Mox and Seb Barros eschew posed campaigns by candidly photographing real city kids for Sports Direct

The campaign shows kids returning back to their favourite team sports during this September’s back-to-school season, after multiple lockdowns left them desperate to reconnect with their friends.

23 September 2021

Although team sports were never my thing, and I always skived, Mox’s new campaign makes me miss school days spent playing netball with mates. Snapshots of buoyant and excited kids feature in documentary-style photographs, aiming to evoke the joy of being reunited with their friends and being active. “With each campaign it’s imperative for us to continually build on our raw and playful aesthetic,” says creative director Matt Bolton of his team at the agency Mox.

It was important for Mox to be authentic and relatable to its target audience. As Bolton rightly points out, going back to school for kids this year was like no other year before: “From a year of remote learning, uncertainty and a lack of time with their friends in the classroom and on the pitch.” So the creative team set out to celebrate the feeling of being surrounded by friends at school in the most authentic way possible. “Real schools, real sports teams, real friends in front and behind the camera. Giving kids the platform to show off everything they have been training for during lockdown as they head back to school and back into team sports.”

Bolton and his team wanted to better understand how kids were feeling upon their return to school this year. They’ve been hard hit but their resilience has been inspiring, so the team took inspiration from these kids. “We’re also on a journey to change the perception of Sports Direct as a brand,” continues Bolton.

Photographer Sebastian Barros believes that the pandemic increased our appetite for more honest and narrative forms of communication. “That’s why we cast real kids, used a real location and steered the creative output to something that real kids would respond to,” he expands. Interestingly, Barros looked for inspiration in a place he hadn’t given much attention to before: Tik Tok. “Me and Jas Rewkiewicz, who was the creative director for Mox on this campaign, would be sending each other Tik Tok videos, each one getting more outrageous than the next. It was quite a laugh and I really enjoyed this part of the project.”

School Starts Here film, directed by Joao Retorta, produced by Bullion Productions. (Copyright © Sports Direct, 2021)

Alongside the stills imagery is a campaign film, directed by Joao Retorta. Shooting alongside a film crew was the biggest challenge, explains Barros. As with any team sport, it’s all about team effort (remember what your P.E. teacher would say: there’s no I in Team!). “In a job this size and complexity, it really is about the team, not the individual, each bringing their own bit to the project,” says Barros.

The creatives focused on four real sporting teams across different categories: basketball, athletics, football and netball. Working together with fellow creative director Jas Rewkiewicz and photographer Seb Barros, Bolton says they focused on capturing the “energy and personalities between their crews”. One of the benefits of casting real teams, says the creative director, is that it meant the energy between the team members was natural and easy to portray. Not only did Bolton and the team want to spotlight the kids in their sporting environments, they also wanted to hand them the reins to portray themselves, something young people rarely get a chance to do.

It was a challenge, though, to make sure the team highlighted the key product for each key brand without it feeling forced or unnatural, wanting to give the products the feel of being genuinely used as opposed to being decidedly placed.

“We created a mini brief for each of our crews where we sent them disposable cameras and a shotlist asking them to capture their own images in the lead up to the main shoot,” Bolton explains. “Given the success of some of the UGC (user generated content) shots we received, we built out a collage approach to our layouts to allow us to utilise as many shots as possible to give a richer vision of being amongst your mates at school, playing sports.”

GallerySebastian Barros: School Starts Here (Copyright © Sports Direct, 2021)

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Seb Barros: School Starts Here (Copyright © Sports Direct, 2021)

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About the Author

Dalia Al-Dujaili

Dalia is a freelance writer, producer and editor based in London. She’s currently the digital editor of Azeema, and the editor-in-chief of The Road to Nowhere Magazine. Previously, she was news writer at It’s Nice That, after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh.

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