Journal

Chris Bosher calls for a new breed of ‘hybrid’ agency

Info

Date:
15 Nov 2023

Duration:
7 minutes

Topic:
Opinions

The world of marketing and advertising is no stranger to buzzwords. And one that’s had a lot of attention over the years is the ‘hybrid agency’.

The idea is that, rather than getting different firms to do your branding or advertising, for example, one agency does it all. 

It sounds great, in theory – and with enormous potential benefit to clients. “Most businesses can’t afford to invest in a top-flight brand consultancy and a top-flight advertising agency,” explains Chris Bosher, Borne’s Head of Strategy. “But they can afford to invest in a top-flight partner that delivers both.” 

So why is this not the common-place practice? And why, if branding and advertising should complement and enhance each other, do they often seem to work at cross-purposes? 

“In truth, few agencies have really cracked how to blend those two disciplines,” he explains. “Despite the fact that they are, and should be, part and parcel of the same investment.”

Consistency vs reinvention

 

Chris speaks from experience, following 13 years working for some of the best known advertising agencies in the UK. 

Ultimately, he doesn’t feel many are getting this ‘hybrid’ approach right. And at Borne, he’s setting out to do things differently. 

Chris outlines the basic problem. “Typically, the dynamic of advertising is obsessed with a constant sense of reinvention,” he explains . “But that’s not necessarily useful when you’re brand building. When advertising agencies think about ‘endurance’ with the brands that they serve, they tend to largely think about advertising platforms. But talk to branding professionals and they’ll tell you how furious they are, because once the global guidelines they’ve painstakingly developed get into the hands of an ad agency, they simply get ignored.”

This is largely, he points out, because when people in each discipline talk about ‘brands’, they often mean different things. 

“When advertising agencies talk about brands, they’re referring almost entirely to the external presentation of a brand,” Chris explains. “But as branding agencies know, the consumer perceptions of a brand are far wider reaching than that.”

So why has this divergence happened? “I think it’s because both of those disciplines have become hyper-specialised over the last 40-odd years,” replies Chris. “And that’s led, in the worst cases, to a myopic view of what ‘brand’ means.”

Failure to merge

 

He also feels that, too often, neither side has a full view of what ‘brand’ means to the client. “A client will speak to an advertising agency that’s well versed in brands,” he explains, “and broadly what they’ll talk about is brand advertising. But when they talk to a design agency that’s well versed in brands, they’ll talk about the broader world of branding.”

To square the circle, so-called ‘hybrid’ agencies attempt to merge the two disciplines. But in most cases, they don’t do so effectively. 

“For instance, any advertising person who’s ever looked at a brand consultancy case study and seen a 48-sheet will tell you the ads are always universally hopeless,” notes Chris. “Likewise, any branding professional who listens to an ad agency’s version of brand strategy will also see the limitations of it, because it’s entirely focused on the advertising medium. At its worst, there’s that sense of: ‘The answer is a 30-second telly ad; what was the problem?’”

Lessons learned

 

What’s the way forward? Ultimately, Chris believes that rather than fighting each other, advertising and branding need to start learning from each other. 

“For example, ad agencies have gotten much better in the last decade at working quickly,” he notes. “And there’s a deficiency on the branding side that this can really help with. Yes, brands need to operate on a much longer timeframe than advertising… but I don’t think that means the process has to lengthen.”

Chris adds that “advertising planning has a certain level of rigor when it comes to market dynamics, competitive pressure, differentiation and distinctiveness. And broadly, there is a greater emphasis in advertising philosophy around the rigors of effectiveness and return on marketing investment.”

On the advertising side, meanwhile, there are also big deficits. “They include the tendency to understand brands purely as a function of communication,” says Chris. “Here’s where branding can teach advertising the wider truth about what a brand does; such as acting as an internal leadership tool, or as galvaniser of organisations. Branding experts also have a deeper understanding of how brand audiences are far broader than advertising agencies often consider.”

All this isn’t just a matter of theory. “At Borne, we put this philosophy into practice,” he says. “We’re actively bringing these disciplines together, and recognising the opportunities to cherry-pick the best of both, into a singular service. That means we can offer advertising-flavoured strategy and branding-flavoured advertising.”

That can be of enormous benefit to clients. “Because those who can’t afford to invest in a top-flight brand consultancy and a top-flight advertising agency,” he explains. “Can now afford to invest in a top-flight partner that delivers both.”