YouTube to Ukip: adland's take on 2014

We asked eight agency chiefs to reflect on the highlights, low points and central themes that dominated this year.

  • ‘first kiss’

    ‘first kiss’

  • Ukip


  • British Airways

    British Airways

  • The 30-second ad

    The 30-second ad

  • Tesco


  • Always


  • Android


  • Russell Brand’s Revolution

    Russell Brand’s Revolution

  • YouTube



James Murphy
chief executive, Adam & Eve/DDB

Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s retention of the British Airways account felt like a meaningful moment for the industry in 2014.

And this wasn’t just because a leading agency held on to a flagship client. Something at the heart of that victory hinted at a trend in the industry.

I’m not privy to any of the details, but it felt like a bravura move when BBH revealed that a cornerstone of its winning solution was a clever joint venture with Simon Hall and Warren Moore, the CRM wizards.

BBH has a global reputation for above-the-line creativity and has devoted a lot of time and resources to building digital and social capabilities. The addition of real direct and loyalty expertise with Hall and Moore means it has a skillset that "completes the circle".

The trend it points to is a return to "fuller service", as clients look to their key strategic agencies (such as BBH) to not just lead the thinking but to join it up across all their channels.

While we are unlikely to see a return to fully in-house media planning and buying, the agencies that lead the clients’ strategy are exerting a stronger gravitational pull on more and more of the clients’ activities.

Sarah Golding
chief executive, CHI & Partners

For me, 2014 was the year the concept of the "squeezed middle" came home to roost for many.

Of course, we have heard most about it in reference to the middle classes who, for several years, have suffered from rising living costs without the wage inflation to keep up.

But, for me, 2014 will come to be seen as the tipping point when the nation’s favourite mid-tier brands also found themselves horribly squeezed.

Most notable, of course, are the supermarkets caught between the discounters and the premium brands.

But surely many old mass-market stalwarts of the high street, the FMCG aisles and the automotive sectors must be looking forward nervously. Even the banks have been told that they are not too big to fail.

And what of the impact on our industry? Well, many of these "squeezed middle" brands are very big spenders. They can’t compete on price or quality, so they have to win on awareness and presence in people’s lives.

It’s a huge challenge for us all. We have to find creative new ways to attract customers back to the middle ground, making the traditional balance of quality for price meaningful all over again. This is where marketers and their agencies must really prove their worth in 2015.

Ian Pearman
chief executive, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

2014 was all about the C-word. Content engagement, content production, content talent. The explosion of production options that are based on broadcast economics rather than advertising production rates was incredibly liberating.

Clients were awestruck that they could now create stories on budgets that were a tenth of traditional TV, that YouTube engagement levels represented a better real-world research model than expensive quant-testing methods.

For the agencies that seized that opportunity, it became possible to truly experiment with storytelling again – and the most interesting work of the year resulted.

But, in true "long-tail" style, while everything was getting smaller, it was also getting bigger – as illustrated by the scale and ambition of the Christmas campaigns. That polarisation was so marked that 2014 looks like the first year internet economics really hit our industry – ten years after it hit the music business.

Time will tell, but video content could represent our "singles, not albums" moment.

And, lastly, left in that no man’s land between bigger and smaller, cold and alone, was the 30-second ad. Too long for efficient product announcement, too short for great storytelling, over-researched and underpowered. We’ll see how it fares in 2015.

Neil Christie
managing director, Wieden & Kennedy London

The challenges facing our client Tesco and the upheaval in the UK retail sector have been on my mind in 2014.

Other than that, I’d like to say it has been a year characterised by the industry’s creative brilliance. I’d like to say that – but, in fact, the thing that stands out for me about 2014 is the growing impact of client procurement on the business.

Agencies are progressively being required to achieve more, more quickly, for less money. July’s IPA Performance Adaptathon addressed this, focusing on the opportunity for both client and agency to benefit from value-based remuneration models.

But the ProcureCon Europe 2014 benchmarking survey concluded that "savings continue to be the default way of measuring how well procurement is doing its job".

It’s unequivocal: the job of procurement is to buy the same, or more, for less. Success is measured by reducing agency fees and associated costs.

This basic conflict – adding value versus reducing cost – seemed to intensify this year.

The ProcureCon report makes grim reading for agencies and reminds us that, more than ever, we need to be focused on accountability for what we do so that we can prove the value we are providing.

We must do this in close partnership with client marketers, who share our interest in accountability. Without this, the debate will only ever be about cost.

Zaid Al-Zaidy
chief executive, McCann London

With Union Jacks painted on our cheeks and flags in our hands, 2012 felt like a golden year to be British. In a swell of patriotism, the entire country united behind the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee.

Just two years later, the dream of a United Kingdom is broken. Scotland divides over independence. Ukip’s rise exposes tensions in our multicultural society. Extremist Brits embark on "jihadi gap years" in Syria.

The gulf between rich and poor has never seemed starker, as lines grow outside food banks and an ex-Hear’say member complains about mansion tax.

Brands have always offered consistency in an uncertain world. We’ve asked brands before to become human; next year, we’ll ask them to become superhuman. In 2015, the next generation will demand that brands stand for something, whether that’s Android for equal marriage or Always for teenage girls’ self-esteem.

In this hyper-connected world, we already explore humanity’s common good: witness the rise of Upworthy’s "things that matter", or Humans of New York’s booming Facebook page, in wisdom from strangers.

In 2015, more brands will become superhumans, connecting the best in us across countries, factions and politics. After all, the market for something to believe in is infinite.

Martin Brooks
joint chief executive, Havas Work Club

Search me. Whether you’re a creative agency or a media agency, Google is not only eating your breakfast, lunch and dinner, but it’s stealing tomorrow’s milk off the doorstep too.

Somehow, sometimes, Google manages to seem like a benign, automated power source rather than a bunch of very ambitious, very smart operators, hell-bent on world domination.

It has direct relationships with your senior clients, it can tell them a ton of things about their business they don’t know. It holds the keys to your clients’ digital success, it has access to more insight than most agencies can dream about. And it is hiring your best people.

To top it all, it has a growing in-house creative agency function and a remarkably effective client entertainment strategy (it whisks your clients away to Mountain View and sells to them).


The defining thing is your reaction to this unstoppable trend.

In 2014, some agencies got on board, some complained.

Do we hate it or hug it? In my view, every time we walk into a client meeting, we need two things: 1) a brilliant creative idea; 2) a very clear, co-conceived view of how our lovely partner Google will make the idea bigger than Larry’s next landscaping project.

Sam Williams-Thomas
chief executive, OgilvyOne UK

Content has arguably been one of this year’s buzzwords with model-disrupting pitches and agency alignments, and reports that content marketing is seeing the biggest budget increase of all digital disciplines.

Suddenly, everyone’s talking about content. And more and more brands and agencies are now "doing" content – stretching beyond a marketing mindset into a content marketing mindset; building capabilities to act like a publisher, from hiring editors to building "newsrooms".

So is successful content, then, content that works so well you don’t mind it’s marketing?

Perhaps not. After all, one of the viral hits of the year was ‘first kiss’, a piece of content that engaged millions (94 million and counting) but received a backlash when it emerged that the fashion brand Wren was behind it.

Beyond delightful storytelling, what did this content do to sustainably boost Wren’s business?

The reality is that content doesn’t matter. It’s what content does that matters. Content that changes behaviours. Content that solves a problem. Content that inspires advocacy and action. Content that – shock – converts to purchase.

The real opportunity with content is to unlock "total customer value".

To transform from a push marketing model to an always-on, consumer-centric model. To move beyond content creation to brands as services. And to electrify content with data.

Chris Hirst
chief executive, Grey London

The most significant event of 2014 didn’t, in the end, happen. The Scottish referendum looked like it would achieve what Napoleon, Hitler and 40 years of Cold War failed to do.

However, along with the rise of Ukip, it made 2014 the year when nationalism became a political force in the UK.

Nationalist parties thrive on the disenfranchised, pointing to the "not like us"as the source of all woes.

Take your pick from Westminster, the Poles, Europe, the rich, the scroungers… Viewed from a future vantage point of the end of 2016, 2014’s referendum may be seen as simply the first in a series of momentous and portentous votes, being followed by 2015’s general election, then a potential European Union referendum. That’s all assuming that Russell Brand’s Revolution remains nothing more than a book-signing tour.

This new nationalist tenor is a serious business concern, particularly for the creative industries – one of the nation’s true blue-chip exports.

The UK retains many advantages in the global race for talent (and therefore market share), but we should beware of taking this lead for granted.

Diversity makes us better and richer creatively. A positive, outward-looking society makes us a magnet for talent and a safe home for global brands – all of which are now critical to our industry’s current and future success.

Predicting the future is a mug’s game, but we should hope that the desire for real change we see around us results not in closed borders and minds but in a society re-energised and with renewed individual self-belief.

A society driven by, at long last, genuine progress on social mobility, that creates opportunity for those prepared to reach and work for it.

The alternative – a society that slumps into the belief that it’s everybody’s fault but ours – will truly be bad news for all. It may even be time to buy Brand’s book.