Gravity Road: five years of innovation
In 2018, Gravity Road became part of David Jones' The Brandtech Group. We caught up with co-founder Mark Eaves to see how the deal changed the business
24 July 2023
When Gravity Road launched in 2011 its founders Mark Eaves and Mark Boyd deliberately positioned their new business as a 'content studio' rather than attempt to join the already crowded traditional advertising agency sector.
It proved to be a canny move. As well as riding high on the wave of social media platforms the company had early success with Fame Daddy - a spoof "celebrity sperm bank clinic" that fooled ITV's This Morning. Then in 2014 it also won a BAFTA for The Imagination Series for Bombay Sapphire. Along the way the agency also developed a healthy roster of clients for which to produce more standard social creative work.
Little wonder then that five years ago Gravity Road attracted the attention of David Jones, the founder of The Brandtech Group (which back then was known as You and Mr Jones), who was looking to increase his group's content and innovation capabilities. In 2018 Gravity Road became that resource, expanded into the US market and became early adopters in the metaverse.
Five years after the deal went through, we spoke to Mark Eaves to see how the acquisition has changed Gravity Road's capabilities, what technology is interesting him now, and what's next on the horizon for this lively little agency/content studio.
Creative Salon: When you launched as an independent, you positioned Gravity Road as a content studio and then went onto win a BAFTA. Obviously times have changed but does this positioning still inform the work that you do?
Mark Eaves: We wanted Gravity Road to be a playful space where brands, entertainment and technology come together. Since we launched, the word “studio” has become more common, but back then it was a fresh approach - and we were aiming it at something different. “Studio” in the sense of creating things beyond the confines of advertising space with ambitions of genuine entertainment - things that audiences choose to spend time with. And alongside this a deep - unashamedly geeky - understanding of those audiences and what platforms they are using to access and engage with those things.
So, whilst technology has clearly transformed the landscape, these first principles are a constant. That’s as true for the Film BAFTA we won - which capitalised on how YouTube was emerging as a new space to distribute ambitious branded film content - as it is today. On the BAFTA point, I think it’s still the only instance of commercial branded content (for Bombay Sapphire) winning, and that’s still an amazing accolade - but I would’ve hoped we’d have seen more examples by now.
What’s happened is that technology has made entertainment more sophisticated, more immersive and more participatory than ever. And bigger. Take gaming - that’s an audience of 3 billion people just there.
The trick - and I do think it’s something Gravity Road does better than anyone, because it’s in our DNA - is orchestrating this for brands. Creating ideas that can work seamlessly across virtual, social and physical worlds is the future of marketing.
It's been five years since you became part of Brandtech Group. Has being part of this group changed your offering and if so how?
The Brandtech Group is now the number one digital-only marketing group in the world. That’s a phenomenal journey and scale of growth. And with that comes huge benefits. Firstly, there’s founder energy - from David (Jones) right through the entrepreneurs behind the other companies that have joined (Jellyfish, Oliver, Collectively, etc) - and that energy for growth is infectious.
Alongside, this there’s the progressive capability that has genuine credibility around tech. The industry is awash with paper-thin Gen AI announcements right now. However, just the recent example of the Pencil AI acquisition illustrates the difference: an established, credible AI company, and the only one that has generated $1billion in advertiser spend already.
Similarly, at Gravity Road the way we’ve already integrated AI tools into our creative workflow - this isn’t, for us, press release fluff. We’re doing it as part of our day-to-day.
Since the acquisition, you've won Campaign's Digital Innovation Agency of the Year for two consecutive years. What digital innovation are you most looking forward to next?
I’m pretty sure we were also the first to hold UK and Global titles simultaneously, which was a significant moment for us - and a landmark to celebrate. But we move on fast.
The innovation ahead, it’s off the charts - these will not be incremental gains, we’re talking about rewriting how marketing gets done.
Mark D'Arcy (Group CCO) has a great phrase - that mediocrity is free now. That average campaign your global network agency used to bang out, that link-tested nicely - well Gen AI’s got that covered.
There’s going to be baselines of marketing output that’s simply better delivered by Gen AI.
Some people freak out at that. We think it’s liberating.
And it throws a huge competitive advantage to companies that possess both human-powered creative ambition - to get to ideas that machines can’t - and the tech smarts to execute them in new, cutting edge ways.
Your work on McCain around regenerative farming was ahead of its time and has subsequently been embraced by other brands. How important is technology in solving some of the world's environmental and social problems?
The threat to the global food system is fundamental and existential. This is beyond marketing and requires collaboration across the corporate and political spectrum, together with $ billions of investment. McCain has led the charge here with genuine commitments, and - crucially - they made the first consumer-facing move. It’s important that others have followed. Because what marketing can do is drive demand and change the way we eat. We’re proud to have partnered with them to launch “Regen Fries” - and using Roblox as a platform for that launch showed Gravity Road at its best. It’s something we’re deeply passionate about. There’s more to come. Watch this space.
Gravity Road now has an international footprint. What next for you and the agency?
Our business is now 70 per cent global and new U.S. partners like Minecraft continue to evidence our entertainment sensibility.
The recent launch at Cannes of Unilever’s partnership with TikTok, around the 70 billion view phenomena that is #Cleantok: the world’s biggest advertiser partnering with the world’s fastest growing platform around a genuine global audience phenomena. Gravity Road is leading this for both brands and it’s a brilliant illustration of our scale, our trajectory and our distinct approach.
It’s audience-first, platform-smart and innovative in a way that matters: happily some things never change at Gravity Road.