Agencies and clients generally shack up together after a single blind date, (or a pitch, to give it its technical name.)
As a result, the relationship is a marriage of convenience – “Do you, Least Bad Agency In The Process, take you, Client Who Needs To Look Like They’re Shaking Things Up?”
But when an old flame comes back, the dynamic is different, you feel you have to do everything you can to justify their decision.
Or at least I did when this happened back in 2009.
Then he told me that their marketing had lost its way a bit in recent times, research had said people saw them a bit like a Volvo, reliable, trustworthy, but boring.
He was reluctant to jump back into producing more Beer From The Coast work, as it felt like a backwards step.
I told him I’d mull the problem over.
What to do?
The Beer From The Coast campaign was pretty well-known, so it felt wrong to completely ignore it and reinvent the wheel, maybe we could evolve it?
I remembered when we were writing the first campaign a planner had argued “brewing beer next to the sea doesn’t actually make it taste better”.
Maybe we should lie and say it does make it taste better?
If done in a tongue in cheek way it could be cool? e.g. Each pint contains special pockets of unique Southwold Sea Air.
It would be a kind of USP, (or Unique Selling Point for all you post Ting Tings generation.).
It could give Adnams a bit of attitude, make them more contemporary.
I emailed Andy a couple of concepts.
He liked them.
But there was a problem, the idea was too beer focussed.
The Adnams of 2009 was different from the Adnams of 2002, it had diversified, they now distilled Whiskey, had a growing number of stores, hotels, wine departments and all manner of brand extensions.
All these different parts of the business looked different too.
We’d need to unify them.
But the messages would be quite diverse, ranging from ‘30% off Rioja’ to ‘Weekend Hotel Breaks’ to ‘New Store opening’ to ‘Mayday Bitter is back’.
Given the range and type of messages we’d need to cover, words seemed to be the only way to go.
We’d need to create a distinctive voice to make it feel like one brand.
The most successful ‘voices’ tend to feel true to the company.
Baked Bean companies that talk like street pimps or Banks that talk like they are your oldest friend don’t tend to hang around for long.
So what truths could be used to build Adnams voice?
We put together a presentation:
This theory was bought.
But what did it mean in practice?
How would it look?
I liked the idea of using recycled papers as backgrounds, to look home-made.
I felt photographs of beer would look too corporate.
Photographs of products can look cool, graphic, vibrant and powerful.
But they rarely charm.
We just need to find the right illustrator…ooh, there he is, sitting on the other side of the office;
Simon Barna, the dude on placement. He could draw…
Could he draw a pint of beer? Yes.
We used a single font in the initial poster roughs…
…but it felt a bit formal.
I was happy with the tone of the words.
They weren’t overtly selly, so felt like they were talking to an intelligent, sophisticated audience.
The tone was kind of ‘We know that your too intelligent to trick, so we’re just going to joke around with you about the merits of a particular beer, then you buy what the hell you want to buy. It’s no skin off our nose.”
It made Adnams appear confident.
The various recycled paper backgrounds worked well, giving the ads a homemade, environmentally friendly feel.
Changing the font from beer to beer gave each beer its own flavour, BUT it just made the campaign feel erratic.
We’re supposed to be unifying.
We needed a section on ordering beer online.
I thought it would be cool to have a picture with bottled beers hidden within it, and titled ‘where to find our beer?’,
a bit like a kids book.
But, and we should have guessed it given their environmental policies, Adnams decided to source their creative work locally.
It’s understandable, after all they now had a template to copy, and agencies in Suffolk tend to be cheaper than those in Soho.
Is it worth paying writers to find an angle on a new message when we could just say it?
Is it worth paying for Art Directors to Art Direct each execution when we already have a style to copy?
Is it worth debating with an agency about what they want vs what we want?
Is it worth listening to an agency push us to be ballsy when we don’t always want to be?
Is it worth arguing about whether the layout is cleaner without the extra info?
Is it worth having to listen to the agency wang on about which is the wittier execution?
Well, on the evidence of their recent work, below, I’d have to say…