In-house #advertising creative teams: getting the best of both worlds

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Recently, an article highlighted how several new-age brands in India have put together internal creative units citing quick turnaround time, more control over content & easy access to all company verticals as key benefits. 

Over the years, advertisers have sought more attention – in terms of time & resources from their ad agency partners especially if the spends through the agency was high. Back in the days when agencies used to earn primarily from media commission, big media budgets would naturally mean more earnings for the agency. Naturally, such an advertiser would demand more time from senior management, more resources etc. Some large advertisers, especially those with a huge portfolio of brands, would demand more than just resources – they wanted exclusivity.  And it is not a new phenomenon.

Way back in 1899, Unilever created an in-house agency, Levers International Advertising Services (LINTAS) to manage advertising for all its brands. In the 1980s, Interpublic acquired Levers’ stake to become an independent agency. 

In India, Mudra, started in the 80s, was Reliance Industries’ advertising division. Mudra later tied up with the DDB Group to become an independent unit. Reliance of India has Jio Studios which aims to be Mudra of today. Amazon has D1, a global  communication team aside from working with large mainline agencies. Other examples abound.

In the last decade or so, ad agency holding companies have created exclusive teams aligned with large accounts. This was done primarily to address conflict of interest issues, get multiple accounts in the same category and as an anti-poaching step. WPP set up Global Team Blue to handle Ford’s advertising business, Garage to work on Mazda and another unit for Volkswagen US. 

Despite all these instances of exclusive internal creative units, there has always been bias against them. The common reasons cited were:

  • Internal teams do not attract the best of industry talent as they would not like to be ‘bogged down’ with working on just one brand in contrast to an ad agency environment where they get a chance to work on a diverse set of brands and business challenges 
  • Such units deliver operational efficiency but not necessarily great creative ideas
  • Internal teams do not have an outside perspective as they are too involved in the category or brand 

In my view there is some truth in some of the perceptions. In the past, internal creative units not attracting the best talents in advertising may have been a valid reason. However, over the last decade or so, several opportunities have come up in several categories outside advertising to showcase one’s creative talents – primarily led by the entertainment industry. Today, such opportunities have exploded. Even industries outside of entertainment – as outlined in the article above provide great opportunities for creativity. The drastically changed media landscape, backed by technology has aided this change. Opportunities to showcase one’s creativity have increased with so many new platforms coming up. 

As far as such units being more about operational efficiency, it is a necessity nowadays given the crazy turnaround times required in our ‘digital world’. External agencies may not always be able to deliver on such demands. However, I am not suggesting that being obsessed about fast turnaround times over producing great advertising is a welcome or desirable change. 

There are several examples of in-house creative teams producing compelling, , clutter-breaking, brand building creative work:

4Creative – the in-house advertising team of Channel 4 has produced consistently good work like this:

Spotify’s internal creative team has created buzz for the brand over the years primarily driven by their outdoor campaign.

There are several other examples. Swiggy’s internal creative team has produced some compelling work of late. Apple hired Tor Myhren from Grey New York as Vice President of Marketing Communications and his team has produced some great work for the brand.

In my view, the most compelling reason for setting up internal teams would be one of ownership and chances of better understanding of the brand. On the other hand, external teams – be it strategy consultants, design agencies or ad agencies bring an outsider perspective which could be beneficial.  Also, if the external partner has worked on diverse categories, the learnings thereof can also bring fresh perspectives. Specialists and generalists have their pros and cons. A team working only on the automobile category has to work that much harder to be on top of trends in retail or unrelated categories. A generalist working on several categories, however may not have the depth required in say, healthcare advertising.

I think the mix of internal creative units with strategic direction or big-bang thematic campaigns from external partners is a ‘best of both worlds’ situation, meeting both short & long term objectives. 

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