Would you Adam+Eve what agencies call themselves these days?

The Assembly has just won the global account of big-four auditor Ernst & Young. Apparently, it produced a better ‘toolkit for accountants’ than anyone else. Ah well, you nod sagely, it’s obviously a B2B account – dull as ditchwater; no wonder it’s been won by an agency no one’s ever heard of before.

But you’d be profoundly wrong. In fact the pitch was highly competitive, handled by the AAR and featured about a dozen of adland’s finest – including BBH, Engine and Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy (MCBD). Perversely, The Assembly is probably the one name that wouldn’t trip off your tongue if you roll-called the whole longlist.

Sterling Cooper: When names were just names

Which brings me to my point. The Assembly is one of a crop of new agency names that vie with each other for esoteric distinction – but jeopardise their USP by being obscure and unmemorable. If the current name-game puzzles me, it must surely puzzle clients too.

How has this rash of self-indulgent agency nomenclature come about? Once upon a time it was oh-so-simple. Agencies were people businesses that recommended their brand through the charisma and usefulness of their founders. So, in the mists of time, we have J. Walter Thompson, Lord & Thomas, Ted Bates, Young & Rubicam, Ogilvy & Mather.

By the sixties, creativity has become the extra magic ingredient in the shingle. It put the Bill Bernbach into Doyle Dane, or for that matter the Draper into Sterling Cooper. Then in the seventies and eighties (a very British thing, this) comes the apotheosis of the planner: Boase Massimi Pollitt, Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Simons Palmer Clemmow & Johnson. It was rare that anyone tore up the rulebook. True, there was the odd alien intervention such as Mojo from Australia; and of course the inimitable Andy Law, who founded St Luke’s. But wackiness came at a steep price. Mojo quickly lost its, and Law was a lot less successful in his next incarnation, which by its very name set itself up for a fall. Boymeetsgirl became Boyleavesgirl after Law quarrelled with his creative director Kate Stanners, and she quit.

You’d think this might be lesson enough for eager young entrepreneurs, but no. Today weird names have become the orthodoxy, and I’ve no doubt it has something to do with digital fragmentation and the increasing difficulty of framing the creative challenge.

Now, I’m all for imagination as long as it means something. Mother, Adam & Eve, yes (doh, it’s all about creativity). Glue: clever idea, sticking it all together. Saint@rkcr/y&r, sort of: bit of a mouthful though. Th_nk? No th*nk you: however pithy, it’s a sub’s nightmare; don’t ever expect a write-up in the FT. Lean Mean Fighting Machine? Looks a bit tame and flabby now it has been fired by Coke (see Andy Law above). 18 Feet and Rising? P-lease. How are we to know this is an obscure allusion to the excessive height of the agency’s three founders – and, even if we do, who cares?

And so on. Which brings me back to The Assembly. Actually, for all its superficial resemblance to a political convention or a Pentecostal sect, the name is not without relevance to the agency world. It reflects a pooling of creative talent. I quote from the CV of one of the founders: “The Assembly’s membership includes 12 Executive Creative Directors and 10 Creative Directors of some of the world’s most creative agencies, London’s foremost women’s artistic collective, a Harvard and MIT professor of culture and consumption, the creative duo behind cult Italian and Swedish fashion brands, the ex-manager of The Rolling Stones, the PR person for rock stars and presidents, a couple of renowned urban artists, one of the world’s most acclaimed architects and the man behind one of the most influential style websites, to name a few.” Phew, manage that if you can.

Such, though, are the complex, chaotic demands of creativity these days. No wonder agencies are suffering from an identity crisis.


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