The World's Leading Independent Agencies 2010 is a Campaign advertising supplement published for thenetworkone.
There is a soft drink in Germany called BIONADE. With a name like that and its organic ingredients, it sums up everything the general public wants these days. And sure enough, in the space of five years, it has established itself as a smart alternative to other, sweeter soft-drink brands. As its advertising agency, we obviously like to think that we played an important part in this success story. However, when its marketers first approached us, we told them not to advertise.
This wasn't some publicity stunt. The first thing we always do is ask ourselves what would we do if this were our company? What is best? And what should they concentrate on? In this case, BIONADE already had enough credibility; it wasn't worth the risk of losing this authenticity in formulaic ads. It didn't need an advertising idea, it needed leading ideas with the brand's promise of quality. But what BIONADE really needed was help finding proper brand lawyers who could stave off the copycats poised to cash in on a market thirsty for the brand's ethical, organic recipe.
What this all boils down to is the way we see independent ad agencies like ours doing business with customers - in an era when the advertising industry is fast evolving into many different guises. As an independent up against larger networks, our advantage is our wholly independent concept of what we can offer customers. We are fast departing from our function as mere sellers of ad space and are turning increasingly into creative problem-solvers. Unlike larger companies which are told what to do by their shareholders, independents have the freedom from the obligations of economic opportunism to maximise profits and can concentrate more on the general process of maximising value for our customers. In other words, by getting involved at a much earlier stage of the proceedings. After all, if there is one thing we have learned from the financial crisis, it's that the future of advertising will be determined by authenticity, credibility, substance and values, values and more values.
Values have become more important in today's business and politics. Look at Angela Merkel, one of our most prominently featured "customers", and you'll see she is a lady with common sense, a distinct lack of opportunism and a firm conviction that she wants to do what's right for Germany - and the world, too.
Her motivation to govern has little to do with a yearning for power; she's about substance and bringing people together. That's why we gave her the campaign we did for the General Election. To win, we knew she would have to unify people, not polarise opinion. Her steady handling of the economic crisis in Germany gave us all we needed. With the damage the stock markets have done, is it any wonder consumers nowadays hardly trust advertising and want more integrity, quality and what you could call "soul"?
For us, as an independent, the proof of our concept can be seen in the fact that we got through the rough without any lay-offs, and that we did even better than in previous years. The companies and organisations that make up our customer base came through equally unscathed - in some cases, positioned better than before. And if you look at the sort of customers we have, there's definitely a red thread. We tend to work best with those whose mindset is equally independent, where substance and values have greater currency than mere stock value. Where the founder or owner's name is the same as the company's. And where the people who were originally involved still have a say in how things are run and who still vouch for the quality of the products or services that carry their name.
They feel an obligation towards the quality of the product or message that makes them more credible for the people who consume them. The main responsibility of managers in large publicly owned companies is to their executive boards. Nine times out of ten, a company lobby will tell you all you need to know - is the security operation outsourced or managed in-house with staff who know employees' names?
Our advantage as independents is that we are entrepreneurs and owners of our own agencies. We therefore share the same DNA and sense of responsibility to what we have established over time. This sense of responsibility towards values will help companies and organisations prevail in the long term and withstand future economic crises.
In a world dominated by communications organisations banging out slogans for big, faceless corporations, people want a human face to a product, they want to get involved. Whether it's leaving comments on YouTube, marching for climate justice in Copenhagen or donating to relief efforts in Haiti, there is a real sense that sincerity - not a quarterly statement - is what people expect from leaders, companies and the media.
With our entrepreneurial spirit and conviction that it's better to put the people who make our company what it is before their ability to make the numbers we need, independent agencies today hold the key to opening genuine communication. Through channels based on honesty, openness, values and soul - and by practising what we preach. Incidentally, the campaign we ran for BIONADE wasn't just about the drink, but how we can make the world we live in a better place.
Stefan Kolle is the founder and managing director creativity and Stephan F Rebbe is the founder and managing director consulting at Kolle Rebbe
AT A GLANCE
Stefan Kolle, founder and managing director creativity; Stephan F Rebbe, founder and managing director consulting; Andreas Winter-Buerke, managing director consulting; Olaf Oldigs, managing director creativity; Kai Muller, chief financial officer
What would you like to see more of in 2010?
Eye-opening ideas that go beyond the traditional and make for good stories to tell others
Which country's creativity (other than your own) do you most admire?
Argentina's, because of its excellence at creating ideas using simple means, particularly in architecture, design and furniture construction