Simon Martin’s biggest achievement has been persuading Unilever to let his company Oliver provide the staff for its U-Studio in-house agency.
Unilever shareholders are pleased; U-Studio is now creating content for brand teams faster and around 30% cheaper than external agencies.
Except that efficiency comes at a big cost. Theresa McDonnell, director of digital content and editor of U-Studio for Unilever North America, told a Campaign US seminar recently that Unilever may have been focusing too much on efficiency at the expense of creativity.
"Our responsibility is to protect the integrity of the creative process and it’s difficult to do at a time when we are all trying to do everything as efficiently as possible," she said.
"We set up [an agency remuneration model] about a year-and-a-half ago and, honestly, it’s not working. It’s extremely efficient, it’s extremely transparent, but it is hurting the creative process."
Heck, this is Rory Sutherland’s efficiency bubble at work IRL. If you haven’t read his tremendous piece "Advertising’s in crisis, but it’s not because it doesn’t work", go, go right now to campaignlive.co.uk. Sutherland reckons we’ve gone too far in seeing marketing not as a source of value creation but as a cost to be minimised.
He says marketing is one of those complex fields of human activity, like military strategy or sex, where efficiency and effectiveness are poorly correlated.
Yet agencies have often been utterly complicit in fostering an environment where decision-makers "prefer to be unambiguously and efficiently wrong than messily right".
From the creative students at Berghs School of Communication – encouraged to reinvent everything, to be a little bit crazy, to not be afraid of thinking stupid – to Yinka Ilori, who likes "to make mistakes – those are the beautiful things", the messily right is not only joyful to conceive and experience, it’s often (because of that joyfulness) ridiculously effective. Crystals.