“To make great work, have fun and make money. Always in that order.” [‘Mother’, creative advertising agency – London, New York, Buenos Aires]
There is the age-old argument over whether advertising actually works that continues to divide many. I myself would not be the first to jump to the claim that advertising does not affect my judgement in what I buy. Yet most companies budget 3 to 5% of gross annual sales for advertising. According to the Advertising Association, UK advertising expenditure reached £19.4 billion in 2007, and is up 4.2% year-on year. Is this simply money down the drain, or are we ignorant to the subliminal effects of ‘the ad’?
It is quite simple, really. Ad companies understand the futile repercussions of contretemps or ‘call to action’ strategies, that we as the consumer respond negatively to this and that to get our attention for the long haul requires something a bit more underhand. The way things naturally operate and progress is mostly by word of mouth and by testing things out for ourselves. We may buy into certain lifestyles but generally if something is not working for us, we move on. The advertising world registers that we’re not gullible, so it works on a different tactic…positive memories, an idea that leaves an impression upon us that is stored away for a later date. In short, advertisers want to affect our thinking not for the present but for the future. The most ballsy and madcap of these companies is ‘Mother’. Founded around a kitchen table in 1996 it now employs over 400 people, operating in London, New York and Buenos Aires. It is famous for their overtly imaginative campaigns, – for who can forget ‘Al and Monkey’ for PG Tips, Boots ‘Here come the girls’, ‘It’s Pimms O’clock’, ‘Pablo the drug mule dog’ for Frank, Coca Cola’s ‘Move to the beat’, Stella Artois ‘Triple filtrée, with a smooth outcome’ and the hilarious Orange Gold spot campaign? Mother has rewritten the book, spreading beyond traditional advertising into film (Somers Town in 2008), graphics novels (for Time Out), one-off design projects (the uncarriable carrier bag) and producing musicals. (for Pot Noodle at the 2008 Edinburgh Festival) Mother also commemorates each football World Cup in its own very special way. (1996 had airfix plastic models of football hooligans, English sushi for 2002 and a diving winker Ronaldo toy in 2006 after Portugal kicked England out in the quarterfinals) Creating a whole new way of working, where account executives were ostracised and doors dismissed, with the entire reserve of skilled copyrighters sitting together around one big table. In 2004, Mother moved into the ‘Tea’ warehouse in Shoreditch and employed the architectural talents of Clive Wilkinson to transform the huge industrial space into an area that would hopefully inspire fun and unrelenting creativity.
Clive Wilkinson Architects has a long history with advertising clients such as TBWA\Chiat\Day and Foote, Cone & Belding. So, CWA already understood the need to create a workspace that kept ones imagination alert and for this reason kept the space communal, airy and open with doors, walls and closed areas banished. Access to the 3 floors was limited by elevator, so the first thing was to drive a 14 foot wide concrete stairwell to connect all the floors, doubling up as a tiered seating area for viewing films and projections. Galvanized steel chain link fencing was used where one would normally see walls, a sealed off pen on the first floor was reserved for football and other de-stressing sports. The meeting room/break out areas employed meat-packing plastic curtains, again no doors, and quirky one-off pieces of vintage furniture whose lack of uniformity could only enhance one’s thought process. The entrance is a blue glass box, an intentional witticism on Damien Hirsts formaldehyde tanks, opening out to what used to be the loading bay. It now serves as reception, cafeteria (where a community lunch is served everyday), exhibition space (Tim Barber, hipster photographer and close ally of the painfully cool artist Ryan McGinley, was on show) and chill-out area complete with remnants of old ad campaigns dotted about the area. (above which there is a wall containing framed pictures of all employees mothers – their reasoning is that “everything we do, we do to impress our mothers”, so is in place as an inspirational tool) The stairs continue up to the top floor where you literally walk on to the table space. Constructed like the ring of a cycling track, this concrete structure curves around the entire top floor. (Should you be a credentialed skater, you could in fact have hours of fun negotiating yourself around ipads and mouse cables) Staff are provided with their own trolley for personal belongings and are required to move places through a randomly selected seating plan every six weeks. This means that employees never know whom they’re going to be sitting next to and what new ideas are going to bounce around as a result. Employees are encouraged to dress as individuals and are free to come and go as they please.
In short, Mother London has left me with total office-space envy. But it also raises important questions for employers, like “how can I get the most out of my staff without going down the slave-driving route?” and “ what kind of environment will enhance and maintain a happy work force?” It’s always easier to skip corners and go down the cheap route for short-term results. However, Campaign, UK’s leading trade magazine, named Mother London the Agency of the decade in 2009, so it must be doing something right. Mother London seems to only know how to move upwards and onwards, something which can surely be attested to their careful planning and circumspect attention to detail. If only we could all work there.
View: Mother London show reel