A view from Sam&Ivan: It started with a squish
First published on Campaign
Why creating a suitably surreal campaign for Skittles was such a dream gig for two ‘advertising minnows’.
I’m not a violent person. But if back in 2020 you’d told me we’d be making a Skittles ad just a year into our first job in advertising, I’d have tied you up with industrial strength dental floss and flung you through a bathroom window.
As advertising embryos, we did not in one million Sundays expect to be working on one of the few enduring, legendary brand platforms this soon.
But fate has led us here, to this wild and twisted intersection of insanity and iconicity. To Skittles. “Taste the rainbow” first ran in the 1990s.
Swiftly reimagined by the great Gerry Graf from dad-at-the-disco-advertising to what we know it as today, in the decades that followed “[verb] the rainbow” produced work for an internet generation before the internet even existed.
Unhinged, unapologetic and streaks ahead of its time, “Taste the rainbow” became the launchpad for a body of work with such maniacal strangeness, it makes TikTok look like the British Library.
Throughout its grand advertising history, all manner of unspeakable acts have been performed to the once innocent, helpless rainbow.
And now it was our turn.
To announce the launch of its first foray into the world of gummy sweets, Skittles asked us to help it launch all new Squishy Cloudz – dramatising their oh-so squishy texture.
Skittles’ platform is designed to interrupt the monotonous with the weird and the wonderful but not just for the sake of it.
We read at length about how the strategy was conceived and how the “rules” put in place ensured that this weird world remained identifiably Skittles.
The biggest challenge we seemed to face was doing something weird in a world that’s totally lost its marbles. But it was a challenge we decided to take very seriously.
Every great ad starts with the truth. And so we set about searching for the truth about squishiness; what does squishiness really mean to people? (The job really is fabulous sometimes isn’t it?)
We thought about grandmothers; the queens of the cheek-squish. Do we see a grandmother squishing someone’s cheeks, only to reveal it’s an official at passport control with irresistibly giant squishy cheeks? Maybe.
How about the opposite of squishiness – spikiness? Cacti, poisonous puffer fish, a mediaeval mace. What if they all became uselessly squishy? Could do.
Then we discovered “cute aggression” – the superficially aggressive behaviour we feel when we see something adorable like a baby or small animal.
Gritted teeth, clenched fists, or the sudden urge to bite, pinch and squish – all involuntary acts of cute aggression.
It was here that we found the truth; that the urge to squish a squishy object is grounded in psychology. It’s automatic. Second nature. We wondered how we could bring this urge to life, in a classic Skittles way.
We landed on a character to help us do this; a fish whose sole purpose in life was to be squished. The script was as simple as it was silly.
Making it was not. Deadlines were tight and Covid was rife. But we had the perfect director for the job, the perfect talent for our character and the perfect set too; an old gentleman’s club.
(SPOILER ALERT: We cast the bloke as the fish and the fish as the bloke.)
When it came to the fish itself, we cycled through an array of squishy props. We scoured Hamleys for bath toys, plush dolls and stress balls.
(Before the magical spells of CGI had been cast, the prop we eventually chose resembled an artefact from one of Soho’s more mature outlets.)
It was a freezing cold December day, where from a monitor in a tent, at a safe Covid distance, everything came together and we witnessed the birth of our first son, “Squishy fish”.
In post, our producer, Dom and post house Creep made real miracles happen.
Miracles that took the form of little unicorn fish horn and fins that flapped gently in undulating waters of the fishtank. Little human eyes and a big grin completed the look for the fish the internet never asked for – but was going to get anyway.
We were so lucky to work with an amazing team on this – from Liz, a client with an unerring belief in the power of different and disruptive work, to director Henry Littlechild, who took on the project despite skin tight deadlines.
And of course we’d be nowhere without the boundless optimism and energy of creative director James Fernandes and everyone at the agency who put an unnerving amount of trust in us.
“Squishy fish” went out across socials. With the comments mercilessly left on. Some loved it. Some hated it. Others wished it had never been born at all. And some needed extensive therapy to rebalance their chakras.
We were, naturally, delighted. We were so proud to have made something that felt as strange as the times we live in. Something that felt quintessentially, unmistakably Skittles.
Ever since the release of “Squishy fish”, it’s been a whirlwind; inundated with press, drowning in fan mail, LinkedIn crashing with job offers.
But as minnows in the ad pond, we’re keeping our feet firmly on the ground. And our fins safely in the tank.
We hope you enjoyed reading this as much as we hated writing it.
Sam&Ivan is a creative team at The & Partnership.