Campaign Supplement on BMP DDB 1968-1998: BMP history 1968-98. It isn’t always easy to manage the move from local creative hotshop to network player without losing creative potency. But BMP has - as this chronology shows
campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 23 October 1998 12:00AM
THE EARLY YEARS FROM 1968-77
THE EARLY YEARS FROM 1968-77
MAY 1968 Boase Massimi Pollitt is set up by five ex-Pritchard Wood
directors. They launch with a splash in the Sunday Times: ’The biggest
breakaway this country’s advertising industry has ever seen.’ The
Financial Times warns Pritchard Wood (which eventually disappeared into
Erwin Wasey) of ’account switches and more resignations’. The agency
launches with a a few gimmicks, including eight branded
chocolate-coloured Minis, former Tory Cabinet minister Sir Ernest
Marples as non-executive chairman, and a record which featuring a
somewhat stilted three-way ’agency philosophy’ conversation between the
partners. The record ends as though stuck: ’Call Boase Massimi Pollitt
(clunk) ... Call Boase Massimi Pollitt (clunk) ... Call Boase Massimi
Later that month Cadbury’s puts its chocolate biscuits and instant mash
accounts, worth pounds 350,000, into BMP. Five other Pritchard Wood
directors join: David Batterbee, Peter Jones, John Webster, Roger
Shipley and Charlie Borden. They swell the numbers to such an extent
that the new agency moves from Manchester Square to an old carpet store
on Tottenham Court Road.
The new offices demonstrate an early example of BMP’s characteristic mix
of ambition and self-deprecating humour. A sign on the door reads:
’Before you enter, imagine this: the most modern-looking agency staffed
by the brightest people. The whole place beautifully efficient and a
delight to visit. Got that in your mind. Now keep it there - because we
won’t look like that for a few months.’ With his flair for the
soundbite, Martin Boase describes the agency as ’big in everything but
SUMMER 1968 Other clients soon follow, including Granada Rental, Eden
Vale and Short Brothers and Harland, an account from which agency and
marketing director are later simultaneously fired.
MAY 1969 The agency closes its first year billing pounds 1 million -
which produces a loss of pounds 17,000. (Within a year, BMP is billing
pounds 1.75 million and turns the loss into a profit of pounds 42,473.)
This month also sees the arrival from Erwin Wasey, into which Pritchard
Wood had been folded, of Chris Powell. Others who join over the next few
years and go on to greater things include Gray Jolliffe, Geoff
Howard-Spink, Tim Delaney, David Cowan, Dave Trott, Graham Rose, Jane
Newman and Chris Wilkins.
1971 As the Heath government locks horns with the unions, BMP wins the
Trades Union Congress business, the first of many such advertising
In September, co-founder Gabe Massimi sells out - to the surprise of few
- and goes to Rome to set up a commercials company before returning to
the US. Massimi had been less and less involved and admits to ’a certain
amount of boredom’. John Webster seamlessly succeeds him as creative
BMP wins the first of its Courage business. In its first TV work for the
brewer, Henry Cooper tells viewers ’it’s what your right arm’s for’.
Alan Parker directs the Smash ’kitchen of the future’. The agency, with
40 staff, moves to 12 Bishops Bridge Road, Paddington, marking what
insiders call the first Golden Age of BMP.
1972 Some famous BMP ads make their debuts. Among them, a hapless Dustin
Hoffman Graduate-style hero for Dry Cane rum; the laid-back animated
Cresta bear whose catchphrase, ’it’s frothy, man’ became the toast of
the playground; and the long-running ’watch out, there’s a Humphrey
about’ ads for Unigate milk which starred, among others, Muhammad Ali
and Spike Milligan. In November, two young graduates join - Ross Barr
from Glasgow University and Chris Cowpe from Oxford. BMP backs a
second-string agency, Samuels Jones Isaacson Page.
1973-74 In February BMP wins the Pepsi-Cola account and produces an ad
with the world’s longest slogan, ’Lipsmackin etc etc’ as declaimed by
Radio 1 DJ Emperor Rosko. A new Smash ad launches, featuring a Martian
family who marvel at the curious potato-eating habits of primitive
earthlings. John McKnight joins from University College London, Mike
Greenlees from Imperial Tobacco and Paul Feldwick from Oxford.
In February BMP helps the Labour Party, then in Opposition, return to
government in the first general election of the year. The arrangement is
carried out on a voluntary basis.
Later on that year, BMP picks up the Max Factor business and the launch
of St Ivel’s Prize yoghurt and the Prize Guys.
Ferrero Tic Tac’s cool comic-book hero makes his debut in a tight
1975-77 New accounts to move in include Bergasol, J-Cloths, Spillers
Moist and Meaty (that’s dogfood), Imperial Panatella cigars, the EEC
referendum for the antis, wage restraint for the COI and another Ferrero
product, Kinder Surprise. Martin Boase becomes chairman and BMP
Investments, a holding company, takes a 49 per cent stake, later sold,
in Media Audits. 1976 turns out to be a golden year: billings top pounds
10 million and the agency reaches number 21 in the billings list;
Renault and a place on the Quaker roster are won. For the latter, the
Honey Monster makes his debut. Martin Boase, Stanley Pollitt and Peter
Jones take on new responsibilities at holding company level, leaving
David Batterbee and Chris Powell in charge of the agency. Tim Cox,
ex-Pritchard Wood, joins as media director, and James Best and Leslie
Butterfield as trainee planners.
In October 1976, BMP sells 50 per cent to Eurocom’s Univas network.
Martin Boase describes the deal as a ’devastatingly neat solution’ to
the international question.
As BMP’s first decade closes, billings top pounds 12 million, employees
110 and the agency makes 18 in the Campaign rankings.
GROWING AND GOING PUBLIC 1978-87
1978-79 The second decade opens with a sparkling new-business
performance: more from Cadbury’s, Prestel, all of Quaker, a clutch of
Reckitt & Colman brands and Citizen watches. The agency picks up its
first Cannes Grand Prix in 1978: an ad for Coty’s L’Aimant perfume which
asks ’Do you speak L’Aimant?’. The only disappointment is a much-hyped
commercial for Foster Grant sunglasses starring Tony Curtis which failed
to live up to its promise.
Stanley Pollitt’s death, aged 48, from a heart attack in May 1979,
leaves its shadow over an otherwise triumphant year in which the agency
picked up two golds in Cannes, for John Smith’s and Courage Best
’Gertcha’. On the business side, Renault moves out when Publicis
acquires a London shop, but its loss is more than compensated by new
assignments from Reckitts, Barker and Dobson, Wilkinson Sword and
Cussons. Notwithstanding the personal and professional loss, Pollitt’s
death underlines the strength of BMP’s collegiate management system.
1980-81 Issues over share ownership following Pollitt’s death lead to
the unraveling of the deal with Univas and set in motion the process by
which the agency eventually goes public. On the creative side, 1980 sees
John Webster drop his creative managerial duties to become executive
creative director and concentrate on writing. The creative department
goes from strength to strength with gold at Cannes for Hellmann’s and
BTA golds for ’Rabbit, Rabbit’, ’Gertcha’ and John Smith’s. Toyota
replaces Renault, while other wins include Presto supermarkets, the
Daily Express, Fisher-Price and Blue Stratos.
A test marketing project for Quaker’s Harvest Crunch eventually leads to
the famous squirrels campaign.
In 1981, BMP invites Jonathan Miller to give the first Stanley Pollitt
memorial lecture at the Cafe Royal. Billings rise to pounds 39 million
and the agency, with nearly 200 staff (100 of whom become shareholders),
grabs 13th place in the Campaign league table. In another strong
new-business year - wins from Sony, Ingersoll, Johnson & Johnson and the
Association of Metropolitan Authorities - the only major loss is Pepsi,
the result of an international realignment. For once, however, turnover
of senior staff is high. Top creatives Graham Collis, Graham Rose and
Dave Christensen leave; on the account side David Jones and John Madell
also go. Top-level creative hirings include Barbara Nokes and (again)
1982-83 John Smith’s becomes a signature BMP account following more
creative golds and the Grand Prix at the IPA Effectiveness Awards. The
latter is for a pounds 300,000 campaign in Yorkshire which increased
sales by ten million pints. In new business the year gets off to a
cracker with the pounds 2.5 million ITV2 account, later known as Channel
4. NALGO hires BMP for an anti-government-cuts campaign. Butlins, Knorr,
Gillette Papermate and (second-time lucky) Hofmeister also move in.
1983 For the next few months life is dominated by the process of going
public. When the shares are eventually listed in May, the agency has a
market capitalisation of pounds 16.25 million. Wins include Allied
Bakeries, Johnnie Walker, more from Sony and Carreras Rothmans.
Diversification begins as the agency buys Marketing Solutions for pounds
10 million and its boss, Jonathan Crisp, becomes BMP’s single largest
shareholder with 5.8 per cent. Incoming staff include Paul Leeves as
deputy to Alan Tilby, Frank Budgen, Peter Clay (now deputy managing
director) and Paul Taylor (now managing director of the media arm, BMP
Optimum). BMP is voted Campaign’s Agency of the Year for 1983.
1984-85 Billings continue to rise steadily in 1984, up pounds 15 million
to pounds 77 million - ninth in the Campaign league. Mindful of the need
get a toehold in the US, BMP takes a stake in the Angotti Thomas Hedge
start-up. Major wins include the Greater London Council, for whom the
agency produces controversial and award-winning work. The agency’s happy
knack of winning IPA Effectiveness prizes is maintained - five firsts in
the last three sets of awards. Despite getting 1985 off to a strong
start with the pounds 5 million Alliance & Leicester account, the year
turns out to be a disappointment in new business.
Not so in creative terms where it is business as usual with the likes of
George the Hofmeister Bear, Fisher-Price and the Guardian’s ’Points of
View’. The drive to expand and diversify is maintained with the launch
of BMP Business and a 25 per cent stake in the Davis Wilkins start-up.
Larry Barker joins for the first time.
1986-87 Following a reshuffle which sees Chris Powell as chief executive
and Chris Cowpe new-business director, BMP begins a stunning
new-business year. First in is pounds 15 million Comet, followed by
Texas, Clark’s Shoes, Thorn EMI and Dulux, for whom Boase vows to ’keep
the dog’. Creatively, the racy Miller Lite film for Courage dominates
and, in step with the times, the agency replaces Chas and Dave with Adam
Ant’s Goody Two Shoes for Courage Best. The mix of start-ups and
acquisitions continues: below-the-line shops Evans Hunt Scott and Granby
are bought, while Solutions in Media is founded by the media director,
Tim Cox, under Andy Tilley’s stewardship. Just as 1986 marked the
arrival of Comet, 1987 marks its departure. Channel 4 fires BMP (but
returns a year later as part of the Davidson Pearce deal). The US
beachhead is expanded with the acquisition of Ammirati and Puris. BMP
ends its second decade in seventh place in the Campaign rankings with
billings of pounds 125 million.
TAKEOVERS AND OMNICOM 1988-98
1988-1989 BMP’s third decade gets off to a shaky start when Alan Tilby
and Paul Leeves quit to start their own agency. Things get worse when
Paul Hogan announces he won’t be making any more Foster’s ads.
In June 1988 things look up when BMP takes over Davidson Pearce for
pounds 33 million. The only major account casualties are Fiat, Bass and
BT. The merger, in which most Davidson Pearce staff and clients are
comfortably absorbed, propels the new agency to fourth in Campaign’s
agency rankings. As the Aids scare grips the nation, BMP picks up the
pounds 4 million HEA campaign.
1989 opens with an audacious and highly leveraged pounds 102 million bid
for BMP by French agency BDDP. A war of words breaks out between Martin
Boase and BDDP’s Jean-Claude Boulet. The latter describes BMP’s
financial performance as ’unimpressive’ and ’faltering’. Boase, a fluent
French speaker, responds with ’ca ne marche pas’. More tellingly, he
describes the bid as lacking ’strategic, financial and commercial
logic,’ and concludes with the memorably dismissive phrase ,’Frog off’.
A clutch of big clients say they will review if the takeover goes ahead.
In May, Omnicom’s DDB comes in as a white knight with a successful
pounds 125 million bid. DDB’s Tony Cox becomes creative director of BMP
1990-91 First work from the new agency for DDB’s VW client appears - the
famous Tony Kaye-directed ’God Bless the Child’ commercial. In June, BMP
picks up Barclaycard. Rowan Atkinson’s first ad, ’Moscow’, sets the tone
for a hugely successful campaign. Campaign makes BMP Agency of the Year
for 1990 - for the second time. The dancing milk bottles make their
first appearance for the National Dairy Council. Incoming business
includes Terry’s of York, British Gas, Schweppes Gini, Eurotunnel and
In October 1991, CPC centralises its pounds 10 million media into BMP,
kicking off what becomes a remarkable run of centralisation successes
for the media department.
1992-1993 Ads for NALGO incur the wrath of the government. Polio victim
and rock star Ian Dury is hired to appear in a disability campaign for
the DSS. On the media front, BMP picks up St Ivel and British Gas’s
pounds 15 million planning and buying account and hangs on to Dulux. The
creative, meanwhile, moves to JWT and BMP bows out with a spectacular
finale in which the dog sings My Way.
Martin Boase, once described by Campaign as the ’David Niven of British
advertising’, celebrates his 60th birthday with a party at Windsor
racecourse (where else?).
A consistently excellent year for new business, media and creative sees
BMP named Campaign’s Agency of the Year for 1992 - a unique third
The agency takes Heinz Baked Beans back on TV for the first time in
years in 1993 and wins Foster’s back from Y&R after the Burt Lancaster
Unfortunately, its ’Mad Max’ series isn’t much better. Maynards parks
its business in Paddington and shortly after the wonderfully mad
’There’s juice loose ... about this hoose’ TV ad breaks. BMP lands the
then biggest-ever media centralisation - Boots’ pounds 45 million.
1994-95 The year starts brightly with pounds 10 million of new business
from the Meat and Livestock Commission. It gets better when the BMP is
named best-performing agency at the BTVA awards, and then better still
with wins of pounds 6 million more from the DSS, pounds 10 million from
Walkers (for whom Gary Lineker later makes a stunning debut), Benckiser
and the Metropolitan Police. Jack Dee berates the penguins for John
Smith’s. BMP leads DDB’s successful Euro pitch for Sony’s dollars 65
million account. More business arrives from Walkers in 1995 - Quavers
and Doritos - while the Labour party returns to BMP, this time in an
official capacity. Dipping its toe in the water as a sponsor of the
Cambridge interactive TV trial, BMP takes the plunge and launches a
dedicated interactive unit of its own.
1995 also marks the end of BMP’s long relationship with Courage - one of
the industry’s most enduring and creatively potent - after DDB wins
Anheuser-Busch globally and BMP is forced to resign Courage.
1996-1998 Vodafone sets the ball rolling in early 1996 with its pounds
10 million branding business. The trend towards global media buying
makes BMP examine its options within a European context. This later sees
the media department break out as BMP Optimum. CPC centralises into the
new-look department. Within three months of the BSE scandal, the Meat
and Livestock Commission asks BMP to produce a campaign for beef,
followed in 1997 by the charming ’Recipe for Love’ ads. New business
from Lego, Easy jeans and Reuters arrives.
In 1997 Richard Flintham and Andy McLeod pick up D&AD gold for their
Doritos idents. Tony Blair’s post-election thank-you note to the agency
is proudly displayed in the gents loo on the first floor. BMP Optimum
powers ahead by drafting in Mark Palmer to replace Derek Morris and wins
from Spillers and Gillette. Larry Barker rejoins as creative director in
early 1998. VW’s ’affordability’ campaign sees BMP clean up at BTVA,
D&AD and Cannes in 1998. PepsiCo’s global decision to put all its
business into BBDO sees Walkers go in the summer - the only sour note in
an otherwise stunning 30th birthday year.
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk
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