Advertising Agency of the Year 2018: Mother

Iceland
Iceland

Another cracking year of creative work plus a solid new-business showing sees Mother take the top spot.

As its 21st year of existence, 2018 was the year that Mother supposedly came of age. It was marked by the joyful, anarchic work for which Mother has always been famous, showing that years do not define this agency; they are, instead, a mere chronology for this proud independent that shows no sign of selling up or selling out.

Mother’s seminal "masterclass in crisis management" for KFC, the "FCK" print ad, showed an honesty and lightness of touch that helped the fast-food chain navigate what looked in danger of being a very serious business problem, when changes to its supply chain in February meant that it ran out of chicken. The ad became a global phenomenon, reaching more than one billion people, and engendering warmth for a brand that had been in the press for all the wrong reasons.

KFC

The agency also managed to tap in to the public psyche – or "popular culture" as is the industry trope – with its "Rang-tan" ad by repurposing a Greenpeace film for Iceland. Although vetoed by Clearcast (fuelling the ad’s fame further), the moving spot showing the impact of palm-oil production on the habitat of orangutans became a sensation, garnering more than 62 million views. It became the most-shared and commented-on ad of 2018. 

The ad also translated into business success for the supermarket – even more remarkable, given that Christmas is a time when Iceland’s bigger rivals splurge enormous amounts of money in a bid to seize the Christmas crown. Iceland has only a 2.1% market share and a much smaller ad budget, but its consideration score rose 5.9 points following the campaign. Moreover, one million people signed a petition calling for the ad to be shown on TV.

Ikea has long provided a rich seam for Mother to mine when it comes to creative and strategic excellence, and 2018 was no different. The retailer’s long-running "Wonderful everyday" brand platform allowed Mother to flex its muscles with its "Ghosts" spot, which encouraged people to "be a maverick with fabric". This is just one example of the agency transforming Ikea’s brand perceptions beyond flat-pack furniture. Mother is also doing its best to help reinvent high-street stalwart Debenhams with a new positioning based on the theme "do a bit of Debenhams". 

Aside from 2018 being a year when Mother’s production of brilliant, distinctive and effective work was apparent to all, there was also new business coming through the doors. Yes, the loss of Moneysupermarket.com was a blow, but this was mitigated by Mother winning briefs from Sky, The Body Shop and Superdry, among others. 

With a claimed 15 new clients under its belt – and all the creative opportunities that they offer – the agency claims that 2018 is its fourth consecutive year of growth. Contrast that with the fortunes of some of its rivals, particularly within the holding company groups.

So the business is firing on all cylinders creatively, and bringing in new business to fuel growth, but what of the softer metrics that are increasingly important in keeping staff happy and engaged? 

Mother has never followed the hierarchical approach that now looks so hopelessly out of touch and alienates so many staff. While its leadership is clear – and 2018 marked the first full year under the team of Ana Balarin, Hermeti Balarin, Chris Gallery and Katie Mackay-Sinclair (pictured, below), supported by global partners Michael Wall and Robert Saville – it also looks after its people. Free breakfast and lunch are standard but it also offers a £1,000 bonus to people who successfully give up smoking and has focused on supporting the mental wellbeing and resilience of staff with an initiative called SelfSpace. It has jumped on board the industry’s pledge to attract a more diverse talent base with gusto.

One Agency of the Year judge said of Mother’s performance: "A really good story, with a balance of work, effectiveness and business performance along with some long-standing initiatives." 

Managing to accomplish just one of these tasks is difficult enough but successfully achieving all four marks out Mother, and is the reason that it is Campaign’s Advertising Agency of the Year 2018.

Runners-up

Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

It’s a fitting tribute to group chairman Dame Cilla Snowball that in her final year in charge of AMV, it was named one of the best in the UK. Having passed the baton on to Sarah Douglas and Justin Pahl, Snowball can reflect on a year in which AMV produced some of its most talked-about and challenging work for Bodyform and Maltesers (pictured, above), while also showing great new-business momentum in the shape of Asda and Virgin Airlines. AMV has led the industry in tackling diversity, and as one judge said: "Leadership x talent = results, while also tackling the biggest issues the ad industry faces in terms of equality and diversity." The agency was also second-most awarded in Cannes globally.

Adam & Eve/DDB

In 2018 the A&E/DDB the remaining co-founders James Murphy and David Golding announced they would be leaving the agency that they had led to an unprecedented run as five-time winners of the Campaign Agency of the Year prize. The agency they have left to their successors, led by Tammy Einav and Mat Goff, is in excellent health. John Lewis continues to be its creative yardstick and, despite the pressure, it managed to charm viewers with the retailer’s Christmas spot, featuring Sir Elton John (pictured, above). Having picked up one of the biggest domestic accounts of the year in the National Lottery, as well as Booking.com, the agency had plenty to get its teeth into. Generally, the work was excellent as usual.

Bartle Bogle Hegarty

Always known for its consistent creative excellence, in 2018 BBH was also recognised for its equally important focus on effectiveness – it was named Effectiveness Company of the Year at the IPA. The agency’s work with Audi, which won the Effectiveness Grand Prix, continued to impress and there were other highlights such as "Super Bolt" for Virgin Media (pictured, above) and "Purpose pays" for Barclays. One of the client judges said: "BBH continues to deliver great creative that delivers long-term results, while staying relevant and winning new business. It has a strong focus on people and their learning and development." New-business wins came from Burger King and Western Union, among others. With Neil Munn now running the UK agency, as well as the BBH network, and Ian Heartfield made sole chief creative officer, BBH should be in good hands for the future.

McCann UK

In an age where change can feel overwhelming, how reassuring to see that McCann’s century-old mantra of "Truth well told" remains as relevant today as when it was first coined. In fact, you could argue that it is more relevant than ever, judging by the impact the agency has on its clients’ businesses. Its work on Aldi (pictured, above) has resulted in the supermarket overtaking non-discount competitors and being named one of the UK’s best-loved brands, firmly established in the national consciousness. McCann also won the first Cannes Lions Grand Prix for Creative eCommerce with its work for Microsoft Xbox. It’s little wonder that one of the judges commented: "Great creative, delivering impressive results for clients." It’s also little wonder that the agency’s client list expanded with wins from Just Eat, Princes and eBay among others.

VCCP

While so many other agencies were literally losing their heads, how refreshing to see VCCP as a beacon of stability in turbulent times. No crisis of confidence here – instead, a focus on producing brilliant and effective work and expanding its client roster. VCCP succeeded in winning a place on one of the biggest pitches of the year as strategic and creative lead for Shell globally, showing that its worldwide footprint can match its competitors. And while some agencies struggled to represent contemporary Britain, its Nationwide and Cadbury (pictured, above) campaigns have a creative heart and deliver results. As one judge summed it up: "Another agency where diversity and talent are top of the agenda alongside a great performance."

Recent winners: Adam & Eve/DDB (2017); Adam & Eve/DDB (2016); Adam & Eve/DDB (2015); Adam & Eve/DDB (2014); VCCP (2013)

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