top of page

Art Director Mark Nicholson talks rebranding iconic characters for the UK’s 118 118

Mark Nicholson

To Mark Nicholson, a blank page is more than just that. It is a challenge. It is an opportunity. It is the start of something spectacular. He sees the power that a blank page holds, with the chance to create something that can help change the world. This understanding and commitment to his craft is what makes Nicholson such an outstanding Art Director, and it is why he is so sought-after around the world.

Success follows Nicholson on each project he works on. He has worked with the world’s biggest brands, such as Microsoft, Nike, and Adidas. He also won the contest to create a campaign to “make millennial’s care more about charity work and causes happening around the world,” hosted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Nicholson and his team created an inspiring way to bring those causes closer to a target market that travels more than ever before – by alerting them when they were flying directly above them. The idea won the global competition, securing funding and winning the prestigious Cannes Chimera Award.

“I had to pinch myself. Of course, we didn’t expect to win, as the odds were so small,” said Nicholson. “It was just an honor to represent the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the world’s biggest investors in fighting AIDS and helping charity. Being at the foundation in Seattle also showed me the scope of what they’re trying to achieve globally.”

Nicholson created the concept and the final presentation alongside his colleagues, coming up with the idea, visualizing it for the judges, and guiding the final messaging into a much more refined presentational. Once they discovered that they had won the global competition, they were asked to represent BBH at a creative workshop at the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation in Seattle, presenting to industry icons who also helping develop the idea further over the course of a week. Despite all of this, Nicholson remains humble.

“So far, the highlight of my career isn’t awards or accolades, the highlight was taking the step to immerse myself in to a culture that was as foreign as mars create enough understanding and respect of that culture that my creative could help,” he said.

Nicholson has worked with other cultures to create one-of-a-kind commercials, but he has also helped re-define his native country’s most recognizable companies. 118 118 is the United Kingdom’s most popular directory enquiries brand. The brand is known for its extremely recognizable mustached runners in their advertising, and Mark Nicholson is very familiar with them. He helped re-launch 118 118’s brand, with a campaign that received national exposure and won a nomination at the British Arrows Awards.

“The agency and I were very proud of the nomination. But at the end of the day an award comes from a select jury of peers that look at work differently than a real person. My personal satisfaction comes from friends and family or even strangers that have nothing to do with the industry, when they smile I smile,” said Nicholson.

The campaign successfully turned the nation’s favorite runners into comedic 70s style police officers. 118118 was the UK’s largest and most recognizable brand at the time. Re-launching the brand put Nicholson’s name on a national stage, and made him recognized as one of the United Kingdom’s best art directors.

“Seriously, the two guys who fronted the campaign as 70s runners were huge, everyone in the UK knew them. I wanted to make my mark on the ad industry and the agency and I believe I did. Also, the campaign was incredibly fun. It fed my humor bone whilst satisfying that dark edge I like. Everything about it fit perfectly,” Nicholson described.

As an Art director on the project, Nicholson’s responsibilities were to create a mixed media campaign concept that would be suitable for a complete brand re-launch creating assets for TVC, press, digital and PR. He wrote the TVC scripts, and then collaborated with a director to oversee film production in the United Kingdom. Whilst on set filming, he was responsible for all major creative amendments. During post-production, he was responsible for editing, grading and sound. He also oversaw the design, branding and creative concept for the press executions that ran alongside the TVC campaign. Without him, the campaign could not have achieved what it did.

“Mark has a will always set his own creative bar too high and in turn push others to achieve the unachievable,” said Dan Fisher, who worked closely with Nicholson on the project.

Nicholson was asked to join the project, as his creativity is evident with all that work with him, and it is what he is known for. Creativity was vital for this project, as making the runners 70s police officers had the potential to closely parallel Starsky and Hutch, something that Nicholson know how to avoid. He pushed the boundaries, made it sillier, more comedic and certainly more irreverent than a familiar 70s cop show. He worked with the production company’s art department, developing detective uniforms, badges and even choosing their unique vehicle. He helped to create a simple visual language for product information and even pushed them into the world of video games by creating an interactive dance game.

“Working on this was fun, annoying, frustrating, then fun again. It’s a whirlwind of emotion creating a campaign, especially when you know the entire country and its press would be watching. The client was exceptionally open minded. We collaborated with one of the UKs most hip directors, moving scripts forward, making them more impactful at every turn,” he concluded.

bottom of page