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Art Director Mark Nicholson brings authenticity to award-winning Adidas campaign

Creativity has always been a fundamental aspect of Mark Nicholson’s life. As a child growing up in the Lake District of Northern England, his artistic side was evident even from a young age. Over time, this childhood hobby developed into much more, and now, Nicholson is an internationally celebrated Art Director.

While working on several high-profile campaigns around the world, Nicholson’s talent has directly led to the success of each project he has worked on. He created the concept for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation competition to “Make millennial’s care more about charity work and causes happening around the world,” and their campaign Plight Map went on to win the prestigious Cannes Chimera Award. While working as an Art Director for the rebranding campaign of 118118, the project went on to be nominated for a British Arrow Award. He has worked on several popular commercials with the world’s most recognizable companies, such as Nike and Microsoft. He also contributed greatly to the success of the Adidas Break-up Service campaign.

“Adidas is iconic. It’s created work globally that has pushed advertising into new territory. This, combined with my natural interest in Asian culture, seemed like a match made in heaven,” said Nicholson.

Break up Service was a multi-media advertising campaign for the latest Japanese inspired safety wear fashion range from Adidas Originals. A film, print campaign and website followed a young man that worked for a fictional ‘break-up’ service and the danger that falling in love creates. The film won a Silver Cannes Lion Award at the prestigious international festival, as well as a Bronze BIAA.

“The campaign is one of my proudest pieces, the team we worked with in Japan – especially the award-winning director Kosai Sekine, it was all fantastic. Learning first-hand about Japanese culture whilst on location allowed us to adapt the script as we went, working with the Japanese team to make it as authentic, but as entertaining, as possible,” said Nicholson.

After having previous success with TBWA London on a campaign with the Chelsea Football Club and Adidas, Nicholson was immediately sought-after for the Break Up Service project, knowing that he had the exact skillset needed. As the Senior Art Director, Nicholson first created a mixed-media campaign idea and presented it to the client to secure funding for the project. He wrote the script, and oversaw storyboarding, design and branding. The project required a unique knowledge of Japanese subculture, which was a specific skillset that Nicholson possessed. After funding was secured, he was responsible for finding and collaborating with an authentic Japanese director, refining the script and making creative decisions whilst production was already underway. While filming in Tokyo, he was responsible for all on-set creative decisions. He also oversaw a fashion shoot that was in tandem with the TVC, advising on location and models. He was the creative advisor for the online content that a third-party agency was creating. There is no doubt that his work was instrumental in the campaign’s success. 

I had the pleasure of working with Mark while serving as Executive Creative Director at TBWA London. He was lead Art Director on the Adidas Originals campaign about a fictional Break-up service in Tokyo. Mark ran the project under demanding timescales and cultural challenges and he was rewarded with a Cannes Lion. It was an amazing piece of work,” said Al Young.

Because the film was set in Japan, Nicholson’s knowledge of Japanese culture proved to be a great asset. He has always had a longtime love of manga and anime, like the classics; Akira, Ghost in the Shell and anything Ghibli. He found that this, combined with his work on the Japanese influenced work I created for 3Mobile at WCRS, gave him a good knowledge of Japan.

“How wrong I was, there was so much more and it was fun learning along the way,” said Nicholson. “I had to create a huge style presentation. Introducing Japanese fashion styles, locations and cultural nuances. We introduced the client to Japanese Pleasure Hotels, Capsule Hotels and Cosplay so we had to be prepared. I researched Tokyo’s relevant scenes, modern Japanese art, designers and comic book pop-culture, and then created thorough presentations for the client. The more familiar I got with the culture the more interesting our ideas became, but I also had to be very mindful that we didn’t come across as a predictable Western brand looking into Asia. Authenticity was paramount, and luckily the culture naturally allowed itself to be weirdly authentic.”

As well as the film, Nicholson and his team ran a poster campaign that reflected a distinctive Asian art direction. They also created a commerce website dedicated to the campaign, which had several more fake content films showing Japanese fan girls humorously confessing that they use the break up service. The website even included a video from Akira himself, emotionally describing the origin of his service, when he had to tell his mother that his father was breaking up with her.

“Working on this campaign was fast and fun. The shoot was exceptionally smooth. The planning was exceptional, and the final product was amazing,” said Nicholson.

With all the work that Nicholson did, he still managed to overcome the “all work and no play” mantra, taking advantage of his surroundings.

“It was my first visit to Asia so that was an experience that had been a long time coming. Outside of filming, I was able to absorb the local art, animation history, and the Godzilla museum,” he concluded.

You can watch the Adidas Break Up Service film here.

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