Nobody does it better

From the invention of planning to the holding company model and a genius for furry brand mascots, Campaign presents the five things that the UK advertising industry does better than anyone else.

Nobody does it better


The UK is ideally placed to service global clients. Admittedly, it’s a bit of a cheat this one because it’s not something adland has done or has any control over. More confident agencies might say they move culture, but none have claimed they can move land masses (yet). However, London is a world-class hub in its own right and it is in between two other great business hubs: Asia and the US.

"Being in London makes you equidistant," James Murphy, Adam & Eve/DDB’s co-founder, says. "First thing in the morning, you can work with clients in places such as Singapore and Tokyo and, at the end of the day, you can work with clients in places like California."


"In most other markets, advertising starts from a more transactional place," one New York executive creative director says. "The UK industry comes at it with the attitude that the first job of any brand wanting to be welcomed in their target’s home is to surprise and delight."

Of course, the UK cannot be complacent about the ability of agencies in other countries to wow audiences. The US, year in year out, produces the cream of TV advertising. But compare the average ad break on a US TV channel with one from the UK. The former may contain the occasional nugget, but the rest will be perfunctory ads pushing pills or fast-food (unless you’re watching the Super Bowl). The UK ad break, meanwhile, will usually have a higher minimum standard. Even our annoying ads (think Gocompare.com’s Gio Compario and Cillit Bang’s Barry Scott) have a certain charm.

Tim Lindsay, a man who sees the best work from across the world as the chief executive of D&AD, has a theory about this. "It was all down to Lord Reith," he says. "He founded the BBC to ‘inform, educate and entertain’ and the public-service broadcasting system that he created was of a very high quality. When ITV launched in 1956, it had to compete and was of a similarly high quality, albeit with a much bigger emphasis on entertainment.

"Quite simply, the ads had to compete with the programmes for attention, and a storytelling expertise quickly developed. Something similar happened in print, with the likes of Collett Dickenson Pearce producing beautiful ads to compete with the editorial in new publications such as Nova and The Sunday Times Colour Magazine."

For evidence of this, look no further than the brand mascots that have taken on a life beyond advertising. Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s Flat Eric puppet for Levi’s, for instance, became a pop-culture icon when he was first introduced on to our screens in 1999.

He appeared on The Big Breakfast and was featured in magazines including Arena, Cosmopolitan, Heat, Ministry and NME. And a new toy of the character still sells for £80 on eBay today.

But even Flat Eric’s success pales in comparison to that of Aleksandr Orlov (pictured), the meerkat mascot for Comparethemarket.com created by VCCP. The character’s "simples" catchphrase is now embedded within UK culture and meerkat toys have traded on eBay for more than £100 a piece. Orlov’s 2010 biography received more pre-orders than books by Tony Blair or Katie Price. There was even briefly a black market in meerkats, after one postman was found guilty of theft after stealing the toys and reselling them on eBay.


Planning is probably the UK’s greatest contribution to advertising and the country still leads the field.

Planning had two fathers: Stanley Pollitt (pictured) of Boase Massimi Pollitt and J Walter Thompson’s Stephen King. Pollitt and King did not work together; they just both happened upon the same ideas at the same time.

Pollitt developed the concept of planning at Pritchard Wood Partners, before helping to establish BMP. His ideas came from being an account director at PWP with responsibility for the research and media departments. At BMP, he teamed up with John Webster and produced historic campaigns such as Smash "martians".

King joined JWT in 1957 in the marketing department, before going on to form and lead its planning department. He also practised the discipline masterfully. King created the planning cycle, for example.

"He turned proposition theory on its head," Jeremy Bullmore says. "He invented and propagated an extremely simple, utterly workable way of setting advertising strategy so it liberated rather than restricted creative thought."

Protégés of Pollitt and King went on to export planning to the rest of the world, but the UK remains the centre of excellence for learning and practising the discipline.


"If anyone tells you the British don’t like to complain, send them my way," Guy Parker, the Advertising Standards Authority chief executive, says. "We might not like to do it face-to-face, but give us an online form and it’s a different story."

Parker has a point. There were 65,000 complaints to advertising regulators across Europe in 2014 and more than half of those (35,000) were made in the UK.

Fortunately, Britain has a self-regulation model that is the envy of the world. The ASA ruled on 17,000 ads in 2014 but the body is fêted for more than just being able handle a large number of cases.

The UK ASA is the leader in full-service regulation – proactive, advising on controversial campaigns before people have had a chance to complain, educating the industry on potential pitfalls and conducting polls to find out what kind of ads irk the public most. It also does a decent job advertising itself so that people know that it exists and why.

Parker serves as the chairman of the European Advertising Standards Alliance, the voice of advertising regulation across the world, and has seen lots of examples over the past 20 years where countries used the UK model as a framework when setting up their own regulator.

"I’m not sure I’d say that we export our model because that’s arrogant, and one prescription is not right for every country. But it’s true to say that our system is one of the world’s most respected," he says.

Parker may be being modest. Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa, for instance, not only borrowed our model, but also adopted its name, setting up ASAs of their own.

Even the French, who can claim the first ever advertising regulator (the Announcements Control Board, created in 1935), turned to the UK for guidance when they overhauled their body in 2008 and, among other improvements, set up an ethics jury to respond to complaints and rebranding.

Self-regulation may not be the UK ad industry’s sexiest feature but it’s a vital one, and one we should be proud of.


Interpublic Group may have been the first modern incarnation of the advertising holding company, but there is a strong case for saying WPP has put the model to work best and been the most innovative.

Start with the figures. WPP is the biggest advertising holding company in the world. It reported revenue of £11.53 billion for the 2014-15 financial year, ahead of its closest rivals, Omnicom (£10.12 billion) and Publicis (£5.37 billion). A cursory glance suggests WPP does so with a healthier profit margin, too: 12.6 per cent (revenue against profit after tax) compared with 11.4 per cent for Publicis (revenue against headline net income).

More than that, WPP’s networks, which include Ogilvy & Mather and J Walter Thompson, are lauded for their creativity. WPP has won Holding Company Of The Year at Cannes Lions four years on the trot. It also managed the same feat for effectiveness, topping the Global Effie Index four times between 2012 and 2015.

Much of this must be down to Sir Martin Sorrell (pictured). His tough deal-making has been known to push creative agencies towards rival holding companies in the past, but his nous, attention to detail and commitment is a match for anyone. Not for nothing is he the highest-paid chief executive in the FTSE 100, earning £43 million in 2014.

Sorrell has been an innovator, too, pioneering the earn-out mechanism when he was still working at Saatchi & Saatchi and the "horizontal" method of serving clients by assembling teams from across his network of agencies.