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.

Baillie and Hatton defection to Ogilvy creates ripples at BBH

October 14, 2009

Baillie/HattonWhat’s really interesting about the appointment of Hugh Baillie as chief executive of Ogilvy Advertising is that he’s part of a breakaway. And the break is away from Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

Former group business director Baillie is being joined by Rachel Hatton as group head of strategic planning, and planning director at the ad agency. Hatton was head of planning at BBH during what may come to be seen as its heyday, when it won all those awards, culminating in the IPA Grand Prix and Agency of the Year title in 2008. Baillie helped to win the global Johnnie Walker business and has led some of the agency’s key accounts, Axe/Lynx, Britvic and Surf among them. Both are BBH stalwarts, Baillie having joined from Saatchi & Saatchi in 1998, and Hatton from Boase Massimi Pollitt (BMP) in 2000.

So, this is a significant coup for Ogilvy and a significant set-back for BBH. Baillie and Hatton come as a team (for example, they both worked on Britvic). It’s a little like that buddy-buddy wrench at DDB London when Paul Hammersley, then ceo, and David Hackworthy, planner, quit to go to The Red Brick Road in 2005.

What makes this worse for BBH is that the defection of senior staff to WPP agencies is becoming a habit. Richard Exon, ceo of RKCR/Y&R, once occupied a similar position to Baillie at BBH. True, he was seduced across at managing director level, and got the top job only after James Murphy set up his own agency, Adam & Eve. But let’s not split hairs. There was also the unfortunate matter of John O’ Keefe, who sat in the BBH creative pantheon only one echelon below Sir John Hegarty. He decided to seek his fortune as global creative director at WPP. Then there’s Guy Murphy, head of global planning, and Russell Ramsey, executive creative director, JWT London. Why has JWT come knocking on BBH’s door? Well, who else’s? BBH is the one to beat in JWT’s competitive creative set, and has the most clients in common (Unilever, Diageo and Vodafone spring to mind). If you can’t beat them, get them to join you, you might say.

Nor is the BBH exodus confined to WPP. Derek Robson quit to go to Goodby, in the USA, as a managing partner; Penny Herriman is managing director and – some would say – soon to be ceo of WCRS; Chris Harris was poached as managing director of Leagas Delaney.

Swallows not making a summer? Well maybe. Any agency which has attained the status of BBH is fair game for the headhunter. In a  sense, it’s a back-handed  compliment that rival agencies feel the need to pillage BBH for top talent.

Nonetheless, another conclusion can also be drawn. And I would be very surprised if this did not condition the thinking of at least some of those senior people who have recently defected. BBH is now 27 years old and in the throes of generational change. It has greatly expanded (into a micro-network) – which in itself offers fresh opportunity for younger talent. And in fairness it has tried hard to bring on a cohort of younger managers – of which London chief executive Gwyn Jones is perhaps the most prominent example. This has not been enough to quell mutinous thoughts in the marzipan layer, a few to the point of defecting. Of course, some of these people may have been talented, but not talented enough. BBH, like everyone else, has had to make some harsh decisions about the size of its workforce, which has been, literally, decimated. One in ten has gone or is going. Nevertheless, I cannot believe that every one of the top-flight defectors has had an assisted exit. After all, it’s also the case that the route upstairs, managerially speaking, is now blocked; and for ambitious people that is a signal to start looking elsewhere.

It is hard to think of BBH without Nigel Bogle, Jim Carroll or Simon Sherwood. On the other hand, if they do not outline their retirement plans in the foreseeable future, the result will be rebellion or atrophy. BBH, at very best, will become less an agency, more a law firm overloaded with “partners”. Not an enticing prospect for the UK’s premier creative shop.

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.

%d bloggers like this: