We sat down with Jamie Madge, Co-Editor of shots to talk about his top trends, predictions and views on craft for the year ahead, from how products have been seamlessly integrated into some of the most entertaining ads of 2023 to the evolution of branded content (hello Barbie!) and of course, AI.

Jamie, in your role at shots you see a ton of work from across the globe and unpick the craft that goes into making it. So in your view: What trends have emerged in the work recently? 

Product integration within the work is really coming through. Apple is very clever in making a product demo not look like a product demo. ‘The Underdogs’ film series by Mark Malloy is a perfect example, not only are they extremely well written and well cast, these films are extremely good at showing the capabilities of the product without forcing it down your throat.  And I feel like other companies are attempting that as well. And you could argue that the Burberry ‘Open Space’ work, through the physicality of the performers, is like a product demo for the clothing range.

I used to work with Industry legend Patrick Collister and he always said to me that advertising is about finding a solution to the problem that potentially someone didn’t realise they had a problem with, and that’s what these product demos do so brilliantly. 

What’s the biggest trend you’ve spotted  in production right now?

 I’ve noticed a film aesthetic that’s a potential rebellion against digital.It’s not necessarily new, but it certainly seems to have stepped up. I’ve seen a lot more eight  and 16  millimeter stuff.  Sometimes, in my opinion, it works really well, but it can also feel like a way to paste over the cracks in other elements of the production. I mean it can look really cool, and handmade, but for me there’s got to be a real reason for shooting that way now.

Are there any trends in the wider advertising industry that are impacting craft and production?

Less about production, and more about the potential eyeballs, is the move towards advertising on streaming services. It’s almost taking us back to the time before we could fast forward ads, and I think it could be a really interesting proposition for agencies and production companies. It’s a bit like the Super Bowl effect where, you know, half the people are watching just for the ads. 

Another trend is the evolution of branded content. I think that the Barbie movie is now the greatest piece of branded content, it’s the highest grossing Warner Brothers film of all time.  I always said it was Lego, but The Lego Movie walked so Barbie could run. 

 Barbie is the perfect example of brand integration.  As much as it is about something much more than that, essentially it’s about Barbie. Mattel is pretty brave to choose Greta Gerwig as the director in a film that does not ignore the detrimental aspects of its  product. 

Brands like Lego or Barbie are both ubiquitous and pliable enough to have a proper story based around it. The product and the message are working towards the same thing. It’s about a brand knowing itself so well it’s brave enough to explore conversations around itself.

How do you think the wider world environment is affecting the work we’re seeing? 

When it comes to comedy, I find it frustrating that in uncertain times, brands want to play it safe. It’s always a massive frustration for us as an editorial team because we can see an idea that wasn’t able to reach its full potential because a brand may have thought it went further than they were hoping to go. So when you do see work by those brands and clients who were brave enough to put their neck out it’s almost always great. The bravery is rewarded. 

What is creative bravery for you? 

Bravery in my mind, especially in production, is allowing the opportunity for people to express their voice – think Megaforce’s ‘Nothing Beats a Londoner’ spot for Nike. That film is so distinctly Nike’s voice. Even though Megaforce is a bunch of French lunatics, it’s like the most London thing you’ve ever seen. 

It helps when brands have a really clear knowledge of their own identity. Nike knows exactly what it is, Apple knows exactly what it is. That comes from amazing strategy teams. They know their market, they know their core values, and so they can be braver with putting stuff out there because as long as the creative team putting together the work embodies the core value, it’s going to be on brand. 

Nothing Beats a Londoner - Nike

How do you define excellence in contemporary craft?

For me, excellence in craft is the same as it’s always been. It’s about bringing the concept to life in the best possible way. If you see something that’s been clearly, thoughtfully put together. It’s been crafted. The things that connect to me are a bit of wit and invention.

It’s also about a team of disparate people working together in perfect harmony: production, design, casting, scriptwriter, director,  cinematographer, composer and editor. And I don’t think that’s changed since film began.

What are your predictions for the years ahead? 

I think there is a lack of bravery when it comes to presenting more challenging ideas or bringing new people into the process. It should be the perfect time to be hearing new voices, because we’ve had years now of positive moves towards equality within the industry. We’re not there yet, but I certainly know more non white, non male directors on rosters. So why aren’t we seeing more new things from them?

I also think AI is a game changer. It has the potential to change how the industry works. But it’s not really capable of unprompted thought, everything is prompted by human input.

The problem we’ve got is that non creatively minded people will see it as a replacement for creative minds or ideas. It’s going to be a battle between creative people using it as a tool and non creative people using it as an excuse. It’s not the solution to every problem. It’s just another weapon in the arsenal.

shots recently covered the Pepperoni Hug Spot PizzaLater ad, generated entirely from AI. Can you tell us about that? 

Yeah, that was a really interesting situation. In my opinion, the best things I put up on Shots are when I’ve seen something I’m like, how the  f&!k did you do that? And this ad obviously struck a chord. I would be surprised if it wasn’t one of our most read articles this year. 

I mean that ad, and there’s some other directors who’ve been experimenting with purely AI driven work, is a novelty, it’s like mucking around. But it also says something about the potentials of AI, in the way that it can change how things are done and shorten processes.

I hope that creatives will take AI for what it is, which is just an unbelievable tool to help realise even more impossible stories; magic at your fingertips. It’s a bit like harking back to Jurassic Park and the advent of digital effects on screen. If it’s given to the right storytellers, they can make the impossible possible, but if they use it as a replacement for another potential technique, that’s where you get the backlash.