One of SA’s leading creative directors, Philip Ireland, has sold his stake in the WPP-owned ad agency Ireland/Davenport, suggesting traditional shops such as the one he co-founded have become commoditised businesses with diminishing relevance.

He’s thrown his lot in with a new-age agency called BNRY, which bills itself as a creative technology company and counts among its clients Discovery, Vodacom and Sanlam Investments. BNRY was started by the respected Benon Czornij, a pioneer of the digital industry and founder of HelloComputer before its acquisition by FCB.

Along with partners John Davenport and Sue Napier, Ireland co-founded his agency 10 years ago and won a slew of big accounts including BMW, Vodacom and SA Tourism, before business went south. Napier has since joined the Hardy Boys agency and Davenport remains, helping usher in a renaissance that includes work on the Standard Bank account.

Ireland believes ad agencies that essentially begin work at the end of the production chain have gradually been losing influence and operate at the behest of marketing teams that don’t necessarily have sufficient experience or institutional memory. BNRY, he says, works "more upstream" in the process and is involved in product development, where engagement can be "deeper and longer" and where value offered can have a greater impact.

Ireland, who has a global creative reputation, offers an interesting perspective on where the traditional ad industry finds itself. He believes rapid acquisition and consolidation in recent years has led to a standardisation of thinking and service offering and less risk-taking from budget-stressed brands. This, he says, presents a new canvas for smaller operations to offer radical and exciting new products.

Czornij expands on that, saying successful commercial communication is entirely driven by utilising the advantages of data and the potential solutions it offers businesses.

Clear understanding and optimum use of the information can result in the creation of micro-campaigns aimed at small specific target groups instead of a one-size-fits-all solution that many big traditional agencies are forced to implement.

To that end, he says, BNRY operates across all aspects of a business and can draw on budgets beyond the marketing department, including capex and research.

Ireland’s new role raises the question of what a creative and campaign expert can offer an agency steeped in tech solutions. He says: "Creativity is not there to populate a media plan. There has to be an understanding of operations across all silos of a business and the ability to find and tell stories across all channels."

Often, says Czornij, the creative solution is beyond the confines of traditional marketing. He cites one simple example of aiding Discovery’s corporate wellness outreach by re-designing equipment to better fit trucks, which resulted in fewer vehicles being used and big cost savings.

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