By Peter Cowie, co-founder, Oystercatchers


Recently returned from Adforum’s 15th worldwide summit and my cup runneth over with inspirational, eye-watering ideas from US agencies helping Marketers build brands in a very modern world. And fresh this year, a visit to LA – home to Hollywood and tech.

It was an extraordinary seven days. Twenty-five consultants from the world over met creative and media agencies, media-owners, pure digital players, tech start-ups, content providers, talent agencies, and the American National Advertisers Associates.

The mission, which we chose to accept, was to seek out transformative practices to enable brand owners to engage with customers in new and effective ways.

A few stand-out thoughts:

Brand/celebrity partnership is growing up

The talent agencies are moving in. “Brands will be the next great movie producers”, believes ICM Partners – a big step forward from clumsy product placement of not so long ago. CAA is stepping­­ heavily into brand/personality partnership with recent UK acquisition of Brand Roper.

With big stars happy to work on TV, Ben Stiller’s RED HOUR, with operations in NYC, LA and London, is working for Netflix and Amazon. Stiller’s desire is to create authentic, organic partnerships with brands, moving away from face placement.

The rise and rise of new tech

Are today’s agencies increasingly finding their Zen in the tech world?

R/GA is one. Its incubator, VC-partnered, has mentored over 15 successful start-ups and is unequivocally established as an accelerator service. R/GA has 56 equity partnerships and considers this sector of its business to hold the same value a top ten global client.

VCs are increasingly following the R/GA path – viewing this as the future model for creative agencies. Are we seeing the birth of a new trend?

We’re in the gold rush of content

A few big drops in the ocean. Top five global consultancies are flexing their muscles with increasing confidence: Accenture Interactive [part of Accenture Digital with revenues of over $3 billion] claims to be the world’s biggest digital agency with a global content practice of 6000 people in 20 international locations.

Funnily enough, IBM iX also claims top spot with 15,000 people across 34 studios working with big global organisations. Ten percent of delivery is software using IBM Watson artificial intelligence and 70 percent is creative services. Impressive.

Publishers too are moving into content. We visited Time Inc-owned The Foundry, with a creative team of 150 plus editors, writers, designers, producers and developers. The belief is that clients want authentic storytelling and scale: “brands want to work with large publishers to reach massive audiences in a single deal”.

Meanwhile, KBS has launched a dedicated content studio– working with young bloggers with strong followings, offering a home where they can operate, and, create truly credible content for brands. Up next: KBS launch of “Meat & Produce” a new LA content studio powered by young subject influencers.

Happily the Brit Pack shines brightly

Adrian Coleman and his VCCP team showed off their new San Fran creative hot-shop – MUH-TAY-ZIK HOF-FER; Nick Brien, CEO iCrossing, introduced ‘The marketing agency for a modern world’; Carl Johnson has firmly established Anomaly in LA; Michael Wall is reigniting the love for Mother in NYC; Tom Morton leads R/GA strategy; Guy Hayward has set up KBS’ Hollywood cutting edge content studio.

We toured MullenLowe’s spectacular new LA offices with Wayne Arnold; we met familiar faces at the Martin Agency; British planners at TBWA/Chiat/Day and celebrated with Ian Millner on Iris expansion.  We continue to be a great export and business innovators.

Trends to watch out for

Inspired by our visit, it became clear that 2017 will look something like this:

  • We’ll see more clients bringing more teams in house – maybe not permanently but building dream teams for specific tasks
  • Much clearer definition of ROI
  • Clients will increasingly pay proper money for performance – cutting agency partners into success
  • True recognition that the world has changed with a much broader canvas. As the number of customer touchpoints increase and user experience becomes critical across these touchpoints – we’ll see a different attitude and different ways of working
  • Test and learn. Test and learn… Agencies and brand teams will be given permission to fail as business recognises the value in testing small and learning along the way.

And finally…

Two genuinely brilliant presentations which took us stratospheric:

First off, LA’s Chandelier, a creative, media, branded entertainment agency, which believes in entertaining people, not just selling stuff. And it did just this … inviting Adforum to a Hollywood wedding with all the trimmings. LA actors and agency staff played the roles of bride, bridegroom, mother and father of the bride, best men, and bridesmaids. Each pitched the agency in character. Post ceremony, we, the consultants were invited to describe how we planned to support this wedding… simply brilliant.

Mother, meanwhile, presented on Tinder – to show brand love, and, to discover whether we were a match. Priceless…