The method in the mantras: keeping BBH’s culture strong for 37 years

Simple, memorable catchphrases or ‘mantras’ have played a key role in helping create and cultivate the brandgym’s culture. So I was fascinated to read Tom Roach’s article about how creative agency BBH have used mantras in a similar way, keeping their founders’ guiding beliefs alive and their business growing for an impressive 37 years (1).

BBH’s longevity is truly inspiring, with the agency still going strong today, recently being named ‘one of the best 20 agencies of all time’ (2) and climbing up the agency billing tables during the last decade (Nº 11 in 2010; Nº 6 in 2015; Nº 4 in 2017).

I was struck by how much BBH’s mantras have in common with our own brandgym beliefs, and so had some fun creating a ‘best of both’ blend that I explore below.

BBH’s founders: Bartle, Bogle & Hegarty

1.’Follow the money’

This mantra is at the heart of the brandgym’s approach to brand-led growth. Staying focused on what really makes money helps solve most problems, whether it be which brand in a portfolio to support or where to invest your media budget. 

And I love the way BBH’s first mantra (below) captures this same philosophy.

Building on this mantra, BBH make a bold promises on their website: ‘World class creativity that grows businesses and builds brands‘. And it delivers against the promise, winning in 2018 what to me is advertising’s most important prize, the IPA Effectiveness Awards Grand Prix, for work including the Audi Clowns campaign we discuss later.

2. ‘Sausage and sizzle’

Since our first post back in 2006, we’ve been campaigning to build brands based on substance, not spin, by combining product ‘sausage’ and emotional ‘sizzle’. Not every creative agency seems to share this belief, but BBH clearly do, as shown by their second mantra. This one brings joy to the heart of an ex-P&G guy!

Mantra 3 goes further, with founder John Hegarty talking about the importance of using emotions for effective communication, years before the concept of tapping into ‘system 1’ thinking had become popular.

BBH’s Clowns campaign is a perfect example of a product demo with an emotional twist, as we posted on here using research findings from our partner agency Decode. The film uses strong emotional appeal to communicate a clear message, strongly activating peoples’ desire for ‘control’. “It uses clowns as a metaphor for all the idiots  on the road who create risks that Audi’s technology helps you avoid,” as Phil Barden of Decode commented.

3. ‘Refresh what made you famous’

Many of our projects involve us helping brand teams remember and refresh what made their brand famous, such as the work with Carling Black Label in South Africa and the Pascual diary brand in Spain. And this approach is the focus of BBH’s fourth mantra:

The objective here is ‘fresh consistency’: using a consistent brand story AND set of brand properties, with fresh execution, to build ‘distinctive memory structure’. Too often, companies ditch valuable brand properties in the search for novelty. BBH capture the need to avoid this temptation in memorable mantra number five:

BBH’s multi-award winning Three Little Pigs campaign for the Guardian newspaper is a good example of remembering and refreshing what made a brand famous. The 2012 film dramatises how the Guardian’s ‘open journalism’ approach would show ‘the whole picture’ behind the unfolding news story of the Three Little Pigs, revealing that big bad wolf they killed for blowing their houses down was actually unable to do this due to his asthma!

With Three Little Pigs BBH followed their mantra of looking back at a brand’s history, by building on and refreshing the central idea of another famous Guardian film, Skinhead, from 16 years earlier: ‘Only when you get the full picture can you understand what’s going on’.

4. ‘Think different and DO different’

Creating distinctiveness to be top-of-mind at the moment of choice is critical for brand growth. And this is captured in one of BBH’s most famous mantras, originally created for a Levi’s campaign:

I’m a strong believer that this distinctiveness comes from combining smart strategy and excellent execution: thinking different and doing different. And this belief is brilliantly brought to life in the seventh and final BBH mantra we’ll see, another quote from John Hegarty:

BBH’s belief in the importance of ‘execution, craft and production values’ is evident in the films featured above. It also shines through in the agency’s Keep Walking campaign for Johnnie Walker, including the film below about Italian soccer player Roberto Baggio’s ‘long walk’ to take a critical penalty, after having missed one in a previous World Cup:

In conclusion, BBH is a great example of how ’mantras can help a business distil its unchanging beliefs and values in a highly memorable and shareable way,’ to use Tom’s words. I certainly hope our own brandgym mantras help us create the same sort of sustainable long term growth BBH have delivered; we have another 20 years to go to match them!