Inside... Razorfish

In the past year, Razorfish has burst on to the London advertising scene, scooping ten new-business wins and numerous creative awards. In the first of a new Inside series, Campaign went along to find out what has got into this formerly quiet digital agency.

  • SLIDESHOW: See inside Razorfish's new offices

    SLIDESHOW: See inside Razorfish's new offices


Established in London in 1996, Razorfish was one of the first digital agencies. It has an impressive past: building the platform that allowed O2 to bring the iPhone to the UK and activate thousands of phones simultaneously, creating Oxfam’s Unwrapped fundraising initiative and engineering the first-ever online smoking-cessation programme for the British Heart Foundation. The current client list includes more than 20 brands, such as McDonald’s, Unilever, Audi AG, Argos and Lloyds Banking Group.

There may be digital agencies with higher profiles, but Razorfish is shaking off its "best-kept secret" status as it moves its growing team of nearly 300 to new offices on London’s Great Titchfield Street.

Chris Mellish, the chief executive, describes the process as realigning the team with "creativity along the spine". Razorfish has always had the technical ability to carry out advanced design and build work. Now, it has beefed up its creative offering to complement its tech-savvy base.

Indeed, the creative team has doubled in size in the past two years. Razorfish now also pioneers a new way of working by pairing creative directors differently – it mixes one "storytelling" creative (a copywriter or art director) with an "experience" creative (a creative technologist or user experience specialist). This ensures the big idea looks and works beautifully across all channels.

Clients recognise that strategic insight can come from anywhere and the best idea wins. The Razorfish approach aims to deliver on both the big idea and its realisation.

A third strand to the offering, and one that is possibly unique for a London digital agency, is the strength of Razorfish’s 40-person media department. The team buys more than £20 million of media a year, creating bespoke analytical and data models for every client. Not all clients buy creative, tech and media from Razorfish. However, having all three under one roof gives the agency an advantage – a holistic understanding of the digital ecosystem clients face.

This full-service position at the crossroads of technology, creative and media seems to resonate with clients looking to consolidate their digital marketing and advertising.

It is also clear that, in today’s advertising world, briefs often demand non-linear thinking. Razorfish’s office is home to an innovation lab that gives free rein to its prototyping and experimental culture. Staff are encouraged to devise creative solutions. Mellish credits this culture for several of last year’s new-business wins: "We can create working prototypes in days. We can build things for pitches that other agencies would struggle to build in months."

The Argos Christmas gift catalogue is an example where Razorfish showed a prototype that wasn’t a typically static model. The live demo helped the client envision what was possible, won Razorfish the pitch and allowed the agency to deliver a solution that Argos is looking to use in other areas.

According to Mellish, such an approach underlines a fundamental change in advertising, where playing a meaningful role in people’s lives is critical to being heard: "It’s no longer about making people want stuff. It’s all about making stuff people want."

Razorfish’s ten pitch wins last year included appointments such as DHL’s global agency of record, C&A (across Europe) and as an SEO agency for Michelin. It has also posted double-digit growth for the past three consecutive years. And a total of 21 creative awards last year – the first year the agency actively entered awards shows – underlines Razorfish’s growing credentials.

At a time when some clients are looking for quick digital fixes, Razorfish puts the emphasis on long-term relationships with brands. McDonald’s has been a client for seven years. The agency and clients have grown together – seeing the brand evolve from having very little footprint online to being an adept player that puts digital at the heart of its strategy.

Now nearly 18 years old in London, Razorfish’s motto, "Here for tomorrow", seems truer than ever.

The Work

McDonald’s 100 McDonald’s Moments

McDonald’s wanted to demonstrate how it is a part of everyday British life.Razorfish began by asking McDonald’s Facebook fans "What’s your McDonald’s moment?", with the aim of creating a gallery of 100 different crowdsourced moments. Responses flooded in with stories about family traditions, first days at college and even marriage proposals made more enjoyable with McDonald’s.One hundred moments were selected and hand-illustrated in real time before being added to the 100 McDonald’s Moments gallery. The site was created in HTML5 to make it available across all devices.The collective audience spent the equivalent of 12.1 years on the site and McDonald’s head of marketing, Steve Hill, described it as one of the best-performing campaigns ever in the UK.Submitted moments were also used in contextual ad placements.

Audi AG Audi City

Razorfish was proud to work with Audi AG on the world’s first fully interactive retail environment, Audi City.People work on touchscreen tables mounted in front of massive high-resolution displays to make their dream creation. Shoppers can select a vehicle and trim level, and go through millions of possible permutations, from colour to engine size to fabric – all rendered in real time and shown at a 1:1 scale.The personalised vehicle can then be shown full size on digital powerwalls, while Kinect technology allows interaction.Each configuration is saved on a RFID-enabled USB, which allows customers to re-enter the process at the same point later.Audi City became one of the brand’s top-five-selling UK sites in August 2012.Other partners included Designit (experience design concept), Audi ATCC (architecture), RTT (powerwalls and 3D content), Das Büro am Draht (back-end service), Valtech (middleware) and S12 (sound).

Argos Christmas Gift Guide

The Argos catalogue is a British institution and, for Christmas 2013, Razorfish took it digital.The 3D infinite grid let users "grab" the page and swipe in any direction to explore more than 3,500 gift items, which were grouped into helpful collections such as "best of bling" or "couch potato".Fully integrated with Facebook, the system offered live stock information and promotional offers.Customers could browse a never-ending screen of products, build and share lists, and receive intelligent gift suggestions. The site is believed to be the world’s first leap-motion e-commerce site.Argos is now looking to use the guide on other gifting occasions.