Making Bionic’s first TV advert, during lockdown

Bionic is a PE-backed growth company that I joined as Chief Customer Officer, after 20 years in brand, creative and innovation agencies. We’re transforming the business from a white-label call centre for energy switching, to a tech-enabled service that makes it radically easier to run an SME.

At the end of 2019 we rebranded the business (which was previously known as Make It Cheaper) to Bionic to reflect our ‘hybrid’ customer experience that combines digital with world class human service.

Our business is built on amazingly strong relationships with the suppliers that we distribute, and with the partners (like Compare the Market, Just Eat and Starling Bank) for whose customers we provide a switching service.

In addition though, the business has always done some low-level direct marketing to SMEs, and now we’re turning up the volume on that in an effort to help different types of business owner (those that don’t already start with a Google search).

Small business owners feel that they face increasing challenges, as costs increase, market conditions become more challenging, and Brexit creates uncertainty — and that’s without Covid-19. The increasing admin burden, including around essential services, is just another hassle they could do without.

Small business owners say that running a small business can feel like “battling a strong headwind”.

So that’s what we wanted to dramatise. We wanted to bring those ‘headwinds’ to life, with comedic exaggeration. And, of course, to show Bionic as the solution, calming the squall, by making business energy, insurance, broadband and loans ‘a breeze’.

We were going to do ‘headwinds’ as a digital campaign. But then lockdown happened, and something odd occured. The price of TV advertising collapsed, even though TV viewing was up. This was caused by normally big-spending sectors (like travel and cars) pulling out of the market. So we had a once-in-a-decade opportunity to test TV at a bargain price.

‘All’ we had to do was make a TV-led integrated campaign from scratch, in 6 weeks, on mid-crisis budget (i.e. low), with a team who have mostly never met in real life, and who did all the work remotely.

  • We’d met our media consultancy JKO Collective a couple of times in person, but we worked remotely to pull the business case for the campaign together.
  • We’d met creative agency Mellor&Smith for a chemsitry meeting IRL, just before lockdown started. But we appointed them remotely, they did all their work remotely, and all their presentations to us over video calls.
  • Mellor&Smith found, appointed and worked with production company Studio Yes and directors That Jam remotely.
  • We’re working directly with ITV on the initial media buy, via their AdVentures scheme for new-to-TV brands, but we’ve only ever met Kate and Callum and the team remotely.
  • Rhiannon, our project manager at Bionic, joined our business after lockdown started. She’s delivered a complex multi-channel campaign in 6 weeks flat, without ever having physically met any of the team.

How did it go? Pretty amazingly. I’m afraid I don’t have any great tips to share, beyond ‘choose to work with nice people in small teams who listen to each other and prioritise doing great work’.

We refused to accept that shooting mid-crisis meant that we had to do the same boring, smartphone-filmed, ‘we’re all in this together’, lockdown-inflected ad that seemingly every other brand on TV resorted to.

A lockdown ad. But what brand is it from?

We actually filmed a couple of days after the first lockdown restrictions were lifted; ours was one of the first studio shoots to happen. So we had to be very careful to keep everybody safe. Especially as we were blowing air around (during a virus pandemic spread by aerosol droplets).

So the H&S risk assessment was quite interesting: Crew & cast advised to either drive, cycle or walk to location; Temperature checks of all crew & cast before entering the location; Only essential crew on set, following 2m social distancing; PPE to be used throughout; Crew to wash/sanitise hands regularly and immediately after handling any equipment; HMUA to direct cast to do their own hair & makeup to avoid physical contact…

Here’s a taste of what that all looked like:

Also, no client at the shoot. After decades of waiting for the opportunity, I was denied the chance to swan around demanding extravagant coffees be brought to me, while making ‘useful’ comments about lighting etc. (I have however since got to say “can you make the logo bigger”!)

Why don’t you judge for yourself, here you are:

Bionic’s ‘Headwinds’ TV advert
Bionic’s ‘Headwinds’ Instagram Stories advert
Bionic’s ‘Headwinds’ banner advert
Bionic’s homepage, with ‘Headwinds’ imagery

Huge thanks to our agency partners, and also our incredible team at Bionic, especially Nacho, Mercedes, Rhiannon, Les, Jamie and Lily, who put in a real shift to make this possible. I’m very proud.

I’m Chief Customer Officer at Bionic, where we’re making it radically easier to operate an SME, starting with energy, insurance, connectivity and finance.

Leading a customer-led transformation at a PE-backed #SMEtech. Previously CSO at Albion, a business innovation consultancy.

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