INTERACTIVE: Why APL’s thriving interactive unit has taken on an identity of its own - Case Study/APL Digital/Gordon MacMillan meets Alastair Duncan, the head of Lintas’s first offshoot - APL Digital, a web agency

Alastair Duncan’s interest in new media was sparked by a game in a pub. This is going back a little now - into pre-history, as far as the web is concerned - to 1990. Duncan was an account manager at the design company, GH Creative Group, when his client, Whitbread, teamed up with the BBC to develop a Fantasy Football game that was designed to keep people in the pub for longer. The trial ran successfully for three years before closing.

Alastair Duncan’s interest in new media was sparked by a game in a

pub. This is going back a little now - into pre-history, as far as the

web is concerned - to 1990. Duncan was an account manager at the design

company, GH Creative Group, when his client, Whitbread, teamed up with

the BBC to develop a Fantasy Football game that was designed to keep

people in the pub for longer. The trial ran successfully for three years

before closing.



’It was fun and allowed people to play against someone in the same pub,

another pub or even another country,’ Duncan recalls.



One thing the project proved, he says, was that people were keen to

embrace the technology - contrary to the fear among many marketers that

consumers would be put off by it. It also showed one way in which

technology could be tapped for promotional and marketing purposes.



Duncan has stuck ever since to the belief that people will make

technology work for them.



And it’s a conviction that has stood him in good stead as he climbed the

career ladder to the dizzy heights of his new position, head of the

London office of the first offshoot to evolve out of Ammirati Puris

Lintas: APL Digital. With offices in New York, London, Hong Kong and

Sydney, its opening is the formalisation of what had already been in

place for several years.



Duncan, who has been at APL for almost four years, set up the

interactive unit within the London agency in 1995. He had joined a year

earlier as part of the KMM team that merged with the Lintas agency,

bringing with it the prestigious Rover account, on which he was head of

design.



In the early days of the internet, the APL interactive unit comprised

Duncan, a multimedia designer and a creative team.



This has now grown to 12 full timers and four ’permalancers’. With new

projects from NatWest, Iridium, Compaq and P&O Cruises, Duncan is

predicting yet more rapid growth.



Part of APL Digital’s proposition is that it ’does it all’ - not only

creating the strategy and the design, but also building the sites.



It’s a direction that other agencies, including Lowe Howard-Spink, have

abandoned to concentrate on strategy, but it is one that, according to

Duncan, is central to APL Digital’s credentials.



’Our heritage is as an integrated agency,’ he explains, ’and we do

everything in-house. Clients like the fact that the same people who talk

about strategy then execute it. That becomes more important as the web

becomes a much more useful medium - which it is because of the

transactional element and because of the very personal way users can

interact with the brand online.’



The way people do this is changing very quickly, as are some of those

brands and what they do online. Tesco, for example, is not only turning

into an online store, but also a place to find news and now even an

internet service provider. What all this shows, according to Duncan, is

that brands are adding digital characteristics to their off-line

qualities as clients recognise the potential.



’More and more clients are employing internet directors - because the

need to think about the web in a critical way is crucial. A client said

we had an intellectual approach. Part of that is because of our ad

agency heritage. That gives us the ability to think of a brand in the

wider world.



We would look at the digital brand and consider what was appropriate to

that brand as a whole.’



Duncan points to Peperami (www.peperami.com) as an example of real

consistency in brand personality, which reaches from the distinctive

television work, through to the website and banner ads. The integrated

approach even extends to the packaging: Peperami is the first Van den

Bergh Foods brand to carry the URL on all of its products.



But you cannot talk about APL and not mention the award-winning Rover

Mini site, launched with an innovative ’design your own Mini’

competition.



The site, to be found at www.mini.co.uk, is now 18 months old and is

still getting 75 to 80 people visiting it a day.



’What we did with Mini is what we try to do with everything else. We

asked ourselves what it was that no one had done before. The focus is on

the ideas, because ideas are much more important than the technology.’



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