'Mother' is responsible for some of the most innovative promotional campaigns of recent years. Head of strategy Dylan Williams lets us in on how the creative agency does it.
The Shane Meadows box office smash; the flirtation that turned thousands onto online dating; the horrific spectacle of dozens of polar bears plummeting from the sky - global creative agency, 'Mother', houses the brains that brought each of these to our screens. Extremely adept at turning a promotional campaign on its head, 'Mother' tailors a bespoke approach to every creative challenge, resulting in memorable and winning campaigns for its clients. We grill partner and head of strategy Dylan Williams about the secrets to 'Mother's' ongoing success.
Computer Arts: What's the best idea 'Mother' ever had, and what sparked it?
Dylan Williams: The next one. The moment that we say otherwise, we'll have lost our spark for good.
CA: What was 'Mother's' most out-there idea and how did the team realise it?
DW: My personal favourite is Somers Town, the movie we made with Shane Meadows for Eurostar. Firstly because it taught us a lot about the limitations of advertising as an answer to certain challenges - during the project we learnt a lot about how to deepen the level of engagement with people both in and through time and about the value of richness, depth and complexity over the traditional advertising craft skills of precision, simplicity and single-mindedness.
It also taught us about different ways to evaluate effectiveness: in effect, British Airways paid to play a movie about its chief cross-channel competitor on its in-flight programme. Unheard of! In this respect, this idea provided 'out there' learning for us.
But I also just like the idea because of what it says about 'Mother'. We lost the advertising pitch for Eurostar, but through a combination of inspiration and tenacity turned a crap pitch result into a situation where we ended up making an award-winning box office hit.
CA: What recent campaigns have you been particularly impressed by?
DW: It's not so recent now, but I still really like TBWA\Chiat\Day's 'Gatorade Replay' campaign. Rather than simply run an ad campaign that crows to all and sundry about Gatorade's replenishing properties, they created a role for the product in the lives of a group of people who had no real need of a sports drink. Encouraging 30-somethings to replay high school sports matches, and providing the infrastructure and organisation to do so, is an excellent example of how brands can positively contribute to culture rather than simply bombard us with selling messages. I also liked Droga5's location-based game on Bing to promote Jay-Z's book, Decoded. Again, it's an idea that looked to contribute to culture rather than merely just interrupt it.
CA: At 'Mother', the creative team liaises directly with the client. How do you think this affects the agency's creative output, in comparison to agencies where account managers act as middle-men?
DW: It's all important to us. As in any walk of life, if you communicate via an intermediary you are likely to lose sensitivity to your surrounding world. 'Creative teams' (however defined) that sit in offices all day being fed 'consumer insight' via focus group debriefs and 'client feedback' via account guys are going to develop work that is less sensitive to cultural and commercial realities. Less sensitive, less attuned, less relevant and frankly less honest.
CA: How does 'Mother' convince a client to break out of a creative rut?
DW: We try to reverse the conventional strategic process. Received wisdom has creative companies start with a commercial objective: what does the brand want to achieve, say or sell? This approach tends to relegate creativity to the role of a sugar coating; something to wrap around commercial intent to make it more palatable to a 'target audience'. We flip this. We start with a cultural objective: what might this culture need in this instance, and how might this brand help provide it? In this way we begin thinking creatively from the start. Rather than spending the first five days with a client word-smithing a business challenge, we spend [them] looking at the stuff that people actually fill their time and space with. This approach immediately reframes the view of the client and serves to break them out of creative ruts.
CA: For recent projects, how and where has the 'Mother' team hit upon its creative inspiration?
DW: Usually when we're dicking about with the product or service in question - with the sort of people we want to build a relationship with.
CA: Is there a formula for coming up with captivating ideas for successful promotional campaigns?
DW: Nope. I hope not. But working culture-back [reversing the conventional strategic process of working 'commerce-out'] in a disintermediated way has certainly been important to us. That, and employing really talented, lovely people.