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Wednesday, November 15

Mother Knows Best

Today's Brand Equity carried(once again) a write-up on Omnicom's India strategy...It almost read like a cheap thriller!

Tucked away on pg 5 was also the entry plans of W+K, Mother, Fallon and BBH. Now Mother is again an agency that I have heard much about but know little of!

So after the John Hegarty Speakpost, here's the second in the series.

This interview I chanced upon at ideasfactory.comIt's a nice site. Check it out! And here's the interview.

Mother Knows Best
'What's the worst that can happen?' This TVC for Dr Pepper was one of Mothers'. So were the ones for Orange, Coca-Cola, Egg, Cup-a-Soup and Super Noodles. If there's one pulse that agency Mother has their finger on its ads.

And they don't just do ads, either. Mother has produced music videos (art director Thomas Hilland has made promos for Röyksopp) and published a book of photography, Places to go people to see.

Brand of Humour. The Cup-a-Soup and Dr Pepper ads are examples of campaigns that take Mother's typically and unusually honest approach in its ads, jettisoning the 'buy this and your life will be perfect' tone that campaigns usually adopt.

So, the Dr Pepper ads acknowledge that 'What's the worst that can happen' might well be many people's motivation for trying it.

Adding a twist of irony, Mother's campaigns show people who buy the product ending up in a variety of nightmare scenarios, like one teenager who picks a bottle from a chiller unit that shatters, burying him under a mountain of supermarket goods.

He has to be cut free (also of his trousers and underwear) by firefighters and is carried to hospital under the gaze of international film crews who broadcast the story of 'Butt Naked Boy' around the world.

Mother created a series of cinema ads for Orange in which legends of the movie industry like Carrie 'Princess Leia' Fisher pitch to a panel of execs who try to make mobiles a key element, no matter how historically inappropriate (Fisher's movie is set at the end of the 19th century).

The final line reads, 'Don't let a mobile phone ruin your movie. Please switch it off'.

Different set-up . The ads aren't exactly standard, but then Mother isn't. Founders Robert Saville(Jt. CD), Mark Waites( Jt. CD) and Stef Calcraft, who set up Mother in 1996 to launch Channel 5, wanted to create a different kind of agency.

Most agencies have a group of people called account executives who are responsible for liaising between the client and the agency staff who work on the account. Mother does not.

"People assume we've stripped out a layer," partner and strategist Andy Bellass says. "We haven't. We just don't have a group of people that are called account handlers."

"Whenever a creative person picks up the phone and talks to a client about the size of an end frame or what director they can use, they're being an account manager."

"The client doesn't just have one relationship with one person called an account man or whatever - they have they have relationships with everybody."

Send us your problems. The agency is not afraid to turn its unconventional thinking on its own industry: "The worst thing in advertising is when clients assume that advertising is the answer to their problems," Bellass comments.

"More often than not, it's not. Holsten Pils assumed for years that advertising was the tool that would get it ahead of its competitors. It's not. The problem lies with the product."

So at Mother, they work out what the problem is and solve that, instead of working to a traditional 'brief' that a client sets and which the agency is required to carry out rather than question.

"We always say, we don't answer briefs we answer problems," Bellass continues. "It works best when clients come in, sit down and say, 'this is what's happening in my business.'"

"That's not to say when they come in with a brief that it's wrong. It's easier for us to work with a problem."

Something old something new...
Many traditional agencies are large companies that employ hundreds of people. So the agency's own staff may not come into contact with each other very often, and less often with its clients.

Mother currently has 90 staff and everyone works in the same open-plan office, a former fire station in east London. (The agency was also an early pioneer of hot-desking.)

But that's not to say that all traditions have been abandoned. Mother approaches every campaign by tried-and-tested methods:

"There are no new ways, there are only old ways," Bellass explains. "And the old ways are the simple ways. You pick the people you want to work with, you sit them around the table and you talk to them."

"The fundamental question to ask is: how are brands understanding their consumers, finding the right way to touch them?"

The science bit... Advertising is not an exact science, though. The much-quoted Lord Leverhulme (his company is now part of Unilever) famously observed that half of the money he spent on advertising was wasted, but he could never be sure which half.

Some advertising and marketing techniques even baffle the professionals: "People like Amazon still amaze me," Bellass says. "I go onto Amazon and buy a book and a CD and it tells me the other books and CDs I should be buying."

"I look at those books and those CDs and think, you know what? I would want to read and buy those - and usually I do. Isn't that the most sophisticated marketing out there? It's a brand you have a relationship with."

"But at McDonalds you buy a Big Mac and they say, would you like a large fries, and you think, if I wanted large fries I would have asked for it."

"But here is Amazon doing exactly the same thing - they're trying to get you to buy more products from their store. But they're doing it by understanding exactly what you want."

Comin' to get you . The next stop for the agency is New York. Mother has opened an office in the US during the new year and four of America's top admen, including a former head of advertising for Nike, have joined the team.

It's difficult to know who is in for the biggest surprise, Mother operating in a new market or the US being on the receiving end of Mother's unique brand of humour.

But Mark Waites knows the New York ad scene from personal experience. And is the market in the US so very different?

"People say it is," Bellass says, "but I'm a huge believer that whatever market you're in, people still drive cars, people buy soap powder, people still watch television." America, watch out.

Whatever the Goliaths might think, I firmly believe that these slightly left-of-centre players will sex up the Indian market and hopefully they will have lots of jobs for Indian planners:-)


arkangel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
arkangel said...

The original publication of this article is to be found here on Channel 4 Television's IDEASFACTORY based in London, which helps emerging talent get in and get on in the creative industries.

Manish said...

yup... thats where I took the interview from! Mother has been looking at an India entry for some time now. and yet i feel there is not much information about the agency among the rank and file here!