Richard Brim, adam&eveDDB’s chief creative officer, told Cannes Lions delegates at the main stage at the Palais this week just how powerful ‘the wonder of what the f*ck’ can be in creative work.
In a session entitled The Wonder of What The F*ck on Monday, Richard outlined some unexpected stories behind the creation some of the agency’s most awarded campaigns, helping adam&eveDDB win the most creative agency of the year title at Cannes Lions last year.
Richard explained that some of the agency’s best work came into being because adam&eveDDB has created an environment where people are not afraid to share their ideas, no matter how crazy, stupid or WTF-inducing they might appear.
“I find that some of the greatest and most insightful ideas I’ve heard have come from those WTF moments,” Richard said. “The ability to get a WTF idea and use it, is what I’ve found, the only thing that helps us.”
Richard asked the audience to consider the depressing statistic that 89% of advertising isn’t even noticed. What makes an agency is not the best talent or the slickest offices with ‘distressed wood flooring’ ‘cool staircases’ or even “a wall of stuffed animals wearing glasses”, he said. It is about having an environment where people don’t worry about voicing their ideas, no matter what they are. Even the best talent can be afraid to articulate an idea when it pops into their head because they are crippled by what the people around them might think or the position they hold.
“We’ve all worked in places where it’s like ‘no idea’s a bad idea’, but you do think a bad idea’s a bad idea, you do think they’re going to laugh at you, you do think you’re going to be fired,” he said.
To illustrate the power of WTF ideas, Richard pointed to moments throughout his career at adam&eveDDB where the wonder of WTF has helped him and his team create work that stands above the parapet.
Marmite ‘Gene Project’
The idea for the agency’s multi-award-winning Marmite Gene Project, which enabled the public to test whether they were genetically predisposed to love or hate Marmite, came from a very unexpected place, Richard revealed. While the team assigned to work on Marmite were having a creative brainstorm, a small voice at the back of the room said: “If you really love it or hate it, surely it’s genetic?” That voice was from a junior planner who had just started at the agency. He went on to suggest that the team should actually test whether people’s love or hate for Marmite was genetic. The initial reaction to his idea was,’ WTF?’ Then, almost immediately, there was a wave of consensus around the room – that was the idea. From that, an entire campaign was very quickly born. “[That idea] shouldn’t really have happened in that creative brainstorm,” said Brim. “The beauty of it is, it makes your life so much easier.”
Fifa ‘El Tornado’
Richard explained that the number one rule when working with gaming brands like Fifa is “don’t f*ck with the game”. But one team at adam&eveDDB wanted to do precisely that to launch Fifa 18. The agency went to the client with their rule-breaking idea, and after several rejections, the client eventually said yes. El Tornado, a new Fifa football skill move developed by Ronaldo himself, became a phenomenon in the process and took over the football world.
Harvey Nichols ‘Shoplifters’
adam&eveDDB had a tradition of making high-end slick fashion press ads for its client Harvey Nichols. All that changed when a team that Richard describes as the “least fashionable team at the agency” said they had an idea for the Harvey Nichols loyalty app. They explained they wanted to show people stealing from the store using actual CCTV footage. “Everybody just went quiet,” Richard said. “The team didn’t have a brief, just came in and said ‘oh, f*ck off, forget everything that’s gone before’.” The resulting film not only won two Grand Prix at Cannes, it made a cameo appearance in Trainspotting 2.
John Lewis “EltonJohnLewis”
Richard revealed the pressures on adam&eveDDB when it comes to the phenomenon that is the John Lewis Christmas ad. “My most fearful word is Christmas,” he said. “It starts for the agency in January. The only time we don’t have Christmas is December when it is actually Christmas.” Each ad, from ‘Monty the Penguin’ to ‘Man on the Moon’ is an extremely tough act to follow. “Every year you get hundreds of scripts in and it really is quite a hard thing to sift through, because there’s a rule book,” Brim said. “The rules are: no celebrities and no telling other people’s stories.”
The team that came up with the idea of Elton John telling his life story smashed through both of the rules. “It may seem only a little what the f*ck to you guys but to us, to me and the client, it’s not. This [ad] heralds Christmas in the UK. You f*ck with this format and people go for you.”
Richard also paid tribute to other WTF brands, such as Gucci and Nike, and noted the most popular song of all time is the resolutely WTF ballad Bohemian Rhapsody. “Have you heard the f*cking lyrics?,” he said. “What those aren’t are in the 89%, and that’s the most important thing.”