Does the remit of an advertising agency ever really end?

If you were going to write a list of people you should definitely respect in our industry, Sir John Hegarty would surely be on everyone’s. BBH has been an ever present creative leader in the industry since its formation in the 80’s and it’s groundbreaking black sheep campaign for Levis. In other Levi’s campaigns they introduced the world to an as yet unknown actor called Brad Pitt, and later on they gave us Flatbeat, Levis became synonymous with the party scene; a theme that Levi’s still push now, and the durability and comfort of Levis was now judged by its ability to withstand even the most ferocious UK warehouse party.

The smell of male changing rooms across the UK from the early 00’s was Lynx Africa, because BBH had us believing that if we gassed ourselves with enough of it, our school crushes would firstly overlook the fact that we definitely hadn’t showered, and would also be impossibly smitten by us due to the overpowering exotic aroma attacking every sense of every person within a 2 mile radius. The ‘Lynx Effect’ had us all fooled, it’s embarrassing looking back on how much of a hypodermic consumer I was in my early teens. 

So when reading through Campaign's recently documented chat between the certified legend of Hegarty and new kid on the block genius Nils Leonard, currently doing great things with Uncommon, the most poignant quote for me came from Sir Hegarty,

“The number of times I would sit in meetings and the client would say: "Sales aren’t going very well. Maybe our on-pack promotions aren’t working." I’d be sitting there going: "Well, why the fuck don’t you make a better product?"

Working in recruitment, no matter which industry I’ve worked in, I have always taken it upon myself to present the flaws of my clients back to them. It’s a risky business, sometimes people do not want to hear it, but they pay me to attract talent and to a certain degree, help to retain it. If they are doing something internally that I know will make my job either much harder, or not possible, they need to know. The freelance candidates I work with are the consumers, the agency are the brand and I’m the communications agency looking to make those connections, if the brand are offering a shit product I need to tell them they need to consider improving it, or my time and effort is ultimately worthless.

BBH made amazing advertising for Levi’s and Lynx, but Levis made and still make an amazing product, and the ‘Lynx Effect’ would have meant fuck all if Lynx didn’t have a range of interesting smells to sell off the back of those amazing TV ads. At the moment BBH are most famous for their, quite frankly, incredible work for Audi, but again, that’s a premium brand renowned for a quality product.

I can understand that a rubbish brand is much harder to buy into, it’s much easier to be OK with the late nights in the office if you are doing it for a brand that you can see the worth of, and I also understand that working with a bad brand can drag you and your people down. But how often is it that an agency will sit down with a brand and tell them directly why no amount of work will help them unless they improve their physical offering to the consumer? And how often will that brief fall into a smaller agency that will break their backs to produce the work for the brand so they can step up the ladder.

The results of those conversations can be extremely rewarding for any agency in any industry to have with their clients, you often hold the direct opinion of the consumer that they rarely get to hear, and if successful, can result in a turnaround in fortune for everyone. The direction of adland has become a clichéd conversation that everyone loves having. Where do they go from here? Is digital analysis going to take over and steal the soul of creativity? Will everyone end up going in house? Will the big brands just steal all the biggest agency talent and do it all themselves?

But I’m yet to hear of an agency talk about being a genuine consultative partner to their brands, taking a  risk and hitting their clients with jabs of realism that they might not necessarily want to hear. Leonard and Sir Hegarty speak of saturation in the industry, too many people now, too many award shows.

“As a creative person, I’ve realised I can win a Grand Prix by simply having someone jump out of a box in Leicester Square. So creative people go to where it’s easy.”

If they want to see saturated they should have a go in the advertising recruitment sector.

So how do individual consultants and agencies stand out in a sector where everyone is trying to do the same thing and we don’t have the blessing of creative genius to help us stand out from the rest? We’ve recently had a beautiful new rebrand, which will no doubt attract some new business for us (PLUG - check out, but ultimately I believe it falls down to the risks you will take to ensure you can get shit done for the client and leave them happy in the knowledge that they have given their money to someone who has done more then fill a hole for them.

The world moves too fast now, wealth is too polarized and the mass consumer market is more fragmented and fickle then ever. If you want evidence of that, watch this - Nike's Kaepernick Ad Expose A Generational Divide, no agency can afford to be dragged down by doing work for a client they themselves are not on board with, and at the same time, we also can’t afford to let that business move into the hands of our direct rivals. Standing apart from the crowd for me lies in telling people what they don’t want to hear and risking your relationship with them in the process, rather then being content with average, stagnant relationships.

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