Opinion: London gripped by the  outbreak of start-up fever

"An otherwise dull London scene has been invigorated by indie start-ups, many of which are flourishing"

Oct 12, 2011 04:50:00 AM | Article | Dominic Mills

With London in thrall to some unseasonably balmy weather, adland is in thrall to a sudden rash of agency start-ups. Whatever the reason, it certainly can’t be the economic climate, with a general sense of gloom and doom both in the UK and the Eurozone.  

Against such a dispiriting economic backdrop, it is therefore surprising that the past few weeks have seen the announcement of a clutch of new agencies. 

Three are in the more-or-less conventional creative agency space; and one in mainstream(ish) media agency territory. This is interesting for two reasons: one, none is explicitly trying to carve out a space in digital territory; and two, because perceived wisdom has it that start-ups need to create some kind of distinctive positioning in order to gain traction and attention. 

In fact the creative agencies have no greater ambition than, in the words of one, “creating powerful, entertaining advertising that gets noticed” – not that there’s anything wrong with that. 
Of course, all agencies say that is what they do, so my suspicion is that the USP these agencies are really claiming is that they are start-ups – meaning that they’re new, fresh, unencumbered by the sclerotic bureaucracy (and high costs) of the established players, and offer clients direct access to the senior talent.  In a sense, therefore, they’re defining themselves by what they’re not – i.e. the big network agencies. 

Yet while most admen would never advise their clients to define themselves by a negative, there seems to be life in this proposition. An otherwise dull London scene has been invigorated over the past few years by indie start-ups, many of which are flourishing – as evidenced currently by the presence of ten in Campaign UK’s top 20 new-business league table for 2011. 

Michael Vaughan: the comeback

It’s been five years since the Golsborough village cricket team suffered a humiliating defeat after scoring only five (all extras) against local rivals Dishworth. 

Hell-bent on revenge, and with the help of the NatWest Bank, Goldsborough recruit former England captain Michael Vaughan as their secret weapon. Disguised with wig, beard and a prosthetic beer belly, the idea is that Vaughan scores the winning runs. 

Aaaargh! It all goes wrong. He only makes 28, leaving the team 58 short. 

What’s the point of it all? NatWest is known for its high-profile links with the national game, but less so for its (arguably more significant) grass-roots support, including local teams. 

This charming film (search YouTube for ‘secret cricketer’) makes the point in a subtle and rewarding way without any of the pomposity and hyperbole normally surrounding sports sponsorship. 

BA: hyberbole brought down to earth by parody

Talking of pomposity and hyperbole, try watching the new corporate ad for British Airways by BBH. 
Some might say it’s the kind of brand-enhancing TVC BBH has sought to make since winning the account a few years ago but has been denied by circumstances beyond its control: a series of strikes by staff, a PR disaster at its new Heathrow terminal, and BA’s desire for price-led promotions. 

The ad uses the BA motto – “To Fly. To Serve” – to take us on BA history tour, lauding its ‘brave’ pioneer pilots and cabin crew as they battled the elements etc. 

Others, like low-cost airline rival Easyjet, see it as classic corporate pomposity that demands parody. Within days mocking Easyjet ads appeared with the line “To Fly. To Save”, noting that those four words summed up Easyjet. Brutal, but brilliant.