Is the advertising industry rigged?

House of Oddities was set up to challenge the more problematic elements of the traditional agency model. We speak to its founders about why they think the odds are still stacked against small indie agencies

“The biggest agencies have become the ironies of our industry,” says House of Oddities chief creative officer Darren Smith. “In my experience, the more a company labels itself as ‘progressive’, the more conservative it is. And the ones that label themselves as ‘fun’ are more likely to be toxic.” Despite all the talk of progress on issues ranging from DEI to work/life balance in recent years, it’s everything that is still wrong with the creative industries that gave Smith and co-founder/CEO Sachini Imbuldeniya the idea to create their own content agency, envisioning HOO as a “home for misfits”.

The duo first met a decade ago while working at News UK’s content agency, Bridge Studio. The fact that their own backgrounds didn’t match the overwhelmingly middle-class media and ad industries quickly became a point of discussion. “We weirdly bonded over smoking,” says Imbuldeniya. “It’s amazing how many interesting conversations you can have in an office smoking area – not to mention the ideas that you can come up with when you’re away from your desk. We soon realised that we actually had a lot in common and started working more closely together in a creative way.”

Championing diversity is something that they’ve both felt strongly about throughout their careers. But as they watched the industry slowly start to make more noise around DEI, they agreed that most of the action being taken by big agencies was surface level at best. “It was a lot of companies trying to tick boxes and do things in a way that outwardly facing made them look amazing, but inwardly they weren’t actually making a difference,” says Imbuldeniya.