Alastair Duncan’s interest in new media was sparked by a game in a
pub. This is going back a little now - into pre-history, as far as the
web is concerned - to 1990. Duncan was an account manager at the design
company, GH Creative Group, when his client, Whitbread, teamed up with
the BBC to develop a Fantasy Football game that was designed to keep
people in the pub for longer. The trial ran successfully for three years
’It was fun and allowed people to play against someone in the same pub,
another pub or even another country,’ Duncan recalls.
One thing the project proved, he says, was that people were keen to
embrace the technology - contrary to the fear among many marketers that
consumers would be put off by it. It also showed one way in which
technology could be tapped for promotional and marketing purposes.
Duncan has stuck ever since to the belief that people will make
technology work for them.
And it’s a conviction that has stood him in good stead as he climbed the
career ladder to the dizzy heights of his new position, head of the
London office of the first offshoot to evolve out of Ammirati Puris
Lintas: APL Digital. With offices in New York, London, Hong Kong and
Sydney, its opening is the formalisation of what had already been in
place for several years.
Duncan, who has been at APL for almost four years, set up the
interactive unit within the London agency in 1995. He had joined a year
earlier as part of the KMM team that merged with the Lintas agency,
bringing with it the prestigious Rover account, on which he was head of
In the early days of the internet, the APL interactive unit comprised
Duncan, a multimedia designer and a creative team.
This has now grown to 12 full timers and four ’permalancers’. With new
projects from NatWest, Iridium, Compaq and P&O Cruises, Duncan is
predicting yet more rapid growth.
Part of APL Digital’s proposition is that it ’does it all’ - not only
creating the strategy and the design, but also building the sites.
It’s a direction that other agencies, including Lowe Howard-Spink, have
abandoned to concentrate on strategy, but it is one that, according to
Duncan, is central to APL Digital’s credentials.
’Our heritage is as an integrated agency,’ he explains, ’and we do
everything in-house. Clients like the fact that the same people who talk
about strategy then execute it. That becomes more important as the web
becomes a much more useful medium - which it is because of the
transactional element and because of the very personal way users can
interact with the brand online.’
The way people do this is changing very quickly, as are some of those
brands and what they do online. Tesco, for example, is not only turning
into an online store, but also a place to find news and now even an
internet service provider. What all this shows, according to Duncan, is
that brands are adding digital characteristics to their off-line
qualities as clients recognise the potential.
’More and more clients are employing internet directors - because the
need to think about the web in a critical way is crucial. A client said
we had an intellectual approach. Part of that is because of our ad
agency heritage. That gives us the ability to think of a brand in the
We would look at the digital brand and consider what was appropriate to
that brand as a whole.’
Duncan points to Peperami (www.peperami.com) as an example of real
consistency in brand personality, which reaches from the distinctive
television work, through to the website and banner ads. The integrated
approach even extends to the packaging: Peperami is the first Van den
Bergh Foods brand to carry the URL on all of its products.
But you cannot talk about APL and not mention the award-winning Rover
Mini site, launched with an innovative ’design your own Mini’
The site, to be found at www.mini.co.uk, is now 18 months old and is
still getting 75 to 80 people visiting it a day.
’What we did with Mini is what we try to do with everything else. We
asked ourselves what it was that no one had done before. The focus is on
the ideas, because ideas are much more important than the technology.’