Vicki Maguire

Campaign Middle East - - NEWS -

In Bri­tain in the late 1960s, sharp-suited men ruled the world – or thought they did. City gents still wore bowler hats as they scur­ried home past the Water­loo sun­set to din­ner on the ta­ble, an aproned wife and scrubbed chil­dren. Michael Caine was lauded for his mas­culin­ity in his role as wom­an­is­ing chauf­feur Al­fie, who had a cheeky charm and re­ferred to women as “it”. Sean Con­nery’s Bond trot­ted out the misog­y­nist one-lin­ers: “Run along, Pussy… man talk.” And ‘man talk’ still ruled. The old boys’ net­work was how the top deals were made, shaken on over a port in the men-only Pall Mall clubs.

The Mad Men era

Ad­men wanted to join this old boys’ net­work in the 1960s. Like fi­nance, law, busi­ness and pol­i­tics, ad­ver­tis­ing played by the club rules and it was all about hav­ing your name above the door. Agen­cies were hi­er­ar­chi­cal – if you were in any doubt about who was in charge, all you had to do was look up.

Ar­guably, the ‘founder sur­name’ for­mula was a cry for help; a sign of the in­dus­try’s col­lec­tive in­se­cu­rity. Ad­ver­tis­ing was a rel­a­tively new sec­tor and adopt­ing a name that sounded like a bor­ing old ac­coun­tancy firm was a way of le­git­imis­ing it. Re­gard­less, it sym­bol­ised some high-level as­ser­tion of mas­culin­ity.

Why old (and some­times dead) white men still rule

The “founder sur­name” for­mula was not con­signed to the 1960s, of course – it re­mained pop­u­lar through the 70s, 80s and even into the 90s. Hav­ing older (and some­times dead) white men’s names stamped all over your achieve­ments was some­thing work­ers at agen­cies had to get used to. The name con­ven­tion is still very much in ev­i­dence, with the likes of DDB, Ab­bott Mead Vick­ers, Bar­tle Bogle He­garty and Wieden & Kennedy as dom­i­nant to­day as they ever were. The white male legacy will live on through agency names, even as the in­dus­try grows up and re­alises the im­por­tance of in­clu­siv­ity. In the mean­time, it’s worth giv­ing a shout-out to those ex­tremely rare fe­male ad ex­ecs who also man­aged to get their name over the door – MT Rainey at Rainey Kelly Camp­bell Roalfe be­ing one of the very first.

The 21st-cen­tury agency name: ab­stract, odd and oc­ca­sion­ally Freudian

It wasn’t un­til the 1990s and 2000s that the in­dus­try started to get creative about agency names. The founders and se­nior part­ners were still mostly men, but now they wanted to sound less like a bunch of fu­neral di­rec­tors and more like they were in an indie soft-rock band, such as 72andSunny, Naked, Straw­ber­ryFrog, Zenith, Crea­ture, David & Go­liath and, most re­cently, Un­com­mon. Some names, of course, tell us more about their founders than a string of sur­names, ad­dresses or Na­tional In­sur­ance num­bers ever could. It doesn’t get more Freudian than Mother, for ex­am­ple.

How­ever, ab­stract agency names, such as Mother and Adam & Eve, also sig­ni­fied the birth of some­thing new and dis­rup­tive, and co­in­cided with other big brand names, in­clud­ing Google and Uber. These com­pa­nies were sup­posed to be less about who owned them and more about what they in­tended to do.

It must be noted that Grey had a less fun rea­son for be­ing cho­sen as an agency name. Grey ac­tu­ally came into be­ing at the turn of the last cen­tury, but not be­cause we were freak­ishly pre­scient. It was a name born out of hor­ri­ble ne­ces­sity. The found­ing part­ners, Lawrence Valen­stein and Arthur Fatt, couldn’t put their names above the door be­cause they were Jew­ish and knew they wouldn’t get any work if they ad­ver­tised that fact. In­stead, they called the com­pany af­ter the colour of the walls. By con­trast, on the UK side of the pond, Saatchi & Saatchi, the founders of the world’s most fa­mous ad agency, had no such is­sue.

Agency names: the fu­ture

So, what shall we be call­ing our­selves in the next 50 years? Well, with ev­ery­one adopt­ing odd names, it’s get­ting harder to stand out. We could take in­spi­ra­tion from in­dus­trial fan com­pany Big Ass Fans and call our­selves some­thing based on the re­al­ity of what we do. We could also bring acronyms back into fash­ion, but this time to sig­nify text speak rather than sur­names. Like the agency names of the past, they would re­flect the volatile times we live in. One day soon, DDB and AMV may have to make way for WTF and FML.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.