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‘Everything Is Creative’: The Disruptive Thinking Behind Howatson + Company’s Success

Creative Agency
Sydney, Australia
The story behind Matilda Bay Brewery’s Cannes Lions and D&AD-winning ‘Rejected Ales’ reveals the Australia indie’s creative philosophy, discovers LBB’s Esther Faith Lew
Craft beer is flourishing in Australia, but with nearly 300 independent breweries, it’s also a more competitive space than ever. So, what’s an agency to do when a client creates an ale and the brief is to secure placements in bottle shops where there are innumerable product variations of craft beers to choose from? Oh, and to get beer fans to love it too. 
Independent agency Howatson + Company decided to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the latest craft ale created by its client, Matilda Bay Brewery. In fact, they told the media and consumers about how the brewery experimented with 27 batches of beer before going with the final version. Then, the agency did the unthinkable. They built a campaign around those “Rejected Ales”, which became the theme for its product design and packaging as well as brand activation initiatives. 
At this year’s Cannes Lions, It led to three Silver Lions for Design in Promotional Packaging, Brand Activation in Retail Promotions, and Direct in Launch; as well as a Bronze Lion for Industry Craft in Packaging Design. What’s more, at this year’s D&AD, the campaign’s success saw Howatson + Company named ‘Global Independent Agency of the Year’ (it took home three Yellow Pencils, two Graphite and four Wood).


“We asked our client what their head brewer Phil Sexton did with the ales from the rejected batches, and hit upon the idea of creating an aura around the ingredients used and the brewer’s perfectionist approach in getting the right flavour profile,” shares founder and CEO Chris Howatson. 
“It was just one of those campaigns where the product truth was so strong. It’s a campaign that was successful because it was so simple. From there, it became a simple task of making sure that the packaging reflects the environment of precision and perfection that Phil represented.” Lending traction to the compelling narrative of uncompromising standards at Matilda Bay is the fact that the rejected ales actually took home second placings in local craft beer competitions.  
The broader campaign included a PR engagement strategy that targeted influencers covering mainstream culture and craft beer reviews and food & drink journalists to create awareness. Chris adds, “For every dollar we spent, we drove $9.50 in ROI, and that is an important metric in making sure we're doing effective work for our client.”

Disrupting Big Agency Thinking 

Driving client work at Howatson + Company is a team of senior ad folks from big agencies, providing big agency thinking with small agency experience. Chris describes this as a signature part of their commitment to clients, and the agency has invested heavily in senior people who are on the frontline as the main point of contact working “to forge deep, transformative relationships with our clients”, says Chris.
Chris has built an agency structure that revolves around six verticals of capability: brand, data, technology, experience, influence and media. “You'll notice that none of those involves the word ‘creative’ because everything is creative. And I think that's really important because the intersectionality of different disciplines and approaches requires creative thinking at the core of it,” he explains.
He elaborates that the agency is here to create salience and distinctiveness, and that is achieved when two or more different forces come together to create innovation and disruption. “It’s when the collision of opposites happens that opportunities are created. For instance, the collaboration between brand and technology, or experience and service design. With all of these capabilities under one roof, clients benefit from an agnostic solution that's relevant to them, rather than a solution that's reflective of the model of the agency that they’re working with,” says Chris.

Chris, who was with the Clemenger Group for about 20 years before starting Howatson + Company, is very clear in his meritocratic vision for the agency and its people. “We were really clear from day one that we operate with a value system that is always in the order of ‘people’, ‘products’, and ‘profit’. Our purpose as an agency is to create a positive impact on people, culture, and the world. And we do it by empowering people with a fair and equal culture where everyone’s opinion is important because it helps us to create that desired disruption for innovation.”
Work from Howatson+Company
Matilda Bay
Hazy Lager Second Favourite Beer Case Film
Go Australiaahhh
Pig Life Crisis