Founded in 1960, London-based Collett Dickenson Pearce was responsible for some of the most creative, thought-provoking and humorous advertising seen by the British public. The agency's roll call of classic campaigns includes evoking the "happiness" of a Hamlet cigar, the refreshment of a Heineken and the attractions of Pretty Polly legs.
Unlike many agencies that were created by young upstarts eager to make their mark, CDP was founded by three executives approaching middle age. Ronnie Dickenson, a program controller for the TV company ATV, and John Pearce, joint managing director of the stylish agency Colman Prentis & Varley, decided to set up their own agency and purchased John Collett's Pictorial Publicity to gain immediate recognition by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising and thus entitlement to credit when buying media. They brought in Colin Millward from Colman Prentis as the agency's creative director.
Emphasis on creativity
Messrs. Pearce, Millward and Dickenson set the style and tone of the new agency, establishing an environment where unconventional creative people could flourish. The creative department was the hub of the agency, and the creative staff claimed a much larger share of the payroll than was the industry average. CDP also became the first U.K. agency to put writers and art directors together in teams.
The creative concept extended to media. CDP was a pioneer in seeking more effective ways of using media to grab attention or deliver a particular audience. The agency even persuaded Britain's TV companies to be more flexible about the length of commercials they would accept. It also was instrumental in the success of newspaper color supplements, recognizing the launch of the Sunday Times Magazine as an opportunity to showcase print advertising for brands such as Benson & Hedges, Aer Lingus and Whitbread Pale Ale.
In the late 1960s, CDP linked with other agencies in Europe; the informal network, however, eventually fell apart owing to a lack of major international accounts.
In 1969, Frank Lowe joined as an account exec and earned his corporate stripes on the Birds Eye frozen-foods business. Mr. Lowe, recognized by agency management for his passion for advertising, presented only work he believed to be outstanding. In 1972, he was appointed managing director, and the agency entered another period of expansion that lasted through the rest of the decade. CDP in the 1960s had made its reputation largely in print, but Mr. Lowe concentrated on raising the agency's TV and cinema work to the same standard.
In the 1970s, Mr. Lowe caused a sensation when he resigned from the Ford account after a new marketing director at the automotive giant apparently demanded a selection of creative solutions for each ad. CDP's policy had been to submit what it thought was the best single creative solution. Luckily, Fiat moved its account to CDP soon after the agency's loss of Ford, and CDP went on to create its famous "Hand-built by robots" spot for the Fiat Strada launch in 1978. The commercial, directed by Hugh Hudson (who directed "Chariots of Fire," which won the 1981 Oscar for best motion picture), shows robots assembling the car to music from Gioacchino Rossini's "Barber of Seville."
Perhaps the agency's best-known advertising was for Benson & Hedges cigarettes, for which it introduced surreal print ads and cinema spots with no headline or copy, only the Benson & Hedges pack replacing an object in the picture—or forming an additional object—to make a visual joke. Executions included one in which the agency added an extra pyramid to the famous trio in Giza.
In 1979, Mr. Lowe relinquished the post of managing director, but continued to manage clients he was closely associated with, such as Whitbread and Birds Eye. Two years later, he dealt the agency a major blow when he left along with Geoff Howard-Spink, a deputy managing director, to set up his own agency, Lowe Howard-Spink, taking along key accounts, including Whitbread and Birds Eye. The Gallaher tobacco account, however, remained at CDP, and the agency made up the billings loss within three years.
While the agency thrived during the 1980s (despite the death of Mr. Pearce following a heart attack in 1981), by the end of the decade, the financial climate had changed. Some large clients moved, and the agency had to downsize.
In 1991, Japan's Dentsu came to the rescue, buying 40% of the agency and influencing the way it was run. In 2001, the agency returned to profitability and was reorganized as a fully integrated agency offering direct marketing, sales promotion and public relations. The agency once again began producing award-winning work; Hamlet's "Bummer" was voted the best U.K. radio spot of 2000 at the Aerial Awards, the U.K.'s major radio awards.
Toward the end of 2001, as part of the trend toward agency consolidations, CDP merged with travissully, its sister Dentsu agency in London, to create cdp-travissully, an agency that aimed to combine off- and online creativity. The new agency had accounts such as Dell, NEC and Six Continents hotels group in its portfolio. That year, the agency had gross income of $5.7 million on billings of $38.1 million.
But the merged cdp-travissully lost a major account, Honda, soon after the merger, and its fortunes followed as it became a small, obscure agency, far from its zenith in the 1970s and early 1980s.