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Wonderhood’s Alex Best on brand fame, creativity and the ads that made me

Agency combines advertising with TV and film production

Alex Best is a co-founder and CEO of Wonderhood Studios. He has held senior posts at agencies including CHI&Partners, Wieden+Kennedy London, Fallon and TBWA.

1/ Why does London need another creative agency?

If you look at the sheer number of ad agencies in London, you could argue that it doesn’t. However, new companies bring new ways of working, thinking and most importantly, new energy to the industry.

We started Wonderhood with the ambition of creating a company that’s going to be around for years to come and we’ve only just started on that journey. With the pace of media change and fragmentation, there is a huge opportunity for new creative agencies like Wonderhood. Our TV Studio gives us the unique opportunity to help take brands into places that other agencies find hard to reach and that will always be interesting for ambitious clients who are looking for new ways to talk to their customers.

2/ Critics say the UK has fallen behind in the global creative stakes. Is this fair?

This is a tough one, what are we judging this on? Awards at Cannes? I’m very wary of the huge amount of awards fodder being produced by the big network agencies. I learnt a valuable lesson at Wieden+Kennedy that awards should be the output of famously effective work rather than the input. Last year, our Data Studio did analysis on the most talked about ads of the year and they weren’t necessarily the award winners at D&AD or Cannes, they were brands like Belvedere and Aldi which genuinely resonated with their audience.

Overall, I don’t think our industry and clients have got their confidence back since the pandemic. We’ve had a war in Ukraine and a cost-of-living crisis which has led clients to shift their focus away from brand building. Business pressures mean that they are often operating in a climate of fear, and it’s hard to produce great creative work in this environment.

I love the Warren Buffet quote about investing, “be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful”. I think the same mindset should apply to marketing and right now is the best time to be creative because your competition is paralysed by fear, so you’ve got a huge opportunity to stand out.

3/ What’s the main job of creative advertising in an increasingly digital world?

It’s what it has always been and always will be – brand fame. Our job should be to get brands talked about because when your customers are talking about a brand, they’re more likely to choose the brand when it comes to the purchase decision.

We’ve developed an approach at Wonderhood called ‘Two Speed Marketing’ to generate brand fame, bucketing a client’s communications as either ‘Big’ or ‘Fast’.

‘Big’ are your more traditional broadcast media campaigns. They are ruthlessly consistent and appeal at a national level. However, we can’t just rely on ’Big’ to deliver brand fame anymore due to the lack of shared media experiences. There was a time when you could place your ad in a prime-time Saturday spot on ITV and know that most of the country would see it. If the ad was remarkable, lots of people would talk about it. That doesn’t exist anymore, so our Data Studio has developed a second ‘Fast’ speed of brand comms – constantly disruptive, non-traditional PR and social ideas. These ideas tend to appeal to specific segments, are predominantly earned and move at the speed of culture.

With AI set to level the playing field in terms of a brand’s always-on/CRM communication, original thinking will be the one advantage brands have over their competition. The clients who understand that brand fame is critical rather than a nice-to-have will be the success stories of the future.

4/Wonderhood combines an agency with a substantial film and TV business. How does this benefit both arms?

It helps us in the Advertising Studio in two ways:

Firstly, we get the opportunity to create prime-time long-form content for clients. Wonderhood was founded with the aim to prove that you can produce entertaining and popular shows that are not only funded by a brand but have their message woven naturally into the narrative. Our show Super Surgeons for Macmillan Cancer Support is proof that this model can be highly effective for brands as well as for the broadcaster. It was Channel 4’s second biggest 10pm launch of 2022 with over 1 million viewing figures, whilst also making Macmillan the 4th most talked-about brand and most talked-about charity in the UK.

Secondly, working with the TV Studio has helped to get us out of the London bubble and understand what shows are moving the needle culturally. The audience data supplied by the broadcasters contains a treasure trove of insights that we can apply to our clients.

For the TV studio, we help them to market their shows and encourage them to think of their shows more like brands. You only have to look at how Stranger Things has marketed itself to see the creative opportunity when it comes to advertising TV shows. Our Design Studio also helps them with the branding and visual identity of their shows, including creating TX cards for the launch of a new series and the titles featured within each episode.

5/Which individuals and agencies have most influenced you?

Jon Burley, Jim Bolton, and Steve Henry at HHCL. HHCL was my first job in London and Jon, Jim and Steve were all hugely inspiring in different ways. Steve’s passion for creativity and doing things differently. Jon showed me the importance of craft and attention to detail through every stage of the creative process. Jim was a totally different thinker from anyone I’d ever met before and he got me to think differently about the world (mostly over an afternoon pint!) He also wrote Blackcurrant Tango, so I was a bit starstruck.

Rich Flintham at Fallon. Rich was a genius. Often incredibly scary but he had amazing creative taste and wanted to keep pushing the work. He showed me the power of building an incredible team. At the time, Fallon’s creative department consisted of Juan Cabral, Jon Allison & Chris Bovill, Sam Walker & Joe DeSouza, Sam Hibbard and Dan Watts and it was an absolute honour to work with them all.

Tony Davidson, Kim Papworth and Neil Christie at Wieden+Kennedy. Tony and Kim were the driving creative force behind the success of Wieden’s. They were so different but complemented each other beautifully. They taught me to keep pushing the work on, never settle, and keep going because it can only get better. Neil was the MD, and I learnt a lot about how to stay cool in a crisis and how to always try to solve problems rather than be carried away by emotion.

6/Name and explain an ad or campaign that exemplifies creative advertising for you.

I’ve got a load of campaigns that I could wax lyrical about, Cadbury Gorilla, Food Deserves Lurpak, Sony Balls, Blackcurrant Tango, Meet the Superhumans, Skoda Cake, John Lewis Christmas but I’m going to have to go with three ads that still test the time. If these films had never been made and came out today, they would still set the world alight.

1/PlayStation Double Life – Do not underestimate the power of PlayStation

I love the insight behind this spot and the copywriting is beautiful. Combining that with a set of images that are so unexpected makes this ad one of my favourites.

2/Guinness Surfer

Good things come to those who wait, is probably the best advertising line ever written. Everything about the ad is perfect, the casting, the music, you can see how much care and attention was put into it, emotion is dripping from its veins.

3/Honda Cog

Isn’t it great when ads just work..I remember being in the pub when this came on during the football and the whole pub fell silent as the hypnotic visuals hit the screen. A joy to watch.

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