True North aims to change perceptions of National Portrait Gallery

True North has created a campaign for the National Portrait Gallery in London, which aims to change people’s preconceptions of the gallery.

The Manchester-based consultancy has designed a campaign which encourages people to ‘Take another look’ at the gallery and collection, by highlighting surprising facts about a cross-section of sitters whose portraits are on display at the NPG.

These include the revelations that Field Marshal Lord Kitchener (pictured below) was a knitter who developed a pattern for seamless socks, and that pop star Lily Allen (pictured right) trained as a florist.

Other subjects in the campaign are Winston Churchill, nurse Mary Seacole, jazz singer George Melly and musician Alex James.

The campaign aims to banish any preconceptions of the gallery as old-fashioned, and highlight the diversity, modernity and relevance of its collections, according to the consultancy.

Alan Herron, creative director at True North, says, ‘We did a lot of research finding out hidden facts about famous people. One of the challenges was that they had to be facts that wouldn’t cause offence or lead to anyone being sued.’

The campaign launches next Monday (1 June) and will be supported by postcards, press advertisements and banners outside the gallery. It will run for four to six weeks.

Denise Ellitson, head of marketing at the NPG, says the consultancy was appointed directly to the work about 18 months ago from the gallery’s design roster.

She says, ‘One of the great things about this concept is that it is very flexible. We want another burst of posters in September, then again in February 2010, both times with different sitters. Ultimately, we want the campaign to run for at least two years.’

Herron describes the brief as ‘very open’ and says there were a number of different concepts on the table before the final work was completed.

The campaign uses a diverse range of sitters, with the only stipulations being that they had to be portraits in the NPG’s collection and they should be currently hanging in the gallery.

True North is working on a campaign for the NPG’s Gay Icons exhibition, which will be on show at the gallery from 2 July to 18 October


  • The National Portrait Gallery was formally established in 1856
  • The collection comprises portraits of famous British people
  • It attracts about 1.6 million visits a year
  • The gallery hosts the annual BP Portrait Award
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