From Lean Mean Fighting Machine’s Virgin Bets campaign, one of several that won awards at Cannes this year, making Lean Mean Interactive Agency of the Year. See the work here
CR: What will winning Best Interactive agency mean for Lean Mean Fighting Machine? What are you hoping will happen as a result?
DB: I don’t know what we were more chuffed about, seeing Crispin Porter + Bogusky in second place, or Lean Mean Fighting Machine in first place. The biggest thing it has done is give us a goal for next year. We need to get bigger and attract some more big clients that are as up for doing interesting creative work as Emirates and Virgin are. Getting bigger but not having to produce crap work to do so is the ultimate goal.
CR: Tell us a bit about Lean Mean – how many people are you? When did you start up?
DB: We are currently 23 people. So pretty small. We started up in February 2004 with four partners. Those were myself, Sam Ball, Tom Bazeley and Dave Cox. We all met at Tribal DDB, me and Sam have actually been a creative team since 1996. We started as a ‘traditional’ team so worked at a few Above The Line agencies on placement then freelance until stumbling into BMP interaction (which became Tribal DDB in 2000) in 1999.
We didn’t know anything about the internet, but I think we were one of the first traditional teams to work in digital. I think our ignorance worked quite well – if we had actually understood what a 12k banner was we would of buggered off.
Anyway we became CDs at Tribal in 2001 and then by 2004 the four of us got cocky enough to think we could do it all on our lonesome. Tom was a planner by trade, me and Sam from advertising and Dave Cox was the Matrix – the one who could actually make all the ideas happen in code. That mix of traditional and new media was and still is quite rare in digital agencies so we felt we had a chance to survive.
Campaign to announce Emirates’ new nonstop flight from Dubai to Sao Paulo. The idea is simple, Fernando talks about how great Brazil is nonstop for 14 hours and 40 minutes, the time of the new flight. It was done in one take, without any breaks, cuts or edits and is currently under review with the Guinness Book of Records for the longest advert ever. See the work here
CR: Is your ambition to do “traditional” as well as digital advertising or will you stick to your specialism?
DB: Well we sort of do a bit of this for some of our current clients so yes, we have the capabilities to do it. The problem with a lot of ‘integrated’ work is that ATL agencies work in a very ‘top down’ way. They make a great TV ad and then this is passed down to all the other agencies doing digital and DM etc to make ‘matching luggage’. The other agencies resent it and in my experience it never makes for great work.
Our perfect model is to have digital at the heart of a campaign and this spreads from the centre out not top down through all the other channels. Some clients want to do this sort of stuff, some still just need a great TV ad so we wont be competing with the likes of BBH for a TV brief, but as some clients move towards branded content, events, film etc we see digital being the heart of that and that is where we could do our best work. CP+B do it well, look at most of their work and you see that ‘centre out’ structure in action. They must be worth copying, they were 2nd in the Interactive Agency of the Year in Cannes for god’s sake!
CR: What makes a great online ad campaign?
DB: I think the same thing that makes a great press ad, a great TV ad, and that’s a well-told, persuasive insight. Something that stops you and leaves a mark. Over and above that, digital can offer unlimited scope, you can invent media with it, whereas a billboard by and large is always a defined space to fill. The old cliche is still true though, if you feel a pang of jealously you know it’s a good un.
Campaign for Emirates transporting the viewer to an African safari. See the work here
CR: What innovations can we expect to see in digital over the next 12 months?
DB: I don’t think digital does too badly with innovations, I actually think it is part of its problem – sometimes everyone is so caught up in the technology and the ‘what next’ that they forget that it is about what you say as much as how you deliver it.
A tired analogy we use here is the Joke. I think it still sums up our outlook. Imagine we wrote jokes not ads, in today’s world you can receive a joke on facebook, on a billboard, on TV, in a DM mailer, on your phone etc etc The list gets bigger each day. But the most important thing is how funny that joke is, how well written it is. Because if your audience doesn’t laugh they won’t remember it and pass it on. For that you need to know your audience, their culture, their world and to know the buttons to press, how to make them laugh with your wit. These skills will become more and more important as digital agencies move into ‘content’ as you are not up against other ads for a person’s attention, you are up against the likes of 24, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Lost. People only have so much time on their hands, and technology means they have more and more power to only watch what they want.
CR: How does British digital work in general compare to that of the rest? Has the UK now caught up with the likes of Brazil and the US?
DB: I think the likes of CP+B are still leading the way, just because their agency structure seems well set up to create big ideas. They have put digital at the centre and not just matching luggage department. Whether you like it or not, when the ATL boys get involved in ideas they can command the big bucks.
Brazil has fallen away a little bit, they have had a lot of bad press over scam ads so I think there is unfortunately and wrongly a slight back lash or lack of trust with some of their entries so even bona fide entires don’t get the same amount of respect as they should.
I think the UK has done brilliantly this year in two of the biggest awards shows; The One Show and Cannes. There seems to of been a bit of UK bashing in certain quarters pre cannes and I think it was completely unfounded, obviously it was a good year for us so I would say that but if you look at some of Poke’s work for Orange and the Mini and Army stuff from Glue the standards are very high.
CR: Uniqlock also did very well at Cannes – what did you think of that project?
DB: I have grown to admire and respect that campaign, but if I’m honest I don’t actually get stirred emotionally by it. It isn’t one that I’m jealous of like Burger Freakout by CP+B (I realise I must sound like a CP+B spokesperson) but it is a campaign that is very telling of our times and what you can achieve in digital, so for that I raise my hat.
CR: Who are your tip for next year’s Interactive Agency of the Year (assuming it’s not you again…) ?
DB: Crikey, that is a tough one, probably a US agency again, but I’d like to see someone like Interactive Salaryman do it. Their work is great but is probably too alien and perhaps divides the judges, but I’d like to see their work up on a 50ft projection screen.