Free to Explore: Naresh Subhash on ads, grime, and making change

We chat to Naresh Subhash, one of the minds behind First Bus' Free to Explore campaign, for some background, inspiration, and tips on getting your dream career

Advertorial by The Skinny | 06 Mar 2023
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The Skinny: Hi Naresh! You were the Creative Director on the First Bus ‘Free to Explore’ campaign – first things first, what does a Creative Director do?

Naresh Subhash: Hello, thanks for having me. I’m a Deputy Creative Director in MadeBrave, a creative agency based in Glasgow. As a creative director, we are creative leads working with my team, to plan, create and help bring the strategic vision of our client to life. [After] 14 years of working in the industry across the globe, I bring all those years of training to help younger creatives find their voice and shine. Being a creative director isn't simply about directing, it's more about listening and empathising and being a grown-up; understanding that you are not just an ambassador for the creative work, but also for the brands we work with.

Most importantly, we nurture and celebrate creativity – and help everyone around us dream for better. That’s the job.

Talk us through the concept for the Free To Explore campaign.

The Scottish Government’s under-22 pass scheme is, in my opinion, perhaps the most empowering scheme any government has come up with. Mobilising and democratising transportation for kids from all walks of life to go out and explore and discover who they are. First Bus Scotland wanted to create a piece that aligns that vision with the generation that is increasingly independent and they are facing the real effects of global warming. So, it really was a no brainer when we came up with Free To Explore – giving the First Bus the platform to support the scheme whilst encouraging and nurturing the next generation of bus users.

How did the idea for the music come about?

We wanted to reappraise the simplicity of taking the bus with the simplicity of a nursery rhyme, made for a generation that loves a new take on things. Where better to look for inspiration than in the contemporary music scene in Scotland? I have long been a fan of the grime scene here. The music we decided on was not about forcefeeding a cultural moment; it’s really about celebrating a vibrant and multifaceted music scene that is burgeoning out of Scotland. 

What were the biggest challenges for the campaign?

We wanted to ensure that we represented, authentically, a diverse audience in the work we do. One thing to bear in mind is that this campaign is only one aspect of our ongoing mission to position First Bus not only as a brand championing commuters, but also, a brand that elevates those who work for them. After all, where would we be without the tireless dedication of drivers and staff who put your journey first.

How did you get your start in the industry, and what were your initial inspirations? 


When I was six years old, my grandmother and I would often spend the afternoons watching I Love Lucy reruns in Singapore when I got home from school. It was on one of those days that a British Airways ad, The Face, aired. I was hooked and began dreaming of making something so iconic one day.

For someone who looks like me, opportunities in advertising were not the easiest to get into. So I channelled my inner Doja Cat and hustled my way into the industry. I was a film major in Singapore, and I found that really helped with shaping the kind of creative I eventually have become. Being creative is all about being able to tell stories that relate, inspire or engage people, and a film degree did a career good. But I always wanted to be a creative director, even whilst I was doing my A-Levels, even though I had no clue what that entailed. I eventually got my first break when I mustered the courage to put myself out there in Germany when I was on exchange, to get my foot through the door. That one “yes” gave me the tools I needed to craft a career. One piece of advice is to appreciate the rejections; in the moment, they may suck, but it builds you for what you’d do later.

Are there campaigns you've worked on which you particularly proud of?

There are many campaigns big and small I am particularly proud of, and when you work in advertising, you realise that while the work is often cool, the people you get to meet make all the hard work and graft worth it. But it's always about the ideas, and the power they have in creating culture or responding to it. My favourite piece was one we did for Brita and essentially came from a slow day's work – we made Joanna Lumely cuss out plastic bottles

At MadeBrave, working on a pharma client, we just launched the second installation of a campaign to raise awareness for Type 1 Diabetes, through a simple yet effective metaphor – balancing a blue balloon. That metaphor grew arms and legs, and has been adopted and accepted by the global type 1 diabetes community. But again, these would not have been possible with the people who collectively worked on both campaigns.

A make-up artist applies make-up to an actor standing in front of a bus.

Remember, if you are aged under-22 and living in Scotland, then free travel is within grasp. Make sure to apply for your NEC card to take advantage, leaving you #FreeToExplore at

Older than 22? Don’t panic! Bus remains a sustainable way to travel that won’t break the bank. Hop on board and do your bit for the planet next time you head out.