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Taking Creative Risks

Eoin McLaughlin

Eoin McLaughlin

Former Deputy Executive Creative Directo at Channel 4

Eoin McLaughlin, Deputy Executive Creative Director, Channel 4

Eoin McLaughlin, Former Deputy Executive Creative Director, Channel 4 

We spoke with Eoin McLaughlin back in March, where he shared his ever-present imposter syndrome. This came as a surprise from the seemingly untouchable, regardless of the award-winning content that he creates.  Evidently, he’s worked through those doubts and taking creative risks when it comes to social issues.

‘if you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, it probably means people haven’t done it before. So you must be doing something right’. 

This notion really sets the tone for Mclaughlin’s presentation, which talks about how he created one of the most powerful advertising campaigns known to UK viewers over the last few years.  

Eoin’s recent work has focussed on changing the way that disability is viewed.  The series was started off by an ex-colleague for the 2012 Olympics.  The campaign portrayed the Paralympic athletes as ‘superhumans’ and demonstrated the incredible physical and mental feats reached. And not just during the competition but throughout the athletes’ lives.  

The Rio Olympics in 2016 took on a slightly different approach, where the Channel 4 campaign presented all humans with disabilities as ‘superhuman’.  The ‘disabled’ body was celebrated, and – not just the Olympic athletes. Seen as a gift, as opposed to a hindrance.  Both the 2012 and 2016 campaigns set the bar high and forever changed the way in which disability was viewed in the UK.  

Taking Creative Risks 

‘When the brief landed on my desk on 3rd March 2021’, says Eoin, ‘I pooed my pants a little.  How could I possibly measure up to the previous two campaigns?  I knew I need to take a huge risk if I wanted to make an impact’.

Ultimately, Eoin took the biggest risk possible by totally back tracking on the previous two instalments of the campaign.  Being a Paralympian/being disabled in general were no longer to be considered a ‘superpower’ at all.  Mclaughlin artfully demonstrates equality throughout his campaign- ensuring that those with ‘disabilities’ or ‘differences’ are not seen any differently to those the media have previously portrayed as ‘normal’. 

Humour and Communication 

The reason the campaign was so pioneering, was because it was not taken too seriously on the back end.  The campaign prioritised humour, which, Mclaughlin argues, is the number one source of connection for different social groups today.  

Throughout the campaign, official complaints logged to Channel 4 were used to promote the brand, to demonstrate the stark values that were (and still are) stood for.  ‘Too black’, ‘Paralympians aren’t real athletes… the man has got sausage fingers’, ‘Women aren’t funny’, ‘Makes me want to puke’ and ‘That girl needs subtitles’. These are just a handful examples of prejudice that Channel 4 used to promote their pro-equality brand.  

Most brands try to hide their complaints, but Mclaughlin took a risk to promote everything Channel 4 stands for.  Today, social issues are constantly shared by brands, ‘but not without that plinky plonky piano in the background…. These ads have a very serious tone’.  Eoin goes on to say, ‘there’s no reason you can’t have fun with it.  Talking about something serious, doesn’t mean you have to take yourself seriously.  If we truly want to close the gap, and understand minority groups, humour is the way to do it’. 

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