Remember how every year since the mid-nineties, the (un)official start of Christmas was marked for many of us, by a train of red Coca-Cola trucks, rolling through snowy Americatown to a soundtrack of sleigh bells and carol singers? That's arguably one of the most successful television adverts in history. It has physically altered the brains of millions of people sufficiently enough, to elicit the same emotional response year upon year, but where do you think it came from?
I've heard people say, "Coke make such cool adverts", and it's true, their ads usually are, but it isn't Coke that makes them, it's advertising agencies.
What's an Advertising Agency?
If you already know, then you can grade the accuracy of my description and/or berate me in the 'comments' section at the end, but a lot of people don't, so here we go.
Advertising agencies are groups of specialists who create campaigns in every medium from paper and radio, to social media, television and 'flash mobs'. They are brands unto themselves with their own particular ethos, but their ultimate common goal, is to promote and sell the products that you and I know and love.
A typical advertising agency is made up of a CEO; various account executives; public relations specialists; an admin team and a creative team, which, depending on the agency, will consist mainly of copywriters, graphic designers and photo/videographers.
Agencies depend on a roster of clients (brands). Some brands might use an agency just once, while others might stick with same agency for years and years.
Believe it or not, the event responsible for my earliest memory occurred when I was barely three years old. I was on holiday with my family at Disney World in Florida, but it wasn't Mickey that I remember. In fact, I don't remember a single thing that we did there, apart from this: A huge red pillar holding a glass (probably plastic) container with a red lid, a coin slot and a silver handle. Inside, were Froot Loops and somewhere on the front, a sticker that said 'Kellogg's'.
That's what my parents spent their hard-earned money on, and whilst in secret they probably write that trip off as a complete waste, I choose to see it as a catalyst for the next 20 years of my life. You're welcome, Kellogg's.
Today, a lot of Kellogg's branding is handled by the Leo Burnett Company, whose founder, Leo Burnett, created some of the world's most memorable mascots, including the Jolly Green Giant and Tony the Tiger. My favourite agency, though, and one whose work you have undoubtedly seen at some point, probably several times over the past couple of years, is the Oregon-based Ben & Jerry's of advertising, Wieden + Kennedy.
'Just Do It.'
Levi's and Lurpak, Honda, Coca-Cola, Converse and Old Spice. Massive names with massive budgets, and they all entrust their advertising to a company, "founded on a gentle disrespect for the industry." That's the industry of advertising headed by the idea that the creative process, is more like a tool used to extract money as aggressively as possible. The ultimate intention is always to extract money, obviously, but I don't think it's naïve to say that W+K make the whole process seem fun. They make it seem human. They level the field between art and advertising, and with the help of visual maestros like Dougal Wilson, create colourful campaigns and even more compelling stories.
W + K in Portland has recently lost a major client in Target, resulting in the loss of forty jobs, which is extremely unfortunate, but consider this: When Dan Wieden and David Kennedy left McCann Erickson (yes, the one they refer to in Mad Men) in 1982, they took Nike with them. That was thirty years ago, and they're still going strong.
Maybe it's because they're still an independent company, or maybe it's the company that they keep, but Wieden + Kennedy really do it for me. There are countless ad agencies all over the world, some more famous than their entire client roster, and so if you're looking for a different kind of artwork from the sort that hangs in galleries, then look up a few ad agencies. You'll be amazed by what you find.
Follow Graeme Keeton on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GraemeKeeton