The Artificially Intelligent guide to the new Agency model.

Over the last few months we’ve heard a lot of exciting news about agencies and clients reinventing the ‘advertising agency model’.

Not the whole agency, obviously, just the interesting part with all the tattooed beardy men and purple haired women.

Because you see, Creative departments simply weren’t working before.

What? you hadn’t noticed?

That’s why you’re not making the big bucks, buddy.

However, fortunately for us, some of those clever people who are earning the bigly-bucks with bells on – have been thinking about this long and hard and have come up with some cunning new ways to reinvent the whole thing.

There are three main ways this creative reinvention is manifesting itself.

The first is ‘Down with awards, long live Process!’.

The second is the ‘My Ball, My rules’ method.

The third is ‘Committees are the way forward’.

Leading from the front was the much publicised boycott of awards by the Publicis group. “No awards entries for a year, let’s spend it on AI process software!” they declared.

Of course they never reckoned on Creative people’s ability to think creatively. We needn’t have worried, last count Publicis had 398 entries at Cannes and won Gold in Pharma and came third in Healthcare Agency of the year via Langland.

Not bad for a group on a Cannes boycott. Maybe we should all try it.

Plus Publicis saved quite a few bob on air fair. They admit they had 15 people going under their own steam, 12 employees in the young Lions competitions and 12 leaders who were there for jury duty, paid for by Cannes.

Oh but wait, they did pay for the account leaders who needed to attend all the important meetings and the you know, all the important stuff.

Apart from the cost of junior creatives sandwich allowances, they saved themselves a shit ton of cash because all their suppliers or clients had to pay for the entries themselves and even their employees who actually picked up the awards had to pay their own way.

I mean it’s almost as if creative people’s careers depend on awards or something the way they managed to get stuff entered. Who knew?

Second, in the ‘My ball, My rules’ camp is P&G.

Recently they announced that they are forming a new agency called ‘People First’ which plans to cherry pick the best talent from the major networks and corral these lucky souls under one roof to service their North American fabric brands.

Naturally, when one of the world’s most powerful clients has a bright idea, agencies will nod, applaud obsequiously and agree through gritted teeth what a fab idea it is, or miss out on their slice of the world’s biggest pie.

But, you ask, is this just P&G setting up an in-house agency without all the bother of trying to find their own creatives or Creative Director?

Not a bit of it, this is completely different.

You have to concede it’s pretty damn bloody clever to not call it an in-house agency as the minute anyone does, I fear all the top talent at the top agencies might have an identity crisis that somehow they’ve crossed over to the dark side.

Thing is, an ad career can sink or swim on the recognition you get for your work. And by association your agency benefits from the afterglow of your genius, making it easier to hire talent and attract other business. That’s kinda the point.

Are the agencies to just forego this?

Well, luckily we don’t have to wonder. This years ‘It’s a tide ad’ campaign that swept the superbowl and won multiple golds at Cannes was won by the amazing agency Procter & Gamble Cincinatti.

Everyone credited appeared to work for Saatchi and Saatchi NY but you know, who cares if the cash is right.

The third act of reinvention is what Campaign described as the dawn of a new age of Creative power at JWT.


It’s what we creatives, who’ve been round the block, recognize as the old ‘we don’t need creatives or Creative Directors because everyone’s a creative’ routine.

Or the ‘WDNCOCDBEAC’ routine for short.

Yes, JWT have decided they don’t need a global CCO.

‘Bloody over paid primadonnas’, someone probably said at some point, my hidden sources can confirm.

Tamara Ingram, the CEO, and her chums have realised that what they need is a group of engineers, architects and musicians from the Latin American agencies – an ‘incubation program’ named JumpStart instead of a global CCO.

They’re going to call it the ‘Inspiration Council’.

The only problem, as I see it, with taking engineers, architects and musicians and asking them to tackle creative problems for brands is that pretty soon – if they’re any good – Gosh, darn and damn it if they don’t go ahead and become creatives. This means then you have to fire them all and get some more engineers, architects and musicians to replace them.

Tamara explains:

“They’ll combine this with a ‘Futures Council’. The mix of talent — from data science and creative technology, to strategy and user experience — will work with universities and technology firms to feed the Inspiration Council with knowledge to find the right solutions to solving clients’ business problems.”

See? easy!

Personally I think committees, sorry –  ‘future councils‘ – are always the best way to provide a strong creative voice. Just think of all the great creative ideas or inventions that have come from committees, oops…sorry, Inspiration programmes that you can think of.

I mean there must be literally dozens.

It’s an exciting time to be a creative in a creative department, no more boring architecture or silly music to worry about for a start. So much change, so much reinvention by the people who know best.

As Tamara Ingram so eloquently put it, using simple plain English to make her point:

“This council is about unleashing the imaginations of these thinkers into our creative world,” she told Campaign US. “It is about encouraging a collision of ideas and inspiring the whole agency. It is about recency, relevancy and driving culture. It is about the application of the triangulation of humanity, creativity and technology that generates stand-out work and experiences.”

I couldn’t have triangulated that better myself.

So, it’s clear folks. The future Advertising agency model is an in-house creative department, run by a committee of engineers and musicians with a focus on AI software process systems.

Who wouldn’t want to work there?














The old egg and lightbulb rule.

In research it’s always nice to hear that respondents ‘liked’ your idea.

But so what?

The problem is people like a lot of things, pictures of puppies, pretty colours, the way the model looks strong, the happy setting of a family on holiday because it reminds them of that time in Corfu.

It doesn’t really mean they’ll remember it though, at least not just for that reason alone.

I always love that question when you hear it in a research one to one. “Which one of these concepts would you remember most?”

As if they know!

Not to say it isn’t a valid expectation, fixing a permanent spot in the HCP’s mind is kind of what we should be aiming for, obviously.

Derren Brown, the famous er…magician doesn’t really cut it…illusionist possibly? Anyway, ‘Wizard’ is probably closest, knows a thing or two about how the mind works.

If you have ever had the pleasure of seeing one of his shows it is literally a marvel.

If you didn’t know better and if he didn’t admit he isn’t one, you’d swear he was a genuine psychic.

It appears he can read minds and predict the future.

And his ability to memorise things is incredible.

But it’s based on simple techniques that he writes about in his book A trick of the mind.

One of them is this:

If you want to remember a list of random items, it helps if you visualise them meshed together to create a strong visual image in your head.

To demonstrate the difference try these two techniques. First, give yourself one minute to learn this list of ten things in this exact order:

A kettle

A red shoe

A giraffe

A cloud

A banana

A clam

A urinal

A guitar

A country lane

A grey carpet

Got it?

Okay, go away and try writing them down in that order and see how far you get.

Now try the same list but this time link the two images together in a visual picture.

A kettle

A kettle shaped like a red shoe

A pair of red shoes on a giraffe

A giraffe shaped cloud

A cloud emanating from a banana

A banana inside a clam

A clam peeing in a urinal

A urinal shaped guitar

A guitar in the middle of a country lane

A country lane made of grey carpet

Now try the same exercise and write them down again. A bit easier to remember isn’t it?

That’s because memory is linked closely to the visual side of the brain. If we can visualise it, we remember it better.

That’s why so many of the great ad campaigns have strong visual elements.

It’s also why concepts with people on the beach or at the park and a line about their data are likeable but forgettable.

It’s why you forget most of the advertising messages you are bombarded with every day.

It’s why even strong headlines are often visual too and paint a picture.

So what can we learn from this little trick of the mind?

Well it might help agencies and clients take a different view of that part of the research debrief that says the respondents ‘like’ an idea.

As I said, people like a lot of things.

But the things they remember are the ones that are a square peg in a round hole. The ideas that subvert, twist, shock or surprise.

It’s why a picture of a lightbulb or an egg may be likeable but isn’t memorable, but a lightbulb, cracked like an egg somehow is.







1.Your concepts stinks 2.they loved it.3 Now what?

One of the curious things about Pharmaland is, given the greatest drug ever, say the cure for all Cancer, the cure for Alzheimer’s or Diabetes, you could literally run a picture of a pig in a pair of knickers and as long as the headline still said “IT CURES ALL CANCER” nobody would care, the campaign would research really well and the agency and marketing people could all slap their colleagues backs in a hearty fashion in the certain knowledge their ‘pig in knickers’ campaign was a wowzer.

Why? well, and this may shock you because all the figures aren’t quite in yet and some of the biometric tests were unclear but….


Okay, so nice problem to have. I think if there was such a drug you might not have to piss around with big red arrows in the sand or couples on the beach or in fact any creative at all.

So everything between that and say….lemon sherbert is a case of selling versus telling on a sliding creative scale.

How do you actually get a clean read from respondants when researching concepts on a drug that changes the market significantly or a treatment that finally gives some hope for people where there was none.

How do we expect a doctor to concentrate (or indeed give a shit) on whether he likes the concept of the guy hanging upside down from a tree dressed as a lemon or the one with the dolphin that can sing?

You mean this shit cures Diabetes? I love every concept!

So the reverse is also true. The worse the efficacy or differentiation of the drug, the more creative we have to be.

In consumer they rarely get the life changing briefs. It’s all incremental, it’s attitude, it’s about having a fucking conversation with a brand.

In Pharmaland, we actually have something to say.


Of course usually we can’t actually say it. Can’t claim it will do anything that it doesn’t actually have an indication for.

“It may cure that big boil on the end of your knob but there’s no data to indicate this will improve your sex life or increase comfort while trampolining.”

“But surely….”


So on the plus side we have a head start in research for doctors to get excited about the message, providing doctors have an interest in curing knob-boils.

But folks, I am sorry to say that equally, we must draw the conclusion that just because your campaign researched well, it may – creatively speaking – have the aromatic qualities of a love child between Ricky the Racoon and Anne the Anchovy.

Sadly, research success is no guarantee of creativity.

And without creativity, what’s the point of an agency?



The non-creative creative.

My chum and MD Phil Bartlett recently sent an all staffer round that I thought would be great as a guest spot on this humble blog.

Plus, it’s been a busy couple of weeks and this plugs a gap nicely. Enjoy!

As a “non-creative”, how do I approach the gnarly subject of judging someone else’s creative work? My first Creative Director, Mike Walker (a mentor for the first few years of my career in advertising) once described the feeling of a creative showing their work as being as close to doing the Full Monty as he was ever likely to get, and I’m always conscious that in giving a creative brief I’m giving someone a blank sheet of paper (metaphorically and literally) and asking them to come up with stuff I can’t come up with myself.

So I’ve always been extremely respectful of the creative process, and particularly the “creative review” where a load of people who aren’t trained in judging creative work are expected to say something clever about creative work. The two following ideas pretty much sum up how I’ve approached things…

1) What are you looking at?
This is about looking beyond the obvious creative ideas, and the effect that this has, on us and of course on our clients. I came across the idea in a blog by I read recently from Seth Godin, in which he says:
“If no one says, “huh, I don’t get it,” you’ve built the obvious, not the elegant. Elegant takes a moment to get. Obvious is a trap, the last resort of an artist who can’t think clearly about what to do next”
So don’t worry if you don’t “get it” at first, or (shock horror) that your client might not “get it” straight away. Perhaps you’re looking at something elegant, rather than something obvious.

[BTW – if you don’t get Seth Godin’s blog, you should – find it here – it’s always informative and often inspirational.]

2) What to say next
The second point is related to the first, and it’s about looking at creative work, and starting with a positive approach and a desire to love it.
Especially when you’re looking at something which isn’t obvious and takes a moment to get (and, let’s be honest, feel under pressure to say something clever) it’s much easier to be negative – to say “hmm, I don’t like that bit” – than it is to say “huh, I don’t get it”.
In this situation I rely on the Anthony Burrill approach that I had on my wall at Saatchi and McCann and at our old CDM office in Hammersmith and now (because our “enviable views over The Shard, St Pauls and the Thames” mean we’re more glass than wall) is on my wall at home, which simply says:


It’s how I’ve always tried to look at creative work, and it allows me to be positive and inquisitive at the same time. Because more often than not the fact that you don’t get it straight away is actually the whole point.

Now, after this sojourn into the world of blogs and creative freedom of thought, please allow me to flip back to my Managing Director persona and simply ask that you stop reading blogs, get back to work and get your bloody timesheets up to date.


Thanks Phil, more from me next week Blag fans.

The show jumping car.

I admit it, I have a big problem with Pharma creative research.

Or rather…

I have a big problem with the creative research that I have been involved in thus far, within Pharmaland.

Maybe there are some forward thinking outfits out there that are breaking all the rules, I dunno.

But assuming I can wallow in my ignorance a little longer:

My problem is that while we have been thinking up devilishly clever 360 ideas that don’t revolve around a press ad anymore, (because our business is so much more than that these days). While the digital world entices us with mobile technology, wearable ideas, interactive relationship-building gizmos, while apps become more and more central to the way brands interact with both patients and HCPs, improving compliance and all that, after all this, what do we actually research?

A press ad.


Another press ad.

Would you present your 360 creative idea to a client the way you allow your idea to be researched?

To bastardise Henry Ford’s metaphor: we’re trying to judge how well a car performs by how well it leaps over show-jumping fences.

If an HCP is really going to be able to appreciate the fullness of your concept, and therefore give you real feedback, shouldn’t they be taken through the full glory of it? From leave-piece to detail-aid to conference stand to app? How it ladders up to social media? How the user generated content connects back to the app and allows for real-time compliance efficacy?

(I have no idea what I just wrote – digital strategy is easy!)

No, never mind all that, what’s the press-ad look like?

You can call it all sorts of things, ‘adcept’, ‘adlike object’ ‘concept board’ – but who are we fooling?

Now you could say that an idea, a good idea, if it is a good idea, should always be judged by what it looks like in simple terms. It should be judged minus the pomp and ceremony that photography, or production or digital application imbues it with.

And a few years ago I would have agreed with you.

But that just isn’t true anymore.

At least it isn’t the only benchmark of a good idea. It is one of them, but not the only one. You can’t judge a three dimensional object by how it looks in 2D.

Some ideas are bigger, more thrilling and all encompassing than a press ad can realistically capture.

The Novartis campaign to get tattoo artists to spot signs of melanoma, the IDIS campaign, the cancer texts campaign. The iron fish.

Frankly, it seems that concept research is lagging behind our creative pretensions.

If we want our brand work to match up to the more progressive pro-bono humanistic campaigns that populate Lions Health etc don’t we need to form more progressive ways to research our campaigns?

A ‘core visual’ is never going to do a campaign like The iron fish justice.

If we expect punters to get excited by the 360-ness of an idea, like we do, why not expose them to it?

The huge amount of case history films that now form the majority of awards entries, so that jury members can more readily understand the whole picture, shows that an idea can be fleshed out easily, with a little time and money.

Make it easy to grasp and you are half way there.

But how many times have you researched anything like a case history video to help your idea get target-market approval in the first place?

Unfortunately money and time don’t really find their way in to the nurturing of an idea as easily as they do to the other parts of the research process.

The only alternative is to change the way we research global concepts, allowing those big ideas to breathe and flourish.

But will research companies change?

Hmm, I might need to research this.



Asking the cows about farming.

I was recently sat in an awards jury, as you do, when a ‘medical person’ insisted that in one category all you really had to do, to launch a new drug, was to announce its arrival.

Drug X does Y.

No selling or creativity was required.

It was a curious, if not uncommon occurrence, to hear that opinion and she was adamant. After all, she had been in the business for many years and she knew what she was talking about.

The medical business, mind you.

No amount of creative advocacy would budge her.

The thing is, yes, she clearly did know her area of medical expertise and to an extent the usual protocols for launching a drug in that category. But (with as much due respect as I can muster) what worth was her opinion from a marketing standpoint?

Do you know anyone who will admit to being persuaded by advertising? yet somehow it works.

So is it fair to assume that because you are an expert in your own field, you also are wise to the clever tricks we adfolk can pull? Or that you know how to market to yourself and your cohorts in the most effective way, better than mere advertising people?

We all use toothpaste regularly. (If my son is reading this, that will seem a bit of a stretch I grant you, but nevertheless…) does that make us experts in oral hygiene marketing?

The amount of times I have heard consumer clients talk about their products, (mostly car clients)  in terms of ‘just put it on the poster and it will sell itself’. I wish it were that simple.

Sometimes, within the B2B world, we don’t have the perspective required from our positions inside the tent to really see the bigger picture.

Look at it from the reverse angle.

The medical world, I am sure, rolls its collective eyes when patients rock up at surgeries with their own ailments pre-diagnosed. (If my daughter is reading this, how is the Denghi fever this week?)

Experience tells them that a runny nose might not be Malaria.

As they say, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

In a recent piece of research we had been carrying out for a new campaign the creative work was well received, as far as it went, but the doctors were not so keen on the strategy. Instead of them taking it at face value, we were told that other doctors would not believe it.

So what is the role of creative research when you get this reaction?

Do we listen to our experts in the field or do we rely on our knowledge that, actually, people sometimes react differently when they’re not being consulted for their opinion?

Do we trust in creativity?

Like a salesman pitching door to door do you just accept that if the customer initially says they aren’t looking for a new set of dusters you can’t sell them a new set of dusters?

We used to have a saying that research was like ‘asking the cows about farming’. The cows are right at the heart of the process, they live and breathe farming, they experience it everyday.

Just don’t ask them how to run the farm.

A good research company can sort the creative approval and understanding from the amateur strategic advice, but very often we take everything that spouts from a research participant’s gob as if it’s unquestionable pearls of wisdom.

And sometimes it just isn’t.

Sometimes they will tell us they like something because it sits within their comfort zone, not realizing that what is required is actually something outside of that dreaded zone.

Recently another doctor told us that even though he liked an idea we didn’t need the one visual thing that made it different. He didn’t know what it’s role was, so as far as he was concerned it was unnecessary.

Therefore our client felt that research told us we didn’t need it. But just because he didn’t know it’s role didn’t make it unnecessary. Without it, the ad was wallpaper.

The respondent was playing creative director and if anyone is going to be hideously wrong about stuff I insist it should be me.

Because if you need further proof that people, when consulted, often say one thing but do another and therefore can’t always be trusted, take a look at the recent election in the UK.

All the polls said the Tories and Labour were neck and neck and yet somehow we have a Tory Majority government.








Offending doesn’t mean it won’t work.

This has stood out from my first day in pharmaland as a big difference between health and consumer.

The worry that the marketing of a new drug might imply the HCP has been doing it wrong up to now and the (ad) concept might offend their sense of professional pride.

And why do we worry about that? because the HCPs are keen to assure us that this is how they will feel if we dare be impudent.

And so we dutifully avoid any notion of professional ineptitude, (even though they were doing their best with the available tools) no matter how motivating our message might actually be.

But since when were doctors or nurses experts in communication?

We already know that just because car drivers say ‘spare us all that creative stuff just show us the car and the price’ we should probably avoid their marketing advice and be as creative as we can – because it works.

Why else would you buy a Peugeot?

But with Doctors? No, we tip-toe around their sensibilities because that’s their professional advice.

Professional marketing advice, mind you.

Where do we draw the line between research findings and a respondent’s marketing expertise?

So what they are saying is this:

“Dear Mr Hamilton we have a new car for you this Formula 1 season, it’s faster, better acceleration and can take a corner like nothing before”

“You saying I’m a crap driver?”

The entire reason for being, as the French say, of advertising is to get the consumer to buy the product. Full stop.

Imagine a headline that read: “I never use drug X” Trainee oncologist aged 42

Offensive in every way, and yet…hmmm…not a bad idea when you think about it.

So do you worry about offending 42 year old trainee oncologists or making actual oncologists feel smug and self satisfied at using the product?

In consumerland it really doesn’t occur to to anyone that people might be offended, professionally or personally at the idea of them currently using substandard products.

Even in business to business ‘We can get building products to you faster than before’ is not a slight on a foreman’s ability to get drainage supplies on time.

People don’t get offended personally because they tend to think the idiots or underachievers the ads are referring to are in the next office, not theirs. They may feel inadequate momentarily but that is rectified swiftly by that new product.

Job done.

So who are these delicate flowers whose sensibilities are so fragile that we dare not imply our product might supercede their current one?

What happens to these disaffected professionals that could be so damaging to your brand?

Do they sulk and keep their customers knowingly ill, out of ill feeling?

Do they organise a boycott of this upstart product which has implied their qualities as a professional are questionable?

Do they ignore all evidence of efficacy out of bloody mindedness?

Will they banish any Rep from the premises?

Probably not.

I think a more likely reaction would be to give this new product a try.

So is it always wrong to be offensive?

The ad for Pancreatic cancer that featured the headline  ‘I wish I had breast cancer’ outraged everyone, seemingly.


People were fanning themselves like someone had just said ‘arse’ at an Edwardian summer tea party for ladies of delicate disposition.

To a small amount of people it may even have been offensive.

(Certainly the nation’s art directors and typographers were appalled, but that’s a different issue).

But thanks now to earlier diagnosis, as a result of the awareness created, the NHS could save £3.1 million.

That’s a ROI of 4000:1

Maybe that kind of offensiveness isn’t so bad.

And maybe HCPs aren’t as delicate as we fear, despite what they tell us in research, because people generally aren’t delicate.

Disinterested, busy, distracted, yes. Delicate, not so much.

So, the question is what happens if we do imply the doc’s current treatment knowledge is a bit lagging behind the rest of the industry?

Sometimes putting everything in a positive light just makes everything appear lit the same way. I’m sure that we will continue to take our customers marketing advice and be wary of their wrath.

And that’s probably why the beaches and the parks of pharma-adland will remain overcrowded with happy looking couples all looking the same, saying the same things and living the same mindless, fulfilling lives.

And I’m sorry but..that is offensive.



(agree? disagree? leave a comment – and while we’re about it you can follow me @ollyc47 on twitter if you’ve a mind to)