Tapping into culture has become a key marketing objective for brands, but a new Toronto agency has launched around a process designed to help clients become part of cultural shifts rather than piggybacking on them or chasing them.
Berners Bowie Lee
’s (BBL) 'Culture Mapping' process sees its creatives and strategists work with a broad array of professionals—including academics, researchers, journalists, filmmakers, etc.—to identify changes in consumer behaviour, values or beliefs before they become part of the mainstream.
The resulting creative brief leads to output that is not only entertaining, useful or solves a problem, but helps clients avoid the homogeneity that can be a by-product of many brands attempting to leverage the same obvious or superficial moments and consumer trends.
“It’s tough for a brand to stand out when everyone’s jumping on the same thing”, said BBL’s founding partner/creative Devon Williamson, who forms the agency’s leadership team with fellow founding partner/business Matt Cammaert and founding partner/creative Michael Murray.
“Whatever we produce is based on real consumer insight, real nuance and shifts that are about to happen before they become obvious,” adds Murray. “What we’re doing is not about chasing trends.”
BBL’s founders also used 'Culture Mapping' to develop their agency model, consulting with professionals ranging from CMOs, agency presidents, innovation lawyers, tech titans and CFOs to novelists, directors, meme-creators and creatives. “We started BBL because we wanted to find the turning points, both within our industry and for our clients,” said Murray.
Those discussions led to the validation and discovery of a series of impending 'culture shifts' that BBL has incorporated into its model. They include a move away from expert to learner mindsets; a switch from hiring like-minded people to hiring people from diverse backgrounds and experiences; trading an emphasis on overhead and oversight for trust and autonomy; and abandoning traditional legacy roles in favour of skill-based teams that will always include at least one partner. Most importantly, the agency will emphasise the importance of shifting away from virtue-signalling to taking real action.
The name Berners Bowie Lee stands in stark contrast to some of the more fanciful names adopted by contemporary agencies. However, it is actually a nod to a pair of world-renowned culture shifters who reinvented what came before to produce work that became a cultural touchstone.
“We’re looking at these legacy problems and models and trying to find a better way, so our name is a bit of commentary on the fact that we’re taking the old and trying to do something different with it,” said Williamson.
Camnmaert added: “Our model is set up to deliver ongoing business value for our clients. This comes from intimately understanding their business and guiding our partners through culture mapping so we can understand what shifts are happening and how they are relevant to our clients. The result is meaningful work that’s both effective and memorable.”
There is a direct link between culture-shifting work from brands that eschew cliched category norms and proven business success. Winners of the Cannes Lions Creative Marketer of the Year award from 1999-2015, for example, saw an average increase in share price of 26%, compared to the S&P average of 7.5%.
BBL is currently working with two clients: an ecommerce retailer and a consumer packaged goods company, for which it is launching a new project. The agency’s first work is expected in market this autumn.