David Reviews

 "You're not an artist, Peggy. You solve problems." Don Draper.

ODDS ON SUCCESS.
16 November 2018

The changing advertising industry landscape offers many challenges, and that's proving difficult for a number of companies struggling to adapt. It also provides an opportunity for a new, agile approach and some very interesting companies have edged into the space which was once the exclusive domain of the big agency brands.

ODD is one such company, and although they're new to us, they've been around a while. Their low profile is partly down to the background of co-founders Nick Stickland and Simon Glover who were an architect and an industrial designer before they came up with the crazy idea of starting a creative agency. Their outsider status has been a fillip in terms of business, less so when it comes to self-publicity.

DAVID went to meet the two recently at the N1 headquarters they've since abandoned in favour of offices in the newly-fashionable creative hub forming in Southwark, and talked to them about their company and their approach.

Stickland and Glover formed their business partnership out of a tremendous friendship. The former describing the latter as "Godfather to my first daughter, best man, business partner, all eggs in one basket." Advertising is littered with the corpses of relationships which have been unable to bear this kind of strain but it's been the bedrock of ODD's success and Stickland reveals that "we very rarely argue," before adding, by way of explanation that "they're very different characters."


By the time you reached the ground floor you realised, Jesus Christ, there is a world out there beyond what you'd been studying for the last five years, and it's creativity.

 ”

Stickland is thrown by the teasing suggestion that their differences are evident and more so by the observation that Glover is "the nice one".

Although it was a flippant remark, it does encapsulate their dynamic and goes some way to explaining their success. Glover's measured demeanour dilutes Stickland's candid instincts, and a powerful mode of self-expression is unleashed, something that undoubtedly serves them well when pitching their services to potential new clients.


Their decision to abandon architecture and design in favour of advertising came not as 'a road to Damascus moment' as a staircase to it:

"At the Royal College, the architecture school was at the very top of the school, and as you'd come down through the building you'd pass fashion, ceramics, automotive design, furniture, photography. By the time you reached the ground floor you realised, Jesus Christ, there is a world out there beyond what you'd been studying for the last five years, and it's creativity."

After serving an apprenticeship of sorts at Naked Communications which they describe as 'immensely valuable': "We went to the school of Naked, rather than any sort of advertising school. It was at a time when they were exploding, in a good way. We learned a hell of a lot from them."



One of the many things they learned was how companies operating in the advertising landscape are put in distinct boxes and it's difficult to transition towards a different offer. It was something they confronted once they'd started ODD: "At the beginning we were pigeon-holed as a design set up, and we worked quite hard to shed that... [because] we weren't attracting the bigger briefs that had bigger budgets."


It does feel as though the industry, as a whole, is doing that to try and survive. It is saying, 'we can do that too' because, if they don't, someone else will.

 ”

Do they feel they've benefited from the way the landscape has opened up: "It's cyclical. There have been phases when it's been frowned upon and clients prefer specialists to the whole jack-of-all-trades thing.

"But our business has always tried to do that, and there have certainly been periods in our history where that has been a problem for us, but the most successful relationships we have with clients are where we do wear that kind of broad hat. And of course there'll still be specialist companies and partners that come in to do particular bits."


It's striking how much of ODD's ethos appears attached to this sense of otherness. There is no lack of ambition here but it isn't ambition framed around the idea that advertising awards are a useful metric of success... an almost heretical attitude within an industry addicted to rewarding itself with gongs.


There have been lots of disadvantages to not having our heads above the parapet... one of the advantages is that we haven't been affected by falling in and out of favour like a lot of the big name agencies.

 ”

They are admiring of traditional agencies but certainly not in awe of them. They have largely been content to maintain a lower profile than a lot of other companies but, of course, they wouldn't mind a little more recognition. But they know it can come at a price: "There have been lots of disadvantages to not having our heads above the parapet... but one of the advantages is that we haven't been affected by falling in and out of favour like a lot of the big name agencies."



The term jack-of-all-trades is normally used a pejorative, not least because the idiom is completed by the words "master of none". It doesn't really apply to ODD because they do have a specialisation: retail.

And it's a huge challenge to help retail clients navigate a landscape that's changing exponentially faster than anything advertising has had to face.


It's cyclical. There have been phases when it's been frowned upon and clients prefer specialists to the whole jack-of-all-trades thing.

 ”

For example, they have worked extensively with Dr Martens over the past decade, helping to create an unlikely fashion mainstay.

On this account, their background in architecture and design enabled them to take a really holistic view of what's required. They're not oblivious to the notion that video - usually in the form of TV commercials - is still the most glamorous component of the marketing mix but they're equally alive to the importance of experiential, POS (point of sale) and so on. It's this deep knowledge of their client's day-to-day concerns which has enabled them to build a business which now has an offices in New York and Sydney, as well as a substantial London presence.



Rather than shifting their proposition to compete with the better-known advertising brands, Stickland and Glover feel they've witnessed quite the reverse - a broadening of the offer from some traditional agencies: "It does feel as though the industry, as a whole, is doing that to try and survive. It is saying, 'we can do that too' because, if they don't, someone else will."

And that 'someone' might very well be ODD. The two founders are decidedly unshowy compared with many in the advertising business, but their sobriety feels very much 'of the moment'. And while others may yearn for the good old days of long lunches and expenses-fuelled excess in the South of France, the companies of the future are quietly carving their own niche...while creating a sense that they have a much better grasp of what's coming next.

To discover more about ODD, talk to Hope Abel on 07966 286287 or email her at hope.abel@oddlondon.com.

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David Reviews - Lovely Lenzie Ltd, Woodbourne House, Seven Sisters, Lenzie, G66 3AW. Telephone: +44 141 776 7766. Editor: Jason Stone.