Did a Yeo Valley strategy help Bartle Bogle Hegarty win the Guardian newspaper account?

Bartle Bogle Hegarty likes to talk about modern advertising as ‘Super Bowl meets social media,’ making big impact commercials that run a few times before big paid-for audiences before they reach millions more on YouTube and pick up thousands more Facebook fans.

Its work for Yeo Valley, a collection of organic dairy producers in the UK’s North Somerset region is a classic example: there’ve been two ads, ‘Rapping farmers’ and ‘The churned forever,’ making an appearance on the high-rating X Factor and then going viral.

Wonderful stuff but will it work for the UK’s distinguished but struggling left-of-centre newspaper the Guardian?

Because this surely has to be the reason why the Guardian has conducted an ad agency review and chosen BBH over incumbent Wieden+Kennedy London and RKCR/Y&R.

Handling newspaper accounts in the UK has never been about money because, usually, there isn’t much of it unless it’s knocking out weekly promotion films for the likes of the downmarket Sun.

But agencies just can’t resist the opportunity, as instanced by three of London’s finest queueing up to handle the Guardian which probably hardly has a budget at all. The last time it spent any serious money was £5m back in 2006.

Why are these otherwise rather commercially-conscious organisations so keen to work for newspaper types who, at bottom, don’t really trust slick admen at all? Awards opportunities are one reason no doubt although it’s hard to think of too many recent examples; you have to go back to the pre-credit crunch days of the Financial Times (‘No FT, no comment’) and Economist for many of those.

Creatives jump at it (at first) until they realise that the journalists think they can write better copy and so become frustrated. And newspapers are not seen as another bog standard consumer brand that finds its bright ideas bogged down in arguments with retailers, distributors and the sales force. Well actually they are, but agencies don’t see that.

Anyway the Guardian paper is losing readers even as its free website pulls in 20m or so visitors a month. It recently put its Monday to Friday cover price up to £1.20p which has been an entirely predictable disaster in circulation terms.

So what can an agency do, given that there’s no real ad budget?

Here’s the Guardian’s commercial director Adam Freeman (pictured): “We’re looking forward to working with BBH on an integrated brand and marketing strategy as we build on our growing international reputation as an open, independent and digital-first media organisation.”

So it’s a bit of marketing consultancy then?

And BBH London managing partner Jason Gonsalves: “We believe that creativity and a commitment to difference is what enables businesses to outperform competitors and redefine their categories. That’s why we are so excited to be working with a pioneering organisation like the Guardian, to give voice to the brand at a time when it is evolving into a digitally powered, global business.”

Well that actually sounds quite exciting but it’s a plan that surely needs rather a lot of petrol in the tank.

The Yeo Valley strategy could be made to fit with this rather grand ambition, if the Guardian can find enough money to make a decent film (or preferably two or three).

But the reason Yeo Valley works so brilliantly is that the agency cheerfully sends up the whole notion of farmers and farming to make you like them and it.

Allowing that to happen is a big ask for any newspaper let alone one that (rightly) prides itself on its commitment to serious journalism produced by serious people.

Young Jason and his rather more seasoned creative boss Sir John Hegarty are going to have some pretty tough, and persuasive, talking to do. Singing journos anyone?

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.