Gareth James reviews The Guardian’s Three Little Pigs


I've read many fairy tales to my kids over the years. Favourites include such classics as Jack and the Beanstalk or more contemporary tales like The Gruffalo. One popular request was the tale of the Three Little Pigs. This simple yet terrifying tale of the wolf at the door always raised pulses and often reduced the little'uns into gibbering wrecks just before bed. Fairy tale induced insomnia - just who's idea was it to make fairy tales so bloodthirsty? Anyway, for the most part I attribute the children's sleeplessness to the fact that I modelled my Wolf on Jack Nicholson's Jack Torrance in the Shining as he approached the bathroom, axe in hand, maniacally promising Wendy of his intent to 'Huff' and 'Puff' etc… This was, of course, ill-advised but the truth remains that in most cases, fairy tales warm my heart for their ability to both delight and terrify.

The new ad from The Guardian, its first for 25 years, uses the story of the Three Little Pigs to launch their new editorial positioning - Open Journalism. Led by Editor in Chief Alan Rusbridger, Open Journalism encourages participation and a democratisation of the news. The idea is not new as the growth of mobile and social technologies have seen the delivery of news transformed. This ad is the Guardian's attempt to jump into the middle of this space and claim it as theirs.

Executed as a mocumentary, the ad cracks open the case of the Three Little Pigs as if it were covered by today's media. We see the twists and turns of the story as it unfolds: The pigs are arrested, the wolf is held to blame and then vindicated when someone discovers his chronic asthma. The pigs are then accused of 'doing it for the money', money that was required to support a mortgage pillaged by a corrupt and greedy banking sector. It's a gripping farce that despite its absurd content gives a realistic view of the media today - a fast paced montage of newspaper headlines, Twitter feeds, TV, mobile phone footage, social media, the lot.

When I first saw the ad I was gripped, mostly in joyous disbelief, a big smile fixed to my face. I found it reminiscent of a Charlie Brooker drama with a nice nod to the Guardian's earlier 1980's 'Points of View' ad. It was the first ad I'd seen in a long time that made me sit up and watch right to the end. There's been some debate over whether the seriousness of the paper is compromised by the jokey plotline but I don't think it has. The fact that it makes a serious point with fairy tale characters works well for me - knowingly entertaining, nicely satirical.

Brand Strategy Verdict

Will it bring home the (ahem) bacon? Well there's no doubt that it's all very 'Guardian' - and with that it's difficult to know if it will actually attract any new readers rather serve to re-confirm the existing believers. But it's definitely been noticed and may well serve to convince those who are sitting on the fence (be it made of straw, sticks or brick.)

Overall score: 7.5

This review was first published in Marketing Magazine.