People are the commodity - R/GA designs AdNews Annual 2018

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 28 November 2018

This first appeared in the AdNews Annual 2018. Buy the special issue as one-off here or support AdNews by subscribing here.

The creative contingent of adland is at the beating heart of the industry. To fully embrace this, and with a mission to create awesome and inspiring covers, each month AdNews hand–picks an agency to work its magic. The cover of the year is then voted for by readers.

For this year's AdNews Annual 2018 we called on R/GA to take on the challenge. Art director Long Truong and copywriter Jonathon Shannon explain the thinking behind it.

What were your thoughts about the brief?

Jono: Trying to predict the future is notoriously difficult - everyone gets it (hilariously) wrong. So instead of just making a prediction about the future, we wanted to provoke a discussion about it.

Long: Don’t fuck it up. No pressure, it’s just the most important cover in the history of AdNews.

AdNews Annual

Haruhiko Kawaguchi’s vacummed-sealed shoot.

See inside here.

From then what happened?

Jono: To look 90 years into the future, we started by looking 90 years in the past. In 1928 people had an expectation of privacy, but now our personal data is being harvested and sold like any other commodity. This process of ‘consumers becoming products’ felt like a really strong territory.

Long: By 2108 we might be more valuable to some organisations as ‘products’ than we are as consumers. This has already started to happen with social media, but in 90 years our industry’s ability to measure, package and sell personal data will explode. We wanted to bring this truth to life in a way that kinda scared people.

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How would you describe the cover?

Jono: To express ‘people as products’ in a way that makes you stop and really think, we landed on the idea of packaging like vacuumed-sealed supermarket meat. It’s confronting, it’s weird, but so is the future.

Long: The image is really captivating. You can’t look away from it. I think that’s because, visually, it’s a contradiction. There’s something so beautiful and repulsive about it at the same time.

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The R/GA team discussing the shoot, viewing the shoot over web-link and examining the final work.

People and execution, what was involved?

Jono: We had a strong image in mind, so when we found a photographer in Tokyo who vacuum-seals couples in plastic bags, we knew we had to get him to shoot it for us. His work is provocative and insane, and that’s exactly what we wanted.

Long: Haruhiko Kawaguchi (AKA “Photographer Hal”) takes intimate portraits of couples inside small spaces. His work is a reflection on love and the intimacy of sharing your life with another person, but we subverted this to show what happens when you’re sharing every detail of your life with brands and organisations.

Jono: We reached out to the R/GA Tokyo office with a mockup of the idea, and they pitched it to Kawaguchi the next day. We couldn’t have pulled this off without them, because Kawaguchi doesn’t speak much English and we didn’t have a lot of time. It was all or nothing and they nailed it.

Long: Then we had to convince two R/GA employees to take part in a potentially fatal (and definitely naked) cover shoot. Only one of our team was mad enough to agree to it, but thankfully we found a model willing to be sealed in an air-tight bag with him.

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Any big challenges or easy wins?

Jono: The timings were insane and the expectations were massive. Pretty standard, I suppose. To add to the challenge, we had to orchestrate the shoot from 8,000 kilometres away, providing art direction from the Sydney office as our two models rapidly ran out of air in Tokyo. For once, advertising really was ‘life and death’.

Long: We found out that Kawaguchi liked the concept so much that he’s planning to create a series of these ‘people as product’ images for his next body of work.


Photographer: Haruhiko Kawaguchi "Photographer Hal"

VP, executive creative director, APAC: Bob Mackintosh 

Executive creative director: Craig Brooks

Copywriter: Jonathon Shannon

Art director: Long Truong

Executive operations director: Jon Hingston

Senior producer: Magdaline Rose

To support AdNews see here.

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