BBH: A few Questions

BBH: the story so far…

Formed in 1982, Bartle Bogle Hegarty immediately became one of the best, most respected and coolest ad agencies in the UK and the world. It’s work for such diverse clients as Levi’s, Audi and Lynx established it as not only an awards magnet, but also an agency capable of dictating what was cool to an entire generation.

So far so good.

I have to admit, as someone who has worked for the last four years at an agency that never pitches, and for the last 16 months in LA, I don’t keep very close tabs on the British agency ‘scene’. That said, occasionally a lazy moment might lead my fingers to corners of the internet related to the ‘industry’. One of those moments found me checking out the website of the aforementioned BBH. I had a good old scroll, dear reader, and I must tell you, I am now rather confused. Confused enough to ask the following questions:

1. Why is your ‘about’ section so self-contradictory?

The power of difference to make a difference.

That’s what we believe in. That’s what we do.

We create ideas that make a real difference to our clients’ businesses. Setting them apart from their competitors. Shaping culture, rather than just following it.

Our enduring commitment to difference is best embodied by The Black Sheep. It represents our businesses, our culture and the people who work here.

BBH is a set of highly specialist and connected creative businesses offering services such as UX, digital, ecommerce and CRM, agile production and sports marketing. Different skills working together to unlock the power of difference for our clients.

By that I mean that if you espouse the characteristics of the ‘black sheep’, or the one that goes against the grain, why write such generic waffle about yourself? Then again, I’m not sure any other company is combining those varied attributes, so maybe that’s what they mean by embodying the Black Sheep.

2. If BBH  is an advertising agency, why isn’t ‘advertising’ one of the words after ‘such as’ in the last paragraph of the ‘about’ section? Oddly enough it’s just UX, digital, ecommerce and CRM, agile production (what exactly is that?) and sports marketing. Is that really what BBH has become? An agency that lists six things that form its offering to the paying client, none of which is advertising, and one of which is ‘sports marketing’?

3. Why is sports marketing such a big deal to BBH? Here’s BBH’s explanation:

We believe in the power of sport.

It is innately emotional and inherently social.

Combine the power of sport with the power of creativity and the results can be staggering.

We work with sports brands, sporting events, sports talent, rights holders and organisations wanting to build their brand through sport.

We are a collection of people, from very different backgrounds, united by a love of sport and brand building.

They even have Uber-CD Ewan Patterson in charge of it all. But you could replace the word ‘sport’ with ‘music’ in the above, so what I don’t get is why sport and not something else? Many ad agencies have very strong sport connections (eg: W&K, 180), but do they offer separate sports marketing? Not that I’m aware of. Ewan and Lawrence Dallaglio (yes, that one) are listed as ‘Founding Partners’, so it’s not just a division of the company, it’s something a little more substantial than that. Perhaps it’s a very clever idea to get into a growing niche. Perhaps I’m just behind the times.

4. I know doing the Christmas ad for a big retailer is hard, but what’s all this about?

It seems really misjudged, both as a piece of communication and as a representation of this cornerstone British brand. Aren’t Tesco in trouble, relatively speaking? Will this help?

5. While we’re on the subject of actual advertising, how is this connected to a tube of sweets? And do they really expect anyone to believe the whole thing hasn’t been faked?

6. There seems to be an increasing focus on digital (I’ve even heard tell that they are attempting to move their clients away from TV). If that’s the case, why is their explanation of their digital offering so vague?

Digital Products and services:

Digital innovation helping brands deliver their promise through better or new experiences.

On the same subject, why is their TV section full of ‘Content’ and ‘Integrated’ work, even though both those disciplines have their own sections? Could BBH, the place that routinely used to walk BTAA Agency of the Year, really not muster eight TV spots for their website?

8. They have an interesting image of a sheep, divided into sections like a butcher’s diagram. Tellingly, the largest section, right in the middle, is of course for Sports Marketing. Elsewhere, they offer something called ‘Creative Studio’: Based in Milton Keynes. Focused on delivering creative that sells at every touch-point along the consumer journey. Does the stuff they do in Kingly Street not focus on delivering creative that sells at every touch-point along the consumer journey? What happens in Milton Keynes that can’t happen in London?

Look, I get that the work isn’t perhaps of the standard of the 80s/90s/2000s, but this entire site seems to convey an image of a corporation seeking out uninspiring ways in which to make money. The old BBH, the one that inspired insane jealousy amongst the world’s creatives, the one that resigned Asda because they wouldn’t let them make good work, even the one that got the country talking with those Yeo Valley ads, well, it seems to have disappeared.

That’s a huge shame for advertising as a whole, for if this is what BBH has now become, what hope is there for the UK’s other agencies?