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Advertising Agency of the Decade: Adam & Eve/DDB

It is an unprecedented five-time Agency of the Year winner.

Advertising Agency of the Decade: Adam & Eve/DDB

It’s quite fitting, and a remarkable achievement, that an agency that won the first Agency of the Year accolade at the start of the decade when just a two-year-old sparky start-up – and then went on to win it four other times as part of the Omnicom empire – is named Campaign’s Agency of the Decade. 

But it wasn’t a shoo-in for Adam & Eve/DDB, despite its record-breaking run at the top title. There were plenty of competitors who also excelled over the period (more on them later).

Consistency has always been the key for this agency – and nowhere is this more evident than in its totemic client, and one of its earliest, John Lewis. Creating a genre of advertising in its own right, which many have sought to emulate but never bettered, while managing to delight and surprise year after year with its Christmas offering, is a significant achievement.

Of course, it’s easy to mock the mawkishness and sentimentality but surely this is what Christmas is all about anyway? 

And as an example of commercial creativity bleeding into popular culture, it’s difficult to think of others that have done so more effectively. The agency might not like being defined solely by John Lewis, given the breadth of its client list and creative output, but it is an exemplar of its success.

The birth of Adam & Eve, founded by James Murphy, David Golding and Ben Priest, all former senior Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R executives, and Jon Forsyth, was not an easy one. But in adversity, the group flourished, having eventually settled their legal issues with former employer WPP. Having picked up John Lewis in 2009, the first year of this decade marked the agency’s first collaboration with Blink’s Dougal Wilson. The agency, always promising on paper, was starting to get noticed.

Clockwise from top left: Priest, Golding, Forsyth and Murphy

It wasn’t just its industry peers and awards judges who were noticing; new business followed and the still fledgling agency picked up accounts from Foster’s (for which it launched the long-running "Good call" campaign featuring fictional larrikins Brad and Dan) and Diageo. At the end of the year, it was anointed Campaign’s Agency of the Year.

Success begets success, and the momentum continued in 2011 with, yes, another heartwarming John Lewis campaign collaboration with Wilson ("The long wait"), which was later to be awarded for Creative Effectiveness at Cannes, and some hefty new business, in the form of Halifax. 

The Adam & Eve flag was now firmly planted, and naysayers who thought that its success in 2010 was just an aberration – a lucky blip – were preparing themselves to be disappointed.

Over the pond, Adam & Eve had made it onto the radar of Omnicom chief John Wren. Attracted by what he had seen, and in a move that would shore up Omnicom’s struggling DDB London outpost, Wren bought the agency and merged it to create Adam & Eve/DDB. Overnight, the agency went from 75 people to 250. 

It was through a combination of fortune and strong leadership that the process of merging two very different agencies to create a new shop that boasted a melding of Adam & Eve’s creative spirit with DDB’s broader capabilities did not prove to be too much of a distraction. 

CALM 'Project 84'

Indeed, the new-business wagon kept rolling with Google and Lipton joining the roster. 

At the end of the year, the agency was recognised with the IPA Effectiveness Grand Prix for John Lewis.

In 2013 Rick Brim and Daniel Fisher joined and quickly made their mark. "Sorry, I spent it on myself" for Harvey Nichols and "End Marmite neglect" were among the year’s highlights, while the client list grew. 

As another new year dawned, more space was required in the awards cupboard as "Monty the penguin" for John Lewis picked up five Cannes Lions including a Grand Prix in film for Direction. A clutch of other gongs followed, including 14 Agency of the Year awards, from Cannes, Epica, British Arrows and Campaign Big, culminating in it winning Campaign’s Agency of the Year for the second time, as it welcomed new clients such as Virgin Atlantic and McCain. It also won its second IPA Effectiveness Grand Prix, this time for Foster’s "Good call".

The combination of Brim and Priest proved a potent one, as 2015 and 2016 came and went. "Tiny dancer" for John Lewis and "Shoplifters" for Harvey Nichols were among the creative highlights and yet another Campaign Agency of the Year resulted. 

The level of the agency’s international profile was further demonstrated by the opening of an office in New York on the back of winning Samsung’s global business.

With the founders stepping back, a new management team was unleashed in 2017: Brim along with chief strategy officer Alex Hesz, chief production officer Anthony Falco and joint chief executives Tammy Einav and Mat Goff. Once again, it was named Campaign’s Agency of the Year.

Goff, Einav and Brim

As the decade drew to a close and Adam & Eve/DDB hit its 10th birthday, there were yet more Lions and its second Agency of the Year award at Cannes, as well as one of its most breathtaking pieces of work with "Project 84" for CALM. 

As 2018 ended, the agency was atop the new-business league but no longer with Priest. In 2019, the remaining founders also left but the handover was seamless. The work still shone, and the new business and awards continued to roll in. It really is all about consistency.

Runners-up

Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

Having turned 40 in 2017, AMV BBDO was a serious contender not just for Advertising Agency of the Decade but also Agency of the Semi-Century during Campaign’s 50th anniversary year in 2018. It’s been a regular runner-up throughout these past 10 years as its management mantle has passed down the line, with only founder Peter Mead being a constant figure over that time. 

But it’s credit to the strength of the management team – and its succession plans – that each shift of power seems to have been handled with the minimum of client fallout. When Dame Cilla Snowball stepped down at the end of last year, a final accolade was being voted Agency Head of the Year by Campaign’s panel of marketing directors. What makes AMV all the more impressive is that it has maintained its position as the UK’s largest ad agency for such a long period, no doubt the result of the love of craft nurtured by its founders and held dear to this day.

Bartle Bogle Hegarty London

Another agency with a fine vintage – and a clutch of Campaign Agency of the Year awards under its belt –  BBH was the shop that most others sought to emulate. In fact, if you look around most of the top London agencies, you’ll see that many of the chief executives were schooled at BBH. It has never taken its position as "the best" for granted; it constantly pushes forward, whether that be with new capabilities such as in Sport or through ensuring that it continues to recognise and promote its very best talent. 

The roll call of BBH creative leaders is admirably short for an agency with a 37-year history. Even though one more name is to be added to the list with the departure of Ian Heartfield to join the James Murphy/David Golding start-up, you know that BBH won’t rush into the choice; that has never been its way. 

Equally, those who thought that the completion of its sale to Publicis Groupe in 2012 would diminish its enduring distinctiveness, which goes back to when it helped break the mould of British advertising in the 1980s, will have been disappointed.

VCCP

A winner of the Campaign Agency of the Year title in the past decade, VCCP has never been far down the shortlist in the years when it didn’t win. It has taken the winning formula that it managed to so brilliantly deploy in order to convince founding client O2 to take a punt at the then start-up in 2002 (a relationship that has blossomed in this decade), producing work for Comparethemarket and, more recently, Mondelez that shows an insight that its rivals should envy. 

Creatively, its game has also been raised, and the VCCP group of agencies contains a collection of services, perhaps most presciently including media, that make it look future-proof. While it’s a serious business, VCCP has always managed not to fall into the trap that catches so many of its rivals by not taking itself too seriously. This is largely down to the enduring hands-on presence of two of its founders, Charles Vallance and Adrian Coleman, who continue to shape VCCP in their image. 

Mother

One of the generation of agencies that sought to shake up advertising in the noughties, Mother has always prided itself on being an outsider. But it has managed to get itself inside Campaign’s Agency of the Decade shortlist, too, thanks to its unerring commitment to producing work that broke new ground at its launch in 1997. 

Its implementation of a non-hierarchical structure at that time now makes it look like a very early adopter, as other shops have struggled to meet – let alone justify – the frustrations expressed by some senior marketers at the rigidity that still defines the industry. 

Being fleet of foot and able to react to events also shows through in its work: who can forget the "FCK" KFC work last year? Or its 2018 "Rang-tan" tie up between Iceland and Greenpeace that really caught the zeitgeist? But Mother is capable of enduring relationships beyond stunts and has produced beautiful and tone-rich work for Ikea during its time on the business, which has helped make this brand Advertiser of the Year on several occasions over the past decade. 

Having Ana Balarin, Hermeti Balarin, Chris Gallery and Katie Mackay-Sinclair in charge, supported by global partners Michael Wall and Robert Saville, augurs well for the decade to come.