The World's Leading Independent Agencies 2013: El Laboratorio

As the bridge between brands and consumers, agencies should think less about what to say to people and more about what to do for people.

Holemans, Silvela and de Madariaga (left to right)...'we aren't resigned to work on something that people hate
Holemans, Silvela and de Madariaga (left to right)...'we aren't resigned to work on something that people hate

It's likely that many of you have at some time read "Banksy on Advertising". It's heart-rending.

For those of you who haven't, let me remind you of some of the insults that he dedicated to us: "People are taking the piss out of you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you're not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are 'The Advertisers' and they are laughing at you."

This is how Banksy sees our profession: yesterday, egocentric and self-satisfying; today, flabbergasted and dazed.

And he adds an eloquent afterthought: "Fuck that." Wow.

You can't say that Banksy is an anarchist. We, at least, wouldn't call him that - someone who sells his work at auction houses in London for figures superior to an agency fee. He can't be an anarchist - he's someone who uses marketing with great skill to increase the value of what he does (although he may do it intuitively).

That's precisely what worries us. That voice doesn't come from the outside, it's coming from the inside. Banksy's voice could be the voice of our neighbours, our brother-in-law, those normal guys at the gym. He says some very harsh things. The worst thing is that we know why he says them. Secretly, we know that we deserve it.

Today, we take part in an expensive game of hide-and-seek in which brands pay to chase people, while those who can pay can escape the pestering: pay-TV without ads, premium apps without ads, digital press without ads.

In Spain, we've recently discovered that the social valuation of advertising people ranks below that of the clergy and only just above bankers. Too many years talking from up above, from those tall buildings.

Seeing those little people whom we thought we could wrap up in a stereotype. We don't know anything about them. To tell the truth, we didn't care about them. We spoke to them as if we were talking to a hypnotised crowd. Even direct marketing, which presumed to know them by name, called them Mr John Sample.

It's not surprising that they are pissed off.

The bad news is that we were mistaken: the crowd doesn't exist. What we called audience is a myriad of unique individuals who think and have opinions. Although their opinions confuse us.

The good news is that we were mistaken. So there's hope.

Some brands have already understood that, just because they have loads of money, they can't get everything they want. It could be that, by paying, you get to where people are, but that doesn't mean you get to their hearts or minds.

To do this, you need intelligence and sensitivity to do extraordinary things. They could be applications, games, ideas that people will make their own; they could be ads that are really trailers for full-length films that live on the internet; they could be music. Whatever they are, they will be extraordinary.

Agencies and advertisers, we've spent decades worrying about what we were going to say to people. Now, it's time to think about what we are going to give people. What we are going to do for them. The agency that we dreamt of seems to be more and more a promoter of ideas. In reality, a kind of bridge-builder. Building bridges between brands and people.

The big changes throughout history have meant migrations, either physical or mental.

We are emigrating from the culture of the assignment to the culture of invention. Right up until recently, we waited at our desk for the brief to arrive - the assignment - to give an answer. But, from now on, we'll invest resources, time and money to invent those bridges that connect brands and people. Because that's what it's all about - reaching people, not attracting them like the Pied Piper of Hamelin. People have already discovered that the piper played captivating melodies just to drown the rats. Whatever it is, a river of water or a river of GRPs.

Banksy's words impress us all the more because we aren't resigned to work on something that people hate. We aren't going to accept that our work is rubbish that everyone wants to escape from. No. That's not the reason we get up every morning. We openly rebel against that curse.

We strongly believe that we can produce something beautiful, something intelligent and, what's more, something useful. Extraordinary ideas that entertain, make people smile, stimulate the intellect, dazzle with their ingenuity and beauty. That thrill and excite people. We weren't born with talent just to torment our fellow man. I don't know about you, but we're not going to put up with that. When we switch off the light at night and mull over the day, we like to think that what we did today was worth it.

Goodnight. More tomorrow.

Carlos Holemans is a founder and the chief creative officer at El Laboratorio

At a glance

  • Founded: 2001
  • Principals: Marisa de Madariaga, founder and chief executive; Carlos Holemans, founder and chief creative officer; Rafael Silvela, managing director; Carla Romeu, executive creative director; Jesus Lada, executive creative director
  • Staff: 42
  • Location: Madrid
  • Favourite digital campaign of 2012: "Small business Saturday" for American Express. A glorious example of when a brand worries and does something positive for its community and gets a multiplied answer in return
  • Learnt anything new lately?: When you do something for people, they respond generously. Our recent campaign for Trina, a drink from Orangina Schweppes, consisted of artists recording new versions of songs. We gave away one song every week and almost four million people logged on to YouTube. Shazam highlighted the initiative as one of the 15 most-tagged in the world


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