, I would have to say The Shining, however, more recently It Follows and Don’t Breathe have been faves.
Talking of tricks, were you a trick-or-treat kid door-stepping for sweets?
Funny enough my Mum never let me go trick-or-treating. Possibly why I have become so obsessed with Halloween and horror as an adult.
There’s a new sensibility and colour palette in 2am – along with rather fabulous make-up and soundtrack. Does this shift reflect the changing tastes of your customers, or rather, members as you refer to them?
It reflects a change in the way Halloween is consumed by people in the UK. Younger people have grown up with Halloween, it’s not just an American import to them, and is as much about dressing up and going out for a big night, than it is about watching a horror flick.
We saw a Mintel study that said the top things people did in Halloween 2016 were to watch a scary film, dress up, go to or have a Halloween party so that planted the seed for the approach we could take. Make a scary film that had something about wearing great costumes and going out at Halloween.
Apps like Instagram and Snapchat give people the ability to share their version of Halloween and I was keen to reflect this in a modern visual approach to Halloween, rather than playing on some of the classic horror and Halloween styles, that everyone is familiar with.
How people have gone crazy for our remixed Club track, only supports this approach.
The series have become increasingly slick with super high production crafting – is this because you’ve signed to Riff Raff as a director?
I have huge respect for Matthew and everyone at Riff Raff. From the producers, directors and all of those involved in the work. I loved there work long before I was involved in this world. They have and continue to produce outstanding, slick creative work. Hopefully the latest Halloween creative lives up to that high bar.
What were the key lessons you learnt transitioning from a brand director to creative director to director?
I think to have an understanding of brands and the other side of the process, is a fairly unique, which helps give a rounded view of each side of the coin.
All I have ever wanted us to do is to make work that people want to watch and talk about. Regardless of my role or title that still holds true. As does having good relationships and not treating people like commodities. It is, of course, a very different type of role and challenge. All stressful but importantly rewarding.
Who or what was the greatest influence on your creativity?
Music drives me. Anything that has a passion and soul to it. I grew up on Heavy Metal/Hardcore/Punk. Mix that with contemporary dance, by choreographers like Pina Bausch and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker – and that’s my bizarre greatest influences.
What’s your worst nightmare?
I use to dream fairly frequently about being in a coma, unable to talk but able to hear everyone else in the room. That or Oxford Street on Christmas Eve.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?