Sir Richard Branson has gifted a graduate creative duo a free air balloon flight in order for them to fulfill a challenge personally set by the Chuckle Brothers. Sounds bonkers? It gets stranger – but it's a story that underlines the real power of creative partnerships.
Last week on Holywell Lane, just around the corner from The Drum’s London office, a handwritten note was spotted pinned to one of Shoreditch’s many graffiti walls. It read:
“Dear Richard Branson. Can we borrow your hot air balloon? We are a creative double act, two students trying to get a job in London. The legendary Chuckle Brothers have given us a double act challenge to complete by Monday. The challenge? To fly a hot air balloon together.
“Do you think we could borrow one please? We don’t have a lot to offer in return, but we do draw a smashing pigeon portrait…”
Underneath, there was indeed an illustration of the business mogul as a pigeon.
— Katie Deighton (@DollyDeighton) August 3, 2017
The Drum tracked down the creatives – Holly Hunter and Miriam Pick, aka Holz and Miz – via the note’s hashtag #balloonpleasebranson. After finishing Tony Cullingham’s Watford Advertising course just under a month ago the two are currently undertaking a work placement at Anomaly.
“Every Monday [Anomaly] has a morning meeting where someone talks about something in particular and teaches the rest of the agency about something new and interesting,” Hunter explained. “We thought we should do it, so we volunteered on Monday and came up with the idea of doing a presentation on double acts.”
Their choice of topic was inspired by their discovery that “none of our friends outside the advertising industry ever understands what we do and what creative partners are”.
“I moved into a new house and for the first two months Miriam would be round every weekend and we’d work at the kitchen table together,” said Hunter. “One day I made a comment like: ‘Maybe I’ll get Tinder to find myself a man’ and all my housemates’ faces dropped. They were like ‘What about Miriam?’ – they thought we were a lesbian couple."
So Holz and Miz started tweeting legendary duos on Twitter, asking for a challenge to prove themselves as a double act.
@BazElliott@PaulChuckle2 You are this Creative Team's inspiration! Please set us any challenge to put our double act skills to the test? pic.twitter.com/vdIpWyoRzB — Holly and Miriam (@holzandmiz) July 31, 2017
After no response from Ant and Dec or Gogglebox's Steph and Dom, Barry "Baz" Chuckle got back to them suggesting: “Why not fly an air balloon?”
Aside from the fact that no Brit could turn down the suggestion of a Chuckle Brother, the creative partners were up for the challenge from a mildly philosophical standpoint too.
“I think it’s about trusting each other and just going for stuff,” said Pick. “Trying stuff like this is very similar to the advertising industry – you can get rejected together and you’ve got to get used to getting shot down.”
Hunter added: “It’s like, we don’t care – we’re just going to make a go at it. If you fail, you fail together and if you smash it, you smash it together and that’s what we’ve learnt as a double act.”
The posters featuring Holz and Miz’ signature imagery of a pigeon (a story for another day, but one that involves a challenge from Watford, a bunch of elastic bands and Bill Nighy) were printed and plastered around the capital.
— Holly and Miriam (@holzandmiz) August 3, 2017
The story could have ended there, but The Drum’s editorial team spotted the letters and began an undercover campaign to make the balloon ride happen.
Branson was, after all, the recipient of a lifetime achievement award at the title’s Marketing Awards in May and the team was confident the request was of the fun, bizarre ilk favoured by the Virgin founder. After an email interchange his team confirmed Hunter and Pick could have the flight for free – but Branson wanted to go one step further and match their guerilla poster campaign.
Underneath one of the duo’s many posters, Virgin stuck a handwritten note from Branson (who wrote it on Necker island) confirming his support of the project. He wrote:
“A little bird told me a creative double act in Shoreditch were trying to get my attention. Holly and Miriam, it looks like you’re up for a challenge and your doodle certainly made me Chuckle.
“Well, birds of a feather flock together, so of course we’ll let you borrow one of our balloons. The wonderful Virgin Balloon Flights team are on the case and you’ll soon be enjoying a bird’s eye view.
“In the meantime, here’s another portrait to put a cat amongst the pigeons…”
The note was accompanied by a picture of Branson, now illustrated in feline form.
Branson has today (7 August) published his side of the story on his social media accounts and on his Virgin.com blog. The duo will find out the success of their project only when this story is published this morning.
“At the start we were thinking about the end result and what we wanted to teach, but once we weren’t scared to fail it just bought us to this adventure,” said Pick, when she spoke to The Drum on Friday. “Right now we’re in a park making this fake hot air balloon with a birthday candle and plastic bag in case Richard doesn’t come through. We’re still up for the challenge, we’ve just gone about it a different way.”
Nothing can be a truer testament to the power of creative partnerships than the thought of two fresh graduates accidentally melting makeshift hot air balloons in a park on a Friday afternoon. But thanks to their determination and disregard for failure, the sky is literally the limit for this particular duo.