When I first met legendary creative man Sir John Hegarty many, many moons ago, he impressed upon me the need to zag when the world zigs. The now immortal ads for Levi’s denim by his London-based agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty Ltd (BBH) were a clear demonstration of this.
Hegarty made a rousing point at the time—“all information goes in through the heart”—which echoed strongly when I met him again recently during the launch of BBH in India in September. Testifying to the fact that advertising creativity is now multifaceted, he also spoke about BBH’s brand invention firm called Zag, which will eventually come to India. This product invention company already produces interesting stuff in London such as Ila Dusk, which is named after a Hindu goddess and is a personal alarm-based security device for young girls. Zag is also behind a ready-made vegetarian food range called Veg with Edge and many more similarly edgy products are on the cards.
BBH was not the first overseas agency to zag this way and won’t be the last, though it could well become the first agency here producing brands and brand ads. UK-based independent agency Mother produces various eye-catching goodies from books and shopping bags to comics and candies.
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Then there’s Vancouver’s Taxi Café agency, which started selling coffee and snacks under the Taxi brand, while The Brooklyn Brothers agency produces organic Fat Pig milk chocolates wrapped in pink foil. Of course, only an agency could dream up “oinkganic” chocolates.
Risk-taking and lateral ideation are considered to be in the genes of smaller creative agencies. A host of maverick creative agencies are due to enter this market, and like BBH, some of them would in due course roll-out their own creations in one of the largest consumer markets in the world. That should perk up the creative scope of our ad men, if nothing else.
Many multinational ad networks frown on such “diversification”, and the chief of a global ad network recently told me that such activities blunt an agency’s focus. There are some early signals though that networks could look at doing just this. Barely six months ago, I read how a leading computer maker would tap an international network for more than ads. The primary equation between the two remained the creation of ads, but there would also be some marketing co-partnership involved. The ad network would also help deploy the company’s technologies to enhance digital and other marketing processes of the network’s other clients.
The way I see it, such activities are a natural extension of providing brand touch points with the consumer. And, as Hegarty readily admits, the money ain’t bad either and could also be a good buffer in tough times.
Such ventures also offer new hands-on experiences to ad executives, who usually itch to do different things to expend their creative energies—paint, write poetry or a book, make a film, do pottery, think up product ideas and also help market them. Zag, for example, works on the product idea internally in the agency and then sells the idea to partners, clients or outsiders. They work with partners for distribution.
Hegarty’s take: “Our function is to engage people in an interesting way, give them interesting experiences. We can take some of our people who are working with Zag and bring some of that knowledge back into the agency. So, when they are talking to clients about marketing, production, etc., they have genuine experience. I don’t think it’s no different from some of our people working for a client and getting them to understand their business.” The agency also considers potential client conflicts and if it has a client who is operating in a certain market, it would go to that client first with the product idea.
The biggest edge, I think, is the ownership of ideas that agencies finally get when they create the product, film or digital work themselves. The biggest grouse of agencies is that while they may produce light-bulb ideas such as Johnny Walker Keep Walking, they will never own the software or have royalty rights. Their clients own the ideas and can take it away to another agency any time.
Marion Arathoon is Mint’s advertising editor. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org