Adam & Eve sets its seal on creative style with Google+ work

April 5, 2012

All advertising is, in a certain sense, the cultivation of cliché. Agencies first determine – with whatever artifice their planning departments can provide – suitable socio-economic stereotypes which their creative departments then bombard relentlessly with the most seductive messages they can contrive.

Success and consistency in this trade leads to agency work acquiring a highly recognisable hallmark. “Branding”, if you like; “generic cliché” if you don’t. For example, Boase Massimi Pollitt became widely known for its attachment to furry animals, Allen Brady & Marsh for its mastery of the jingle-ad and Bartle Bogle Hegarty for its creative reinvention of pop culture.

I was reminded of this insight when reviewing Adam & Eve’s first work for Google+, the search giant’s overarching response to Facebook and Twitter. Here it is:

Notice anything about it? Yes, it is another fine piece of work from a hot-shop coming of age. Yes, Benedict Cumberbatch has missed out the Seventh Age of Man in “All the World’s a Stage”. But since it’s all about Second Childhood, “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”, and this is a piece of consumer advertising, the agency can be forgiven for the omission. Something else?

Yes. The “Journey Through Life” theme, which A+E (not to be accidentally confused with A&E) has made its own. Particularly in a suburban, middle-class context. Here, just to remind you is some John Lewis advertising by the same agency:

It’s a theme that the James Murphy, David Golding and Ben Priest team seem to have imported from Rainey Kelly Campbell Rolfe/Y&R – from which they spectacularly broke away in 2007. Judging, at least, by this early Lloyds Bank commercial from the self-same:

I have my own modest contribution to the “Life’s journey” genre. It’s taken from John Dryden:

Like pilgrims to the appointed place we tend; the world’s an inn, and death the journey’s end.

No takers in advertising, I suspect. But it was the inspiration of a famous play.

A&E comes off the critical list

November 20, 2009

With just days to go before a High Court hearing they seemed doomed to lose, the founding partners of agency hotshop Adam & Eve have settled out of court with WPP.

The predicted grovelling apology was forthcoming and has been prominently displayed on WPP’s website, like some traitor’s head spiked at the Tower of London. In it, partners James Murphy, David Golding and Ben Priest fulsomely acknowledge that they broke the terms of their gardening leave when they quit WPP-owned Young & Rubicam to set up A&E. Further, if “unintentionally”, that they absconded with WPP-owned data.

There was also a price to pay, said to be somewhat under £1m, plus considerable legal expenses: perhaps £1m in all. That is cheap compared with the $10m (before costs) WPP recently extracted from two former George Patterson executives and the agency’s ex-owner, PEP, in Australia. But it is no small change for the embattled A&E partners, who are under personal guarantee. Their only consolation is that A&E has escaped to fight another day.

Day of judgement looms for Adam & Eve

August 3, 2009


Murphy: Case history

Murphy: Case history

WPP Group v Adam & Eve, which will come to court in late November, won’t be the trial of the century (if it gets that far) but it will be a salutary lesson for breakaway agencies. If you’re going to nick data to set up your new agency, don’t get caught.

A&E (the agency prefers A+E for understandable reasons) is not nearly as accident-prone as it may sound. Launched about 18 months ago to great industry fanfare, it was essentially a top-slice of talents from WPP-owned Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R. Its founding partners comprised agency chief James Murphy, creative chief Ben Priest and planning chief David Golding. To these was quickly added Jon Forsyth, Naked’s head of strategy.

A&E is a classic case of a successful start-up in a recession, reminiscent in some ways of BBH in 1982. It had no founding client when it opened its doors in January 2008, but soon found one in the £8m Daily Telegraph. To this it has added a remarkable number of other wins, including Phones4U, Williams F1, EMI and most recently the £20m John Lewis account. This year, it was ranked the AAR’s third most successful agency at winning pitches, and had a conversion rate of 60%. Pretty commendable by any standards.

And all the more remarkable given the running ulcer that has been its behind-the-scenes conflict with WPP. WPP alleges that Murphy & Co plundered the Rainey Kelly database, absconding with a rich harvest of client and agency information. They are also said (it seems almost superfluous to add) to have broken the terms of their gardening leave.

Whether because this is an open-and-shut case, or because no one really wants WPP chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell on their back for long, A&E fairly quickly decided to come to terms. It offered to pay into court half of the £500,000 being demanded. No deal. In fact I hear the price has now gone up to £750,000. Nor is there likely to be an “arrangement” whereby WPP takes its money in A&E stock. This is war to the knife.

Not something I’d like to sleep on at night.

UPDATE  4.11.09: The date of the hearing has been set for Monday, November 23rd. A&E is now understood to have paid £750,000 into court. The significance of paying a sum of money into court is that the defendant may limit his financial exposure should the case go against him. If the judge finds for the plaintiff, but awards below the sum paid in, costs are likely to be picked up by the plaintiff, not the defendant. No sign so far of WPP settling out of court. I hear Sir Martin wants a lot more than £750,000. But it’s up to the court to decide.

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