HAVING creating music videos for Drake, Rihanna and David Guetta, Toronto-based director Julien Lutz could have been forgiven for wondering how he ended up on a dairy farm in Somerset.

But that is exactly where Lutz, better known as Director X, found himself at the beginning of the last decade when he directed a music video-style advert for Yeo Valley Organic – a company better known for milk than music.

Yeo Valley’s first-ever television commercial was designed to put the brand on the map, make their products popular for everybody and show the valley is a real place. 

There were two other objectives that made the rap idea stand out: Ensuring consumers were pronouncing the company’s name correctly and making the company a talking point.

As Lutz put it: "If you’re going to talk about yourself and you want to talk about how great you are, rapping is pretty much the only art form that allows you to have that bravado."

The £5 million advertising campaign was produced by London-based creative agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH), which wrote the lyrics and enlisted Director X and his producer Bo1-1da to make the music and direct the video.

The two-minute advert made history by taking over an entire commercial break during a 2010 X-Factor live show, which beamed it into the homes of millions of people.  

Nobody involved in the advert could have been prepared for what came next.

The County Gazette spoke to two actors, a producer and Yeo Valley's former commercial director – now managing director – to understand how the advert was created, the public’s reaction to it and its legacy.

Production and filming

Glenn Paton, a former producer at BBH who now works as managing partner at Leagas Delaney, was tasked with bringing the unusual idea to life.

He said: "It was my first script that I received as a producer at BBH, and I remember reading about rapping farmers and the end line, 'Big up your chest, represent the west'.

"I had my head in my hands, thinking, 'How are we going to make this cool?'"

After contacting Lutz, a director whose work Glenn admired, they turned their attention to casting actors to play the 'Yeo Valley Boyz' and 'Lil' Massey'.  

Commercial actor James Gomersall has recalled his experience of auditioning. 

"I was quite early on in my career. I hadn’t done that many adverts at the time – I’ve done a few more since," he said.

"I was asked to do a rap about cows and things like that in a casting.

"I didn’t expect to get the job because I’m not really a rapper, but I grasped the challenge with both hands and gave it a go."

Somerset County Gazette: RAPPING FARMER: Commercial actor James GomersallRAPPING FARMER: Commercial actor James Gomersall

He added: "I knew who the director was from having some exposure to urban music and hip-hop, so it was quite exciting to get picked and go to a recall and rap in front of him.

"I just thought it would be funny that I would be rapping in front of Director X after he’s worked with Lil’ Wayne, Birdman and all these people."

The award-winning advert was filmed over several cloudy days at Holt Farm near Blagdon, where Yeo Valley was founded by Roger and Mary Mead in 1961.

The Mead family has been farming in the area since the fifteenth century, and Roger and Mary’s son Tim is the company’s CEO.

For the advert, four actors playing farmers had to mime along to the track in different locations on the farm, including in fields overlooking the valley, perched on the side of a tractor and sat outside a farmhouse eating yoghurt.

On set, the actors were asked to take inspiration from some of the music industry’s biggest names.

Actor and model Alexandra Evans, who starred alongside James, told the County Gazette that Director X was "lovely and so supportive" of the cast as they learnt to replicate the mannerisms of Hollywood A-listers in rural Somerset.

She explained: "The director said, 'Can you just channel Beyoncé and Lil’ Kim?'

"And I was thinking, 'These women are so strong and so successful, and so amazing and at the top of their careers.' 

"And I said, 'I’ll try, but there’s no way I’m ever going to come close to anybody like that.' I just did a very British attempt, I think."

James added: "The director had us in the middle of a field, and he showed me a Lil’ Wayne video and said, 'This is your motivation for this video.' 

"It was a very weird blend of things all together: Dairy products and hip-hop. They don’t usually get mixed together, so I was excited to do it."

Alexandra said: "He wanted the best performance from everybody, so he made us feel great. When we were on set, he was brilliant.

"I’ve got no rhythm really, and I’m very dyspraxic, so why I was chosen to sing and dance, I’m not sure.

"It’s all down to how amazing a director he is that it looks as good as it does."

Somerset County Gazette: FAMILY TIES: Alexandra Evans has family members living in the countyFAMILY TIES: Alexandra Evans has family members living in the county

Working on a big-budget advert with a famous director may sound glamourous, but filming on a farm presented a very specific set of obstacles for the actors and producers to overcome.

"There was no green screen – it was all cow pats and udders,” said James.

The cows were especially distracting for the cast.

Alexandra described the scene: "We were walking and trying to look really cool, but what they don’t tell you about cows is that they sneeze a lot because the food gets stuck up their nose.

"So, we were walking down in slow motion while all of these cows are just sneezing food and snot and mucus all over us, and we just had to keep miming along to the rap and trying to be really sexy and cool with it."

Filming the advert in Somerset held particular significance for Alexandra, who grew up in Thailand but has family members living in the county.

"It’s really nice to know that there’s a place that, even though I didn’t grow up in this country, feels like home," she said. 

"It’s where we spent all of our Christmases with my aunt, and my parents have moved back down there now."

Reaction to the advert

Adrian Carne, managing director of Yeo Valley and the company’s commercial director when the advert was produced, had no idea what to expect before the advert was broadcast and was blown away by the reception it received.

Somerset County Gazette: MANAGING DIRECTOR: Adrian Carne said the rap "put Yeo Valley on the map"MANAGING DIRECTOR: Adrian Carne said the rap "put Yeo Valley on the map"

“We were told to watch out, this is going to be big, but we did not understand what that meant,” he said.

“We didn’t quite know what to expect. We never really thought that it was going to capture everyone’s imagination in quite the way it did.”  

The advert became remarkably popular after its X-Factor debut, justifying the gamble of purchasing an entire commercial break.

It became the top trend on YouTube within a week of its release and, due to public demand - with the added help of Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe - the rap was soon made available to download on iTunes.

It reached number 71 in the UK Singles Chart in November 2010 and stayed in the charts for seven weeks.

Before long, there were even campaigns for it to become Christmas number one.

Both of Adrian’s children were shown the advert at school after it was released: One in English and the other in music.

"Everybody was talking about it,” he added.

"It was exciting, it was fun, and it put Yeo Valley on the map like nothing had before. It changed the way a lot of people see Yeo Valley.

"Even now, the first thing so many people say is how much they love our adverts, and they ask when we are going to do another one." 

For some of the creatives involved in the advert, it helped shape their careers.

"Everyone was watching the X-Factor, this was when it was still massive," said producer Glenn, who once had a taxi driver singing the lyrics at him after asking what he did for a living.

"The advert featured just before the results, so the whole nation was watching, and then it completely blew up – my phone just didn’t stop.

"It was one of those jobs where you don’t expect it to do that well. We thought it was funny, but we thought it could have been seen as horrendous.

"It hit that sweet spot in comedy between seriousness and being silly and funny, and I think that’s why the public loved it."

Somerset County Gazette: "SWEET SPOT": Producer Glenn Paton says the advert was successful because it found the line between being serious and funny"SWEET SPOT": Producer Glenn Paton says the advert was successful because it found the line between being serious and funny

After completing the Yeo Valley advert, Glenn took on other important pieces of work at BBH, including producing adverts for Audi and Lynx.

"I think it put my name on the map," he added.

"I don’t suppose Director X talks about rapping farmers and me that often anymore, but it’s one of those things I look back on really fondly."

When she made the journey to Somerset, Alexandra did not yet have an acting agent, and she had been invited to audition for the role through her modelling representatives.

She said: "When it came out and it exploded like it did, somebody actually wanted to sign me, which was so nice!

"I got my first acting agent because of it, so I really do owe my career to it.

"People used to sing it at me when I was on the Tube and stuff.

"It was my own coat I wore in the advert, so I used to wear it all the time and then schoolkids would recognise me from Yeo Valley."

For James, the Yeo Valley experience did not end when he left Holt Farm.

"They hired me to stand in Leicester Square giving out Yeo Valley yoghurts," he said.

"I was wearing the wardrobe from the advert. I think I was on a trailer with a tractor going through central London at one point with the song playing."

Reflecting on the advert, he said: "To work with someone of the director’s calibre – even though it was slightly off-colour for him – and to have that kind of experience stood me in good stead for my career going forward.

"It made me feel like I had a bit of legitimacy, so I’ll always thank them for choosing me."  

A year later, Yeo Valley went in a new direction with parody boyband The Churned and their song Forever.

The song entered the iTunes Charts at number 33 and currently has just over 900,000 views on YouTube – a significant number but almost two million fewer than the rap.

Although the adverts saw success, managing director Adrian says Yeo Valley’s uplift in sales was not proportionate to the conversations the brand had created.

"The adverts took our levels of brand awareness to new heights, but it was quite short-lived," he said.

"We were looking for some sort of immediate boost in sales.

"If there was a lesson from it, I think that we should have been in greater touch with the emotion that unfolded from it, and we should have noticed that we had created a movement.

"We created a real positive injection of enthusiasm into the Yeo Valley brand.

"Were we really in touch with that? If we did that every year for the last 10 years, where would we be now?"

Discussing the possibility of another music video advert from the company, Adrian said: "It’s great nostalgia, great fun, but I think we should hold that moment in the past and see what’s more relevant today.

"It was a really special thing to have done and been part of.

"It would be so tempting to say, 'Let’s do it all over again', but there are more important messages to send, and I don’t think that television advertising and audiences are quite the same."

Read more: When Gregg Wallace went inside a Somerset yoghurt factory