OPINION: Stuart Elliott in America

The recent visit to New York by Robert Saville of Mother came not long after the agency had landed the Orange creative account, introduced a TV spot for the new Salsa flavour of Batchelors Super Noodles and won the Nobel Peace Prize.

No, wait, no, it only seemed that way. The last few issues of Campaign have featured so many mentions of Mother, I thought I was reading from Oedipus' diary.

It has been a long time in this country since what you call a hotshop has generated so much attention. But the agency's momentum is worth saluting, especially during so challenging an economy that just about everyone on Madison Avenue is continually muttering "Mother", or some 12-letter word beginning that way.

During an interview over breakfast, Saville expressed his bemusement at the industry's "spending a lot more time talking about" assignments from new clients than from current ones. "No-one's interested if you pick up more business, because it wasn't a pitch," Saville said. "But you're still being rewarded for success."

The irony of obsessing over new business and neglecting "the work you do for the clients you've got", he added, is that the former "generally lags good work" because the marketers that don't have an agency on their roster usually learn about its success only belatedly.

In Mother's case, there's a lot of good work to learn about. The agency's creative achievements are spectacular. I say that as a Mother newbie who, to prepare for the interview, watched a reel of the agency's commercials that until now I'd only read about. I'd anticipated the cheeky, irreverent humour that was displayed in the spots for brands such as Cup-A-Soup, Dr Pepper, Egg, Lilt and Pimm's, but the boldness, energy and star-quality production values took me by surprise.

Could Mother's approach work in the American market? The Dr Pepper campaign is centred on "kids experimenting with something new", Saville said, "like the American Pie movies" - and even was shot in New York.

But what about the Super Noodles spots portraying the product and its consumers in such a warts-and-all way that mocks decades of US "aspirational" advertising? Those "new populism" campaigns help brands become "the things you have real relationships with", Saville said, particularly when an agency "creates properties and characters" the products can claim as their own, such as the Lilt ladies.

More to the point, could Mother work in the American market?

It's no secret that Saville and the other founders are mulling a US launch, modelled after how Fallon Worldwide opened in London, which he described as "finding good people" locally "who are able to do it themselves" instead of "exporting the culture" because that never works. Asked about a timetable, Saville demurred. "It's just when it's right," he said. "We may go back and say, 'Let's hang back a year or two and concentrate on China'."

"We've got a lot of friends working here," he added, referring to potential American partners, "and they're not going to go away - unless we start doing crap in London."

Whenever or wherever expansion comes, Mother will remain a think-small type of agency, Saville promised.

"It takes one person on the loo to come up with an idea," he said. "I'd rather have that one person than 800 people wandering around to find the loo."


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