Last week was April Fools Day but which one of the following was an
April fool? Was it the new press work for Batchelors’ Slim a Soup, which
teaches diet-obsessed young women how to become instant ’soupamodels’?
Was it my meeting with Tim Mellors and Steve Blamer, newly installed as
creative and management chiefs at Grey London, in which they outlined
their plans for a creative renaissance at the agency which is still
tarnished with the reputation as London’s dullest big shop? Or was it
our story about the Government laying plans to introduce the Euro as
standard currency for all advertising transactions?
Well, you’ll all have spotted that the Euro story was a complete and
utter pack of lies. Perhaps the genuine Slim a Soup campaign - complete
with its doodled art direction, launch date of 1 April and cut-out Cindy
Crawford mole - had some of you worried for a while. But the real teaser
for me was that meeting at Grey. It’s not that I’d suggest that an
agency can’t reinvent itself - look what Andrew Cracknell did in the 80s
to spice up Dorlands - but it’s just that ... er ... Grey as a creative
powerhouse, it’s a bit odd, innit?
In fact, Grey London is now in that interesting period when there’s a
yawning gulf between the agency’s opinion of its achievements and that
held by the rest of the industry. The agency is excited about getting
more daring work out of Mars on the Ripple, Starburst, Milky Way and
Galaxy brands. It’s managed to cast a more classy-looking woman in a
Pantene ad. And it’s even succeeded in making the obligatory Pedigree
Chum Crufts spot a lot less cheesy than usual.
Small victories, perhaps. But hugely significant for a place like Grey
which was historically cast as the London agency that seemed hell-bent
on ignoring the fact it operates in the most creative advertising market
on the planet. This peccadillo was typified when, back in 1992, Grey
named eight joint creative chiefs as successors to the executive
creative director, Mike Cozens, when he left to try his hand at
directing. It was a reversal of the traditional creative hierarchy and
proof that, as long as the balance sheet told the right story, the old
Grey was happy to zig when others zagged. Now, under Mellors’ creative
lead, Grey feels more focused.
There is a limit to how far it can go, of course, because Grey’s local
business is dwarfed by a roster of multinational clients that rivals
would kill for. In theory, Grey London wants to be the kind of agency
that has the luxury of challenging its people to do the best they can.
Unfortunately, like all theories, this is liable to come unstuck in
practice. It has to challenge them to do the best they can within the
rigid constraints of the Procter & Gamble or Mars rule-book. But even
expressing such principles in a network which is otherwise renowned for
what is euphemistically called pragmatism, means that Grey London is
definitely one to watch.