The mother of all agencies set the bar for British creativity
A view from Claire Beale

The mother of all agencies set the bar for British creativity

As Mother turns 21, Campaign's global editor-in-chief looks at how the agency set a new standard for British creativity.

Of course, the work was mostly pretty damn good from day one. But I'll be honest with you: for the first few months, even years, it was the apple pies that we truly loved Mother for.

Proper deep-filled, golden flakey-crusted pies in proper pie tins, they’d arrive in the Campaign offices on the slenderist of excuses. Mother’s hired a new creative, have an apple pie. Mother’s made a new ad, have an apple pie. It’s Mother’s Day, have an apple pie.

As a cultural marker, a marketing strategy and a tasty way to get cynical journos rooting for you, the Mother apple pie was a little bit of genius. And though Mother-ness began with a pie, it has flourished over the past 21 years through dozens of projects and initiatives that have created an agency brand like no other.

Mother brought a Jesus lookalike to London to spark a debate about tolerance and belief. It photographed vaginas to encourage young girls to think twice before waxing off their pubes. It floated a giant breast on its rooftop to celebrate women’s right to decide how and where they feed their children.

But pies and Jesus and tits are not the most important thing about Mother. Nor is the work, though advertising rarely gets any better than the Orange Gold Spots (Rob Lowe, yes) and Monkey and Stella Artois and Ikea and and and.

Mother’s work set a new standard for British creativity. Perhaps it followed on from where Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury left off, breaking rules, taking your breath away. But at its best, Mother’s creative output was never derivative, often thrillingly fresh, wickedly funny; bold marketers on a creative mission picked Mother as their creative partner. Still, the body of brilliant work is not the most important thing about the agency.

The most important thing about Mother, its most potent cultural touchstone and its biggest contribution to our industry is the people who have worked there. So many of the smartest, most brilliantly creative people in the business have sat round Mother’s table. The agency made them. Even if they left years ago, they have Mother DNA in their blood; forever part of a tribe, or a cult, they have shared something important and formative.

There was certainly a period – particularly the first decade of this century – when the agency was doing its most spectacularly brave and exciting work, attracting a generation of young creative mavericks burning to do something different, change things.

Once inside the agency, this new wave of creative talent found themselves without the traditional account handling department to mediate their ideas with clients. Instead the creatives had to front up their work themselves, taking criticism, rejection and applause, undiluted by the account handler’s diplomacy. It’s another thing that made Mother creatives a unique species. They still are.

And at the heart of the agency’s creative pulse there’s Robert Saville and Mark Waites. Both ridiculously brilliantly talented. Both inspire love and awe and fealty. And both have created a legacy that many agencies will be benefitting from for years to come.

If all of this sounds rather too hagiographic for your tastes, then, yes, Mother has made some poor ads. And its new-business record has been through lean patches. And it can sometimes be a little too precious and a little too petulant. And even its biggest fans see the flaws and will analyse them as endlessly as they will discuss its brilliance.

But the agency’s 21st birthday last month seems as good a time as any to put it on record that Mother is one of the very best agencies London has ever produced and we are all the richer for it. Mother, we salute.

Claire Beale is the global editor-in-chief of Campaign.