Brand thinkers make the industry go ’round

Editor Jennifer Horn on promoting agency powers of building empathy, humanity and brave thinking into brands.

Jennifer HornAngus Tucker shared some profound words during a meeting I had with the CCO at his office in the fall. The conversation was originally to catch-up on John St. but somehow found its way to the industry.

He said, of which I half-quote in a profile on the Bronze winner in our Agency of the Year report, “We [agencies] need to stop seeing ourselves as content creators. That is so incredibly limiting as to who we are, what we do, what we provide, and what we charge… We are brand thinkers, who create content underneath overall thought.”

Referring to the disposability of creativity as short-termism consumes brands, and some agencies follow suit, the ad vet concluded by saying the industry should do better in “saying that, protecting that, promoting that.”

Without actually dropping the “c” word, Tucker also seemingly took aim at turf-creeping and numbers-driven suits that are, arguably, creatively tone-deaf by saying that agencies are better equipped to bring a more human side to commercial entities.

strategy’s Agency of the Year issue is one that gives creative players – and abutting digital shops, design studios, media agencies and PR firms – the opportunity to defend and promote the powers they hold. And that they do.

Some of this year’s crop of top shops, as you’ll read, have the sensitivities and the skillsets to help brands find and build upon their purpose (that’s purpose with a small and a big “P”).

Gold AOY winner Rethink is supporting IKEA and A&W’s eco-altruism in campaigns with healthy shelf-lives. While John St. has been designing the foundational frameworks for brand positionings and platforms that have legs – just as any long-term agency partner would (John St. carries 10-year relationships with Maple Leaf Foods, Winners and Tangerine, and another 18 with Kruger).

Others are promoting pluckiness. Narrative, this year’s Gold PR shop, has a history of helping company leaders express their corporate bravery. Now the firm is translating that into a new type of “creative bravery” through things like Casey House’s hard-hitting anti-stigma stunts. UM, the Silver Media agency, says it imparts its value of courage to the heads of brands like Oh! Henry.

Boldness, says Hershey’s Jackson Hitchon, was not a typical characteristic of the confectionary co. But after conversations with Anomaly, it decided to stop playing it safe, landing on brazen campaigns that tap into the cultural zeitgeist (and landed Hitchon on the 2019 Marketer of the Year list, which you will find on the website next week). None of which would have been possible without the input and collaboration of its partners.

If humble agencies won’t “protect and promote” their powers of building empathy, humanity and brave thinking in the brands they work with each day, then consider it done in our year-end issue. You’ll want to clear your schedule. It’s a big one.