Top Man sponsors a group of Oxford University academics to research
the attitudes of young men today. Major brand sponsorship of academic
activity is no longer that unusual, but Grey Advertising’s involvement
in the research programme is quite a surprise.
Top Man is not a Grey client, so the move is clearly a new-business get
- nothing strange about that, but the fact that the agency is brokering
a survey to win favour with a client, and not creating above-the-line
advertising ideas, does highlight the changing face of agency work.
These days an agency might be required to produce an awful lot more than
a memorable ad to stay in business.
The trend has given rise to agencies whose speciality is not having a
speciality. There’s the ’media neutral’ Circus and there’s Michaelides &
Bednash, pioneers of media strategy.
Graham Bednash, founding partner at M&B, says: ’Everything communicates
and anything is a medium. We’re in the ideas business and not
necessarily the advertising or media business.’
The main reason for the change is that there are so many channels of
communication confronting the consumer - and not just the internet,
digital TV or satellite. Clients have realised they can no longer buy
some time slots on ITV then sit back and wait for sales to improve.
And consumers have less time to soak up advertising messages than they
did 25 years ago, when the nine to five working day was a reality. To
get the message home it’s now necessary to communicate with people at
every possible stage of their daily lives, whether this be on rail
tickets, boxes of matches or through a website.
Stef Calcraft, a founding partner at Mother, explains: ’There is massive
commercial white noise so, whenever you appear, you have to put out the
same message and you have to continually re-express that message. If you
haven’t got a consistent message you’re going to fail. There are so many
media channels, there are a huge number of competitive messages and
people have less time to assimilate advertising.’
Bednash agrees: ’Agencies are having to do it because there is so much
information, it’s hard to cut through. You need more imaginative ways of
getting on to the customer’s radar.’
The ways of sneaking on to radar have to be diverse or they won’t
Bednash cites two examples. First, when M&B helped launch Apple Tango,
the brand took over the page three girl in the Daily Star, replacing her
with a can of tango in a bra and knickers. More recently, M&B applied
some lateral thinking for Channel 4 to promote Wednesday nights with ER
and Sex and the City, giving away a free George Clooney pin-up poster in
every national newspaper.
Circus sent actors dressed in period costume on to the Central Line to
promote the Museum of London. The agency also created an 8,000 square
foot ’brand space’ in the US headquarters of its National Cash Register
client to give consumers a ’living explanation of NCR’s role in the
’The fact is that advertising is not the standalone panacea it once
was,’ Tim O’Kennedy, a founding partner at Circus, says. ’Clients are
waking up to brands as things people experience in a number of ways.
They are experienced rather than observed.’
Bednash adds: ’There is no such thing as a unique selling point any
more. It’s about brand experience. You used to be able to just do an ad
campaign and that was the job done.’
But the agency’s role can run much deeper than producing alternatives to
advertising and, in many instances, the agency is called in to sort out
the client’s internal branding. Minnie Moll, head of new business at
HHCL & Partners, says the agency worked for 18 months with Pearl
Assurance before it even looked at external communications. ’It was an
internal focus on what Pearl’s raison d’etre was. It involved getting
all people - from the call centre staff to the sales force - to be
As the consumer gets more savvy, Moll thinks this area is becoming more
significant. ’Consumers have never been so sophisticated, so it’s never
been more important that the brand delivers the promise in its
advertising,’ she says.
This too is attributable to the rise in media channels. As O’Kennedy
points out, if an airline company now claims to offer the cheapest
flights, the consumer can check the claim on the internet. Customers can
get a better feel for what a company stands for than before.
There is also a cost issue. Richard Pinder, managing director of Ogilvy
& Mather, says: ’Media inflation, especially TV, has made clients sit up
and consider alternatives to traditional advertising.’
However, it would be a mistake for every agency to begin pushing
As Paul Cowan, marketing director of Delaney Fletcher Bozell, says: ’The
challenge for agencies is to know when they get into waters where they
need special help.’ O’Kennedy warns that agencies can’t simply change
overnight. ’The business of creating breadth is very different. The
hierarchy now is so focused on above the line. It’s not just a matter of
’how do I change the culture of my business from an ad agency to a
broad-based communications company,’’ he says.
However, no matter how mainstream non-traditional advertising becomes,
there will always be a need for every type of communication. As Pinder
says: ’We can all create our own niches.’