In 2012, the advertising industry tends to be fixated on the next new startup, the next piece of shiny piece of tech, or the next big announcement. Companies now scale globally in a couple of years, not decades, and strategies are reviewed monthly, not yearly. In this fast-moving, forward-looking world, it’s hard to imagine how a company can stay in the game for decades, let alone a century. Yet in five years time, Grey will celebrate one hundred years in advertising.
For any company to last that long, the ability to adapt has to be hard-wired into its DNA. In London, Craig Morgan, Grey’s Director of Innovation, is responsible for ensuring the agency keeps up in the way it has done in the past. VAN met with Morgan at Grey’s offices in London to speak to him about how Grey is creating video content that now has to be delivered across an ever-growing list of platforms.
Grey started out in 1917. It was first called Grey Studios, and was founded in New York by 18-year-old Larry Valenstein with $100 he borrowed from his mother (fresh-faced entrepreneurs in advertising startups clearly aren’t anything new). Since then the company has grown to have 432 offices in 96 countries, operating in 154 cities, and is now part of WPP.
Grey works with clients from a wide variety of backgrounds including GSK, Sony, Brother, Diageo, Vodafone and the British Heart Foundation. And if anyone needed reminding about how advertising is a relationships business – Grey first started working with Procter & Gamble in 1956 and are still working with them today. Grey’s considerable history also earned it a role in Mad Men – Duck Phillips moved over to Grey after being shown the door by Sterling Cooper.
However, Grey’s London office is a far cry from the Mad Men days and the airy modern offices feel more like Google’s than those of Sterling Cooper. Morgan says the open working environment has played a big role in improving the creative process. The seating arrangements are fluid and people sit where they need to rather than being confined to a desk in their department’s section.
The only part of the building that resembles a department is Grey’s newly created post-production editing suite. Lately, Grey have been bringing more technologists, programmers and video editors in house, which Morgan says has enabled Grey to move more quickly on developing ideas. “If we like an idea in for a pitch, sometimes we’ll go ahead and make the ad in-house and show it to the client. It’s a great way of backing up what you believe in and it demonstrates that you have faith in your work.”
Morgan describes his role at Grey as a way for the agency to ensure that someone is responsible for actively thinking about how to do things differently, which might include reviewing the way people work together, or bringing new skills in house, or introducing different types of people to the agency, so he could be bringing in a poet one day or a robotics expert the next.
So have the new video technologies changed the way Grey views goes about the creative process? Yes, says Morgan,”The changes in technology have made us redefine what we mean by creativity. We’re passionate about craft, but it’s not just about craft any more. Now the creativity could be centred around a piece of functionality, or it could be entertainment based, or perhaps utility based. Something that’s useful can be as interesting to the consumer as something entertaining, so you could be talking about an app or it could even be an idea for a new product.”
Morgan says the Old Spice campaign was a great example of what could be achieved if agencies are nimble enough and are prepared to react to the consumer. However, he feels agencies need to evolve further still if they’re do do that job well enough. “Agencies are very good at what they do. Like a Ferrari, they’re very smooth, slipstreamed and aerodynamic. Before, when agencies were broadcasting out to the world, it was like a Ferrari driving down a one way street. But that model has been flipped in the new world – now we’re on a two-way street and there are cars coming back at us in the street towards us and we have to respond accordingly.’
The Long Idea
One of the ways in which Morgan says Grey is responding is through the adoption of the concept of a ‘long idea’. So what is a long idea? “The traditional idea of an idea starting and finishing, or an idea being a big bang, is over,” says Morgan. “Our view is that – with all of the different channels that exist – there’s no start and stop any more. Now it’s as much about pre-campaign and what you let out before the campaign goes live.
It used to be about the centre of your campaign’s bell curve, but now there’s a long tail at both ends of that curve now. So, for instance, you might let people know about what you’re doing before you do them and then you’ve got the post-campaign phase which is equally important. Putting all of that together, you have a long idea which is usually composed of a string of smaller ideas,” he added.
Morgan sees long ideas as representing a new opportunity where brands can focus on content as much as advertising. “Now agencies are releasing exclusive content, offering previews and ‘the making ofs’, and inviting people along to the shoot to get the brand’s biggest fans involved. Starting with a TV ad isn’t necessarily the wrong thing to do, but it’s just that it doesn’t have to end there any more.”
Morgan has been observing trends in the film and music world, such as crowd sourcing and co-funding, which he thinks will have a great role in advertising in the future. “I think agencies are slowly moving away from just making ads to making interesting things and I think there’s an opportunity there,” he said.
Grey have worked on partnerships for content with artists like Tinie Tempah, who they partnered with on an ad for Lucozade. Tinie Tempah had a high quality video – which also featured world-renowned drummer Travis Barker and the Irish female world boxing champion, Katie Taylor – produced in exchange for some product placement and branding from Lucozade.
Adding Video Makes Campaigns Stronger
“We certainly believe that combining online video and TV makes for a stronger campaign. And I don’t think I’ve ever had a client say they only wanted TV and wouldn’t entertain the idea of other channels. For the agency, I think it’s about how you structure a campaign. Before you would try to finish a campaign, whereas now you can leave gaps in the campaign for people to fill in for you if there’s a cue for them to respond with things like mashups or their own content,” he said.
“Before, the answer was always ‘a TV ad’, what was the question? Then it became, ‘the answer’s a website, what was the question’? Now what we’re trying to do is think more about different platforms and formats, so alongside a TV ad you might have a video, some long-form content, or an application. But 80% of our business is still comes from answering traditional briefs. And sometimes that’s the right answer. It’s not just about doing something different for the sake of it.”
Grey’s slogan is ‘Famously Effective’ and Morgan believes ‘Hard and Fast’, produced for the British Heart Foundation, embodies that message. ‘It’s not only an ad that’s being talked in the industry because it’s a great piece of creative work, but it’s also a great example of a hard-working ad that guides people to remember what you want them to. It’s rare to see an ad combine both so well together.’
Looking to the future, Morgan said we’re just scratching the surface of what’s going to be possible with the emerging platforms. However, he’s confident about Grey’s ability to adapt. “Ultimately all of these things simply enable us to do the things we’ve always been doing, albeit in a slightly different or more accelerated way. Before it was the pub conversation, now simply happening on a larger scale and in a more public way. We just have to keep bringing things to life and letting people play with our ideas.’