the showcase 2023

Even more creative, progressive and fun: BBH's 2023

Growth of business, talent, clients and creativity - BBH has had it all this year

By creative salon

BBH’s year has been filled to the brim with exciting, engaging and humorous campaigns from the likes of Tesco, Burger King, Paddy Power and Audi. Not only this, but the London-based creative shop won the business of the Premier League, King’s Candy Crush Saga and Tesco clothing brand F&F. Awards for creativity and effectiveness also made it a successful year to say the least - we caught up with BBH CEO Karen Martin to uncover her 2023 highlights.

Karen Martin, CEO of BBH, on the agency's 2023:

What three words would you use to describe 2023?

Creative. Different. Great fun. Yes we know that’s four.

Talk us through some of your agency’s highlights this year?

2023 marked over four decades of the Black Sheep flying the flag for difference. A new era for the agency, where we committed to Zagging for a new generation of creative leaders, thinkers and brands. And it worked. We welcomed new clients into our flock; Candy Crush, F+F, Premier League and Paddy Power. Our overall revenue grew significantly, and we saw +40 per cent revenue growth in Health, 12 x growth in Brand Consultancy and 2.4 per cent organic growth across existing clients - where our average client tenure is seven years vs the industry average of two. We also reduced staff churn to 14 per cent vs industry average of 21 per cent.

We won 60+ awards across 12 disciplines, we were the most decorated agency at the Effies, the 2nd most decorated agency at the Creative Circle awards, and the 3rd most awarded agency at the British Arrows, and received accolades from Cannes Lions for our work for Tesco and Prostate Cancer UK.

Our global short film competition - Differently Does It - commissioned four filmmaking teams from four countries with the aim of finding more diverse voices in film and supporting the next generation of creative talent from around the world. We premiered the films this year, and then launched them onto the international film circuit this summer, where two of the films have received shortlists in BAFTA recognised awards from Exit6 and BlackStar Film Festival.

We brought The Barn back for its third year, in honour of the legendary Tony Cullingham.

Our Unsigned Union initiative expanded again to reach more UK agencies with a shared goal to dismantle barriers facing underrepresented talent. And we formed HERd in partnership with NABS - a career and training program for women in advertising, with the aim of accelerating the next generation of female leaders.

What one thing are you proudest of this year?

Our work has come on so much this year. It’s more creative, more different, more progressive, and more entertaining than ever.

At the time I’m writing this I’m seeing the response to our Christmas campaign for Burger King, featuring an all singing all dancing sat nav murdering Chris Rea’s #1 classic Driving Home For Christmas in order to direct people to local BK drive thrus. I’d like to, just for a moment, be in the mind of a creative when they come up with the lyrics “take a break from eating mince pies...have a burger… diversify”. Because it’s just pure gold.

And the response to our Christmas campaign for Tesco, is the gift that keeps on giving. We set out to entertain and bring people joy and it’s just fantastic to see that finally come to fruition, after so much time and dedication from the teams both at Tesco and BBH.

And of course, getting people all over the country grinning with Paddy Power, and talking about sex and cancer with GirlvsCancer, and buying sex toys in our Netflix Obsession pop up, oh and who can forget about the (F+F) jacket of the season, Gary?

But you only gave me one and I’ve clearly broken that rule already so I’ll just leave it with - I couldn’t be prouder of our work this year.

And what’s been your biggest challenge?

Losing the legend that was Tony Cullingham. We were also profoundly moved by the outpouring of love, support, remembrance for Tony and his family. We were honoured to have Tony lead The Barn, our creative placement scheme and while this time was devastating for all of us, we were proud to keep The Barn doors open, to honour Tony’s legacy, under the care and stewardship of Nick Gill. We are so proud and grateful to have had the joy and opportunity of working alongside him. He was a true trailblazer, transforming people's lives, being a relentless voice for up and coming creative sparks. We miss him every day.

What are you most looking forward to in 2024?

More creativity, more zagging, more difference, more belly laughs, more conversations sparked, more human truths unearthed and conventions challenged, more ‘how did they get away with thats?!’, more wins, more doing what we love with the people and brands we love.

And what one change would you most like to see in our industry next year?

I’d like to see less talk about working from home / working from the office / how many days we’re all doing in or out, and more just getting on with what we all do best - making great creative work that works for our clients.

I love our industry so much and think we should take real pride in what we do - and accountability in the impact we can have. Bring on 2024. I for one, can’t wait to see what we all come up with.

Creative Salon on BBH’s 2023

BBH began the year by winning the business of three major brands, the Premier League, King’s mobile game Candy Crush Saga and Tesco's clothing brand F&F. Throughout the year, the creative shop created campaigns for all three. The creative agency’s first piece of work for the Premier League, 'Greatness Comes From Everywhere', celebrated the positive impact of diversity in football. For Candy Crush Saga, BBH unveiled a series of immersive films to tap into the immersiveness and excitement associated with the mobile game. F&F’s 'Makes Fashion Sense' campaign tapped into humour and parodied the rom-com movie genre.

On the note of Tesco, BBH developed a plethora of campaigns for the UK’s biggest supermarket chain. From easter makeovers to shopping trolleys saving the day, the creative agency released a wide range of innovative work that promoted the brand’s mobile offering, Clubcard promotions and even the company’s Eurovision-themed cheese.

The supermarket’s Christmas spot also stole the show, with BBH choosing to focus on the build-up to Christmas rather than just the big day. Emma Botton, Tesco group customer director, also stressed that the campaign was part of the “longer conversation” the retailer had been having around quality and value throughout the year. “It is important that the way we show up with our Christmas campaign authentically reflects our brand and is consistent with how we have been showing up all year around,” Botton added.

Nostalgia was definitely a theme in 2023 and BBH tapped into this by developing huge nostalgic campaigns for the likes of Burger King UK and Hofmeister, the latter of which repositioned and relaunched the beer brand for the first time in several years by reviving the iconic George the Bear who appeared in previous Hofmeister campaigns from the 1980’s and 1990’s. Nick Gill, partner and creative director at BBH, admitted that leveraging brand mascots from the past can be a risky strategy. “To be successful, I think you need a good reason to bring a character back,” Gill said at the time. “This new campaign will resonate with older punters who remember George with affection but will also appeal to younger drinkers who accept these funny and disarming portraits at face value.”

For Burger King, BBH put Whoppers in the background and instead pushed the burger chain’s Chicken Royale, with the stylised campaign featuring a character who travels through eras from the 1960s to the 2020s. The brand’s festive campaign also included its very own take on the cult classic Christmas number one, ‘Driving Home For Christmas’.

The Publicis-owned creative shop also created a meaningful and provocative piece of work for GIRLvsCANCER. The boundary-breaking 'Cancer won’t be the last thing that f*cks me' campaign addressed a major but rarely discussed survivorship issue of people living with and beyond cancer ... sex. “We feel uncomfortable talking about female sexuality, masturbation and orgasms but when you throw cancer into the mix it makes it even more of a taboo,” BBH ECD Helen Rhodes said. “We all thought this was such an amazing initiative because it’s not something that's talked about.”

With campaigns to one side, 2023 also saw BBH invest in young and up-and-coming creatives, adding star power to global and London CCO Alex Grieve's team. Not only did the agency hire Selma Ahmed and Genevieve Gransden from adam&eveDDB as creative directors - the pair behind EA Sports’ ground-breaking Midnight Ramadan League campaign - but the company also recreated ‘The Barn’, a free creative placement scheme, for the third year running.

Creative Salon says: It's always felt like the UK ad industry needs a strong BBH to set benchmarks and prove what's possible, and this year BBH did the industry proud.

Not only has the agency led some wonderful initiatives that benefit us all - such as The Barn and HERd - but this year it was back on proper creative form, doing what BBH has always done best: producing lush, entertaining, impactful work that drives business growth.

CEO Karen Martin - one of the best in the business - and global/London CCO Alex Grieve, ECD Helen Rhodes, CSOs Will Lion and Simon Gregory, and MD Holly Ripper can be properly proud of BBH's work and wins this year. This is what a great agency looks like.


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