Close UpFeatured

Meet The Misfits


It’s 10am in an office somewhere in Al Barsha and an aura of distinct bafflement is pervading in the air around the three ex-agency hacks I’m supposed to be interviewing.

The usual pleasantries naturally ensue, “would you like some coffee”, “nice office” – “nice slingshot”, but I cannot help but wonder if I’ve turned up at awkward moment. “You’re early”, one of the guys – possibly the bearded Irishman Ross Hardiman – drops in. “We weren’t expecting you for another six hours.”


As if to alleviate the mild sense of awkwardness, another beard, Nader Baker, offers: “We were all going to be in bathrobes. We were going to be sat down having pedicures and surprise you. You ruined it.”

So this was how Campaign met The Misfits; the closely guarded collective whose video of someone being – apparently – catapulted from Dubai Marina has ricocheted around the world.

In-app taxi firm Careem quickly stepped into the limelight with the ‘revelation’ that the video was part of their re-brand campaign – alleviating fears among some for who the video was a little too realistic. But hidden behind the green screen all along was this trio of jaded admen: the beards, Hardiman, Baker and the lightly-stubbled Essa Sheikh. Long-time friends from the Dubai creative scene, the three of them formed the content-creation start-up The Misfits in the hope of rekindling the “fun” they once found in advertising.


“Ads have got so boring now,” says Hardiman, by far the most straight-talking of the three. “What might start as a nice idea on a piece of paper, by the time it goes through all the channels – the account people, strategy, the GM – everyone has sh*t on it so it’s just this bland piece of junk with a mother and a baby.” The look of revulsion on his face suggests this is a result he’s encountered on more than one occasion.

“When I started in advertising it was fun. I could be in banking making lots of money, but I’m not because I want to have fun. All of us just said ‘we got to get the fun back’”

First to jump ship from agency life was the more softly-spoken Sheikh, who left to join post-production house Montage in 2009. An avid consumer of random online content – think ‘Charlie bit my finger’ – Sheikh began thinking about making his own short-form material when Baker quit his account manager job earlier this year. “He had nothing,” says Sheikh. “He came to me and said ‘I’m just looking to be a receptionist or bus conductor or something, whatever can pay the bills, because I just want to do content.”

“And I watch content too – I watch such random sh*t – and I was showing him stuff and I said ‘I want to make content too’. So I just said, well here’s a desk, come sit here for a few weeks and we’ll see what we can do. And we started just doing just that.”

Despite initially having no intention of monetising their work, before long agencies began to take notice. One early success was a short but surreal clip of an ostrich riding a hover-board for the credit card brand Visa. But soon the pair found something was missing.


“We found when we were brainstorming we were stuck without two things – Ross and beverages,” says Sheikh. “So we started calling Ross with some drinks and every time we would go he would be like ‘sh*t you guys are on to something. Then he was like ‘I’m going to quit my job and join you’. By the time he joined we had a few projects and some money coming in so it became a business.”

In a similar manner to the Visa video, much of The Misfits’ repertoire follows a similar vein of blending a sense of surrealism with a deadpan humour. Baker, a Brit of Arab background, can be found in many of the clips, more often than not wearing a khandoura. “Nads is our Brad Pitt,” says Hardiman. One video shows Baker quite spectacularly failing to do a pull-up to the Rocky soundtrack, while another – this time for Emaar – shows Sheikh seemingly become the first person in history to climb the Burj Khalifa using toilet plungers.

If Sheikh’s constantly ringing phone is anything to go by, these guys are pretty in demand right now. However, the trio are adamant they will continue to work on a project-by-project basis. Hardiman, as usual, doesn’t mince his words: “Contracts are a marriage. It’s like a relationship that starts well and then suddenly down the line you think: ‘why did I get involved in this?’”

“No other industry in the world has the professional listen to the client and puts out the wrong thing,” he continues. “If I tell my architect ‘build me a home with no doors’, he’s going to be like ‘no that’s stupid’. But here we’re like ‘oh ok we can do that’. So that’s what we’re changing: we’re telling clients no. And I think it surprises them: they’re so used to getting what they want.”

“It was literally like we were insulting them,” chips in Baker, grimly remembering one particularly difficult client. “They were like ‘we have cash, you’re a business, you need to take it’. But we don’t believe in that. If we’re not feeling it then we say it’s a waste of our time. If they say ‘we want to get this objective’ or there’s these multiple objectives being shoved into this one video and we see it turning into something it shouldn’t be, then we’re happy to drop it.”


There are no doubt plenty of beleaguered agency execs out there who wish they could say the same thing to certain clients. But can a new business, which openly refuses to ‘go out hunting for work, chase clients or pitch’ really afford to be so aggressively selective? Baker and Hardiman maintain they could not care less; for them The Misfits is something of a last resort given that both were on the brink of boarding a flight out of Dubai. Sheikh admits, the group isn’t making much money at the moment, but the ‘slingshot’ phenomenon could easily change that. Within just a few days, video racked up millions of views, shares and quickly spread like wildfire across the world. Two weeks and the Careem ‘reveal’ down the line, and the momentum was still continues. “This morning a Brazilian TV show called us to talk about it,” says Sheikh. “It was on the news in Pakistan, it was everywhere.”

Hardiman adds: “There’s an Indian guy who shared it in Kuwait and it has 14 million views on his Facebook page. Just this one guy. My friend’s, girlfriend’s mother in Scotland saw the Careem video. That’s the power of entertaining work. Our work gets out there and is seen by everyone. And that’s what you want to do.”

Unsurprisingly it soon becomes time to get the phones out and watch some videos. It’s how all interviews should end frankly. We wrap up and go through another round of polite pleasantries. Then as I’m leaving and taking one last look at the human slingshot, just who should sidle past me at the exit but the passenger himself. If Campaign is able to take anything at all from the past 45 minutes is that we can confirm no Misfit office boys were hurt in the making of the video.