Close-Up: Live Issue - Can in-house ads deliver for brands?

An understanding of the brand and its objectives is crucial to successful work, Claire Billings says.

Say the words "in-house advertising" and the ad industry lets out a groan as low-budget, studio-based spots fronted by wooden company chiefs spring to mind.

There are plenty of bad examples, typically for financial services companies or daytime advertisers wanting to keep costs down. But these give a false impression of the overall size and state of the market.

Traditionally, Benetton - which has run occasionally controversial and highly memorable campaigns highlighting global issues - creates its work in-house. Gap's famous khaki ads, featuring celebrities dancing on a white background, were also created by an in-house team (although Gap appointed its first agency in 2000). Calvin Klein too favours the in-house approach through its agency, CRK. Each brand has a clear positioning and idea of the ad's objectives, which is reflected in the quality of the work.

In-house advertising is also favoured by some media owners, which have the facilities and creative talent within the organisation. Channel 4's agency, 4Creative, pitches for the broadcaster's briefs against its roster agencies.

But in-house ads can work even if they are not at the cutting edge of style, design or media. EasyJet has just decided to review its strategy of creating its ads in-house after years of making its ads itself.

Arguably, these ads have worked, even if they weren't contenders for creative awards. In 2003, easyJet ran a series of print ads that satirised issues such as the Iraq war with the line "Discover weapons of mass distraction" and a pair of bikini-clad breasts. The campaign received almost 200 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority but was judged a success.

Specsavers also makes its ads in-house. Its "should have gone to Specsavers" campaign appears to produce good results - the chain's sales grew from £550 million to £650 million in 2004 following the campaign's launch in January 2003.

One of the most iconic campaigns of recent times, Ferrero Rocher's "ambassador's reception", was created by its in-house agency, Pubbliregia, in the 90s and was reinstated in 2003, but this time through Publicis.

But while in-house ads are successful for certain clients with specific objectives, there are pitfalls. "The danger is they lose the fresh perspective an agency gives. They can end up talking to themselves or executing ads heavy-handedly," Simon Clemmow, a partner at Clemmow Hornby Inge, says.

Even Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the founder of easyGroup and a supporter of in-house advertising, admits it is not always appropriate. "In general, in-house marketing works when the founder and owner controls the creative and is willing to take the risks and benefits. When the company grows up, there is a case for a more formal sign-off process," he says.

However, Gerry Moira, the UK director of creativity at Euro RSCG London, believes it might not be long before brand owners take greater control. "If there is a dedicated creative director in an agency on a specific brand, then it's a fine line between that and the client asking them to sit in their offices. Then it's a fine line before they get on the payroll."

At present, successful in-house advertising is restricted to a small number of clients, confident in their ability to achieve their objectives. But most agree it is of limited use for a limited number of brands.

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"It all depends on the people creating the ads, but therein lies the problem. If you are a bright communications person, do you want to work for DDB or for Gap?

"If whoever's in charge has a clear vision and says 'I want to provoke a debate with my ads', then why bother talking to a planner or a panel of housewives?

"But they don't work when they're done out of expediency, for example for a loan company. Gap knew what it wanted and what it was talking about and it had a vision. But where it gets fuzzy is when creatives don't know where their loyalties lie.

"The issue is about control. If you have creative control at the client these ads can work."


"In-house advertising generally suffers because it's a company's second industry, not its speciality. It can work if the company is sufficiently close to advertising and the skills are transferable. It can also work when it's a short-term initiative.

"Rarely do they have the staying power and depth of creative expertise to deliver truly long-term and differentiating campaign properties.

"The other danger is the 'wood for the trees' syndrome. When you're standing on the inside, it can be difficult to maintain your focus on the outside. When they go wrong, they have become too disconnected from the lives of consumers."


"A lot depends on the culture of the company. Channel 4 is a creative company and the only time I get into trouble is when we're not taking risks. We've had to unlearn our account handling skills because we're dealing with creative people.

"In-house advertising's success is entirely dependent on the ethos you apply and who runs it.

"We're also not beholden to a rigid creative department that only wants to make ads. All our output involves freelance teams, so we pick the right team for the job. I think there will be some growth in companies creating ads in-house."


"The big advantage of an in-house creative department is that the team is only working on one brand. They therefore get the brand into their bloodstream and play a big part in maintaining the purity of the brand. I reject far fewer creative ideas at Specsavers than I did in my previous position, where we worked with an ad agency.

"Because the creative team fully understands the Specsavers brand and its tone of voice, our communications are consistent in reflecting the brand's values.

"In addition, given that the creative team ultimately reports to me, I can ensure that their work is focused on the various objectives of the Specsavers marketing plan, rather than winning awards."