Both are part of the experience design approach of the Brand Integration Group, which is in turn an expression of the philosophy of integration within Ogilvy as a whole, an approach whereby design is not seen as just a craft, or what Collins would call a "plan for decoration," but as an integral part of the strategic and creative processes of brand building. The agency has put the philosophy to work on major branding initiatives on behalf of AT&T, Motorola, American Express and, recently, Sprite and Miller Brewing.
With the aim of creating complete brand experiences, and with inspiration from the few agencies that incorporated design - like Fallon, which works in tandem with Duffy Design as an in-house resource - Ogilvy co-president/CCO Rick Boyko launched BIG in 1996. "I always thought advertising was more than doing ads," says Boyko, pointing to his own past working on clients like Pizza Hut and presenting tray liners and menu boards along with ad ideas. "Obviously that's become an important notion today; everyone understands it and talks about it, but it is still very hard to deliver on." In 1998, he recruited Collins, then senior VP-creative director at FCB/San Francisco to fulfil the vision of 360-degree branding at the agency. "What Brian's group has been able to do is create a visual vocabulary that we use throughout the different disciplines," says Boyko. "He's not a downstream supplier. What we try to do more often that not is have everyone have a seat at the table at the beginning of the process so they're all partners as we move forward."
Previous to his tenure at FCB, Collins had worked with Duffy Design, and has worked on brands from Disney, MTV, Levi's, Jaguar and Amazon.com to The Artist Formerly Known as Prince. His early influences included Ray Eames and George Nelson, whom Collins describes as designers who crossed boundaries "almost hourly. Each of them viewed design as a way of thinking about the world and had the view that a designer could do anything," he says. "I think the energy in a profession comes from the friction of overlapping boundaries. Where there is creativity there is always friction and it's where the overlaps happen where the interesting things are going on." When Collins starts talking about design, it's about finding brand truths, about collaboration and the barriers to integration inherent in the TV-centric agency model, and about the band of 45 or so "creative misfits" who form the New York and L.A. BIG offices.
"Ogilvy talks a lot about our 360-degree brand stewardship methodology," says Collins. "If you look at the entire expression of a brand, everything from communications through environments through products, the part that advertising plays is crucial but it is just one part of the experience. Sometimes consumers will spend more time in a store or looking at a package or a product than they ever will being exposed to a 30-second commercial." Instead of being just an object, in the BIG world design becomes a "plan for action. We see design as a brand's soul made visible and real," explains Collins. "If advertising is a promise, design is performance. When you have a link between those, a brand thrives." The forward thinking views on integration behind BIG in some ways hark back to an era when the many component parts of a marketing campaign that aren't TV commercials were spearheaded by the creative agency and weren't referred to as "below the line"; a time when, Collins acknowledges "agencies were more powerful."
Revisiting that model, Boyko has endeavored to structure the agency such that design is included at the point where strategic and creative plays are being developed, thereby putting the focus on integration - an important and often abused word in the agency network world. "My conversations with Rick before I came here were about seeing design as a way of thinking and working that is integrated, from the outset, in everything we do," says Collins. "It forces us to think in the broadest way possible when beginning to work on a brand - having people in the room who are as passionate about identity, package design, store design and collateral as people are passionate about making great commercials and ads. It's about finding what's true and powerful about a brand and what's the best way to express that big idea through all its different touch points first rather than coming up with a good TV idea, or an ad, and then figuring out how to spread that over everything else."
Generating the passion is a group of designers from diverse backgrounds. Collins appointed Rebeca Mendez to lead BIG's L.A. office, launched in 2000. Mendez, a former Olympic gymnast and Art Center grad and faculty member, had run her own design firm, called reasonsense, and had worked as creative director at Wieden + Kennedy and at Ogilvy. With Mendez's influence, the L.A. shop has brought an added expertise in new media and architecture. New York-based creative director David Israel had worked with design firm 2x4 and was formerly creative director at ID magazine. Senior partner and managing director Judd Harner worked through the ranks of agencies from McCann to Mad Dogs & Englishmen as an account person, as he describes it, "with a creative background, trying to find the right blend and a place to have a real impact on the final product." After moving to the client side as VP-program marketing at MTV he met and worked with Collins when the latter was at FCB. The Brand Integration team works closely with Harner's brand strategy group and with agency creatives. The BIG office itself is designed to foster the synchronization of branding and ideas energy. When he joined and redesigned Ogilvy's identity and space in 1999 (including the security guards' uniforms), Collins installed floor-to-ceiling blackboards to capture ideas as they bounced between the offices of writers and designers. "By keeping our office looking like a kindergarten for grownups everyone gets to play, add ideas and stick up random thoughts as all of our current work in progress is on display for everyone to see. And everyone is expected to play." (He adds: "I have no idea how any vibrant work gets done in those spotless, humorless, minimalist design firm offices with a Barcelona chair, a Corbu table and a Noguchi paper lamp. They look like Zen retreats for bitchy interior designers.")
As a whole, the agency has undertaken projects notable for the level of integration of a brand idea across the entire advertising and design experience. The Motorola project, which commenced over two years ago, was perhaps a milestone in the unfolding of the Brand Integration plan. Motorola was looking at ways to revitalize its brand standing in the increasingly thorny global mobile market; the company had even been contemplating scrapping its recognizable stylized-M logo (as it had been advised to do by another brand identity shop). "In the brand's best interest, changing the mark didn't make sense," says Harner. "It's a beautiful mark. But it had lost some vibrancy, some connection to culture. Our thoughts were about recontextualizing it with color, its application and with the new phones that were coming down the pipeline and great, focused advertising and a strong strategy. The problems were not in the identity, it was what the identity stood for - the things you surround it with." The agency was responsible for a complete global branding effort. BIG developed a new global identity program: rethinking how the logo was used; colors schemes for business-to-business vs. consumer applications; a global packaging system that would work across different tiers of the phonemaker's market; typography; and a photographic style.
Ogilvy created the memorable "Moto" campaign and employed the design sensibility used throughout all of the brand expressions. The efforts extended to designing Motorola's trade show presence at the key CeBit electronics show in Hanover, Germany. "By taking a look at the ID and taking a look at the way the brand deploys itself at retail and packaging and point of sale, which is where the brand really gets realized, we then developed a design language and a visual architecture and the visual look and feel, and developed a system that turned it into everything the agency did - from advertising to events," says Collins. Throughout, Collins' team was partnered with Ogilvy executive creative directors Bill Oberlander and Dan Burrier and the creative department. "We were constantly sending work back and forth to each other. It's a challenging way to work, it's not always smooth but because Dan and Bill and I were so convinced this was the way to work, we all worked to keep the egos in check."
The client was clearly pleased with its new look and Ogilvy's approach as it has asked the group to redesign the lobbies of its own HQ offices. Collins also gives due credit to clients in this process, citing Geoffrey Frost, Motorola corporate VP-global marketing and communications. " We lead in partnership with our clients," says Collins. "We've been able to do all of this because of a lot of hard work and support on the part of our client, who understood how the critical mass of a brand, if you make all of this work and hum together, tips the momentum so the brand becomes a more potent cultural force." In this, says Collins, collaboration is key. "The ability to collaborate is something we respect. It requires the ability for our strategic and creative teams to be open as well as for the clients to be open. And to be open to creativity means to be open to the unexpected."
For client AT&T Wireless, BIG reworked the company's entire retail identity and worked with Ogilvy creative to translate the new design sensibility to the brand's advertising. "When we started, we wanted to find out where the most potent expression of the AT&T Wireless brand was, and we realized it was at the retail stores." Monitoring consumer behavior and using ethnography research from Ogilvy's Discovery Group, BIG determined a new graphic design for stores based on the visual equities of the brand. "We redesigned the entire retail experience from the street through engagement in the stores through collateral, and we took that visual design experience and reverse-engineered it into the advertising," say Collins. "By designing the performance of the store and then taking those cues of performance and using them to help drive the promise in the advertising, we were able to make a more immediate and direct leap between the two."
For American Express, BIG created a visual expression for OPEN, the credit company's Small Business Network. BIG created a mark and a "visual language" for the brand and worked with the advertising and direct teams to determine how the look would play out across every platform. "It was a great collaboration in terms of having all the resources under one roof at Ogilvy, with all the departments working together and our group developing the mark from different strategies going on in different areas," says Israel. "We became the brand linchpin and made sure all the work stayed together It was interesting in terms of keeping branding and design at the forefront of every piece that went out."
Underlying all of BIG's integrated projects has been Collins' devotion to uncovering and applying a brand's own character and values to all of its expressions. "We try and go back and understand what a brand's truths are that are relevant and motivating to people today, and that requires an archeological dig," says Collins. "What many brands do, particularly mature brands desperate to retain their relevance, is rather than find what's true about their own brand and express it in a relevant way, they mirror what's gong on in the culture and then try to slap it onto their brand." The result is a "house of mirrors," says Collins. "Why hold a mirror up and say, 'We know who you are, we'll put that on our bottle and you'll think we're relevant,' rather than expressing something about the brand that is uniquely theirs?"
Collins calls his work on the Office of National Drug Control Policy some of the most important he's done. The "What's Your Anti-Drug?" campaign, launched nearly two years ago, was a response to the ONDCP's efforts to brand all of its marketing initiatives, and it had the inherent challenge of appealing to youths who are naturally inclined against diktats from voices of authority. "Rather than telling kids what to do, we wanted to come up with a branding solution that invited kids to consider that they already knew the answer to the problem themselves," says Collins. The resulting campaign asked youngsters to seize upon an activity or influence - an anti-drug - which represents the fulfillment artificially provided by drug use.
Collins is clearly passionate about the campaign - about influencing behavior in a positive way and creating a marketing idea with cultural heft - and about the potential of design and integration. And while his humor is evident always, he takes the BIG mission seriously: "People give us moments of their lives that they never get back, and we owe them something honest in return. That is a moral transaction that we don' t try to fill with warmed-over cliches. It involves looking at what we do as really important."