The surprise was palpable at last week's Campaign Direct Awards as Different walked off with the gold award for its "baby" execution for Sunderland NHS. Just who was this agency that had trounced the much-vaunted M&G work from Harrison Troughton Wunderman?
On closer analysis, perhaps it wasn't such a surprise. After all, the Newcastle-based Different had already had work in the D&AD book and won a Campaign Press Award. This was no upstart creating a one-off piece of gold.
Different was formed four years ago by four directors from the Newcastle agencies Yellow M and Robson Brown. Ben Quigley, the managing director, the joint creative directors, Mark Martin and Chris Rickaby, and the new-media director, Ian Millen, have all worked at Yellow M.
Quigley says Different came out of disagreements over the future of the now-defunct Yellow M. "There was a difference of opinion over taking Yellow M from being a hotshop to building it into a substantial organisation. This was the catalyst to launch Different," he says.
"We saw the opportunity not to do just advertising or direct marketing but to come up with an agency that had a truly integrated approach with the mantra of coming up with great creative work. We wanted to be an ideas shop, not an advertising agency."
Different had a good first year. Its work for Iveco Trucks and the NHS won awards (gold at the IPA Business to Business Awards for Iveco and copywriting gongs at Campaign Press and D&AD for its Health Action Zones "gravestone" ad). This undoubtedly helped build momentum and now Different is a 21-strong agency based in a four-storey Georgian townhouse just to the west of Newcastle station and close to the thriving Quayside area. Other clients include Northern Rock and Scot FM.
Quigley says: "When clients come off the train, they enter a lovely, relaxed environment. Confidence is riding high in the city. Compared with London agencies, we're not carrying the same overheads but the quality and effectiveness of the work is there and the proposition is the same. This goes a long way with the 10 to 15 per cent of clients that are looking outside London."
Different has always had that phrase "media neutrality" at its heart.
Some of its work is advertising, some direct marketing, some new media and it is also branching into content provision. One of its creative highlights was the launch of a new Iveco truck to a business audience - not, on paper, the most pulse-raising brief. The agency decided to stage a launch event for the truck and created a Spinal Tap-style rock band called Evolution (the theme of the whole campaign) that played to the delegates at the event, who were then given a CD to take away.
This couldn't be further away from the finely crafted beauty of the "baby" execution but both were effective. The creation of the "baby" ad, one of ten tested on audiences of pregnant mothers in the North East before running in regional press, was relatively straightforward. Rickaby explains that the ad came out of research that indicated the target audience would be more influenced by an ad showing a baby. The agency took a shot of smoke and then Millen created the image himself using Mac manipulation of the smoke patterns.
Different is also pushing into new areas with the creation of television content. It created a reality TV show called The Hanging Jury, featuring the Red or Dead founder, Wayne Hemingway, and it is currently developing a comedy series. It is also looking at content provision for its clients.
A look at Different's website (www.different-uk.com) reveals that this is an agency with a sense of humour. Its case studies section is alternatively tagged "self-adulation" and philosophy as "corporate waffle". It's also an agency that stretches far beyond its base camp in Newcastle. Fifty per cent of its work is for clients outside the city and Quigley says it is working on ways of expanding. "The key is not where you're based but having a great idea. It works when we see clients in London and we are looking at ways of expanding distribution, but this remains our base."
"It's not where you're from it's where you're at" is the Different message.
And it is at a very interesting place right now.