Noting that the creatures are aerodynamically designed not to fly, Mr. Putter, chairman and chief executive of Ogilvy & Mather Rightford, says: "We actually don't believe in rules because the bumblebee ignores the scientific facts and flies."
This ability to take a new look at old truisms, to favor the intangible dimensions of a brand over its particular attributes and to create a style based around the effective use of emotion, has made South Africa's largest agency Advertising Age's International Agency of the Year for 1995.
The agency captured the title squeaking by Delvico Bates, Barcelona, winner of multiple creative awards in the past year.
SECOND SOUTH AFRICA SHOP
O&M's victory represents the second time a South African agency has won; Hunt Lascaris TBWA was the winner for 1992.
O&M's disregard for rules doesn't mean breaking them simply to catch attention. Watching the agency's TV commercials is more likely to be soothing than exhausting. Some are touched with humor, others with drama; but there tends to be a certain calm to the overall look.
"A good idea, simply expressed," says Mr. Putter.
In a commercial for Nedcor, a financial group aimed at younger bank-account holders, the camera lingers playfully over a litter of puppies on a house porch, and a little leopard cub tagging along, trying to join in. In the final scene, though still peaceful, the cub has grown into a leopard, outsizing the dogs.
The message, says Mr. Putter, is that "We [Nedcor] treat all our clients the same, no matter how old they are, because we never know what they might become."
Movie-theater audiences, for whom the commercial was designed, actually broke into applause when it was aired earlier this year, says Barry Whitfield, the bank's general manager for marketing communications.
LEFT STRONG MESSAGE
"If you get that kind of reaction, you know it has left them with a message," says Mr. Whitfield. "You can have `hard sell' while appearing to have a soft-sell approach."
To create the spot, O&M's team looked at banking as a concept.
"If you are going to give your money to someone to look after, you need to trust them," explains Mr. Putter. "If trust is the emotional pillar on which you are going to build a relationship, then the kinds of emotions these pictures evoke are of caring and trust."
If the agency has a signature, says Mr. Whitfield, it is one of "empathy.... Once you get past the facts, you bring in emotion."
Mr. Putter thinks surprisingly little work has been done on discovering the emotion behind consumer choice. In part, that is because it is so tough to do.
A consumer wearing Levi's jeans probably won't "come clean" and tell a researcher that he hopes the label will make people think he is a "more special person," says Mr. Putter.
DEVELOPS SET OF VALUES
"Over time, a brand develops a set of values, some of them are more rational and some are more emotional, and very often in the market it is the emotional dimension that makes the difference."
Much of the thinking behind the "brand stewardship" philosophy that O&M has been developing worldwide is being honed at the South African agency.
Mr. Putter, who took over as South African chairman in early 1995, sits on O&M's worldwide board and headed the worldwide creative council for five years.
"Essentially, brand stewardship is taking care of the brand, and to do that you need to understand it," says Mr. Putter. "A `brand audit' tries to uncover these intangible values so that one ensures that you know what you are looking after."
This approach has successfully raised South African Breweries' Carling Black Label beer from about a 4% market share to more than 20% in five years, Mr. Putter says.
O&M looked at the beer's old identification with cowboys and decided that behind it was an association with work. A commercial now uses tones of gray to show sweating, grimy workers on a rig finally knocking off for their reward at the end of the day.
STRIVES FOR EARTHY LOOK
Mr. Putter calls the piece "very industrial." Just as the brand has been reestablished as the workers' beer, he says, its "earthy, honorable" image also has brought it favor among trendy yuppies who might also go in for black construction boots.
Not all of the emotion in O&M's work is laid back. A campaign for Sales House, a fashion chain catering to black South Africans, took a startlingly aggressive approach six years ago, at a time when apartheid was barely beginning to lift.
"Never challenge my courage, or question my strength, never underestimate me or doubt my pride because I am a man of Africa," runs the voice-over to a series of dramatic, dark fashion poses by virile black models.
In a country where the white-minority government policy was essentially to keep black men in workers' overalls and black women in maids' uniforms, the ads positioned Sales House as a store for "blacks who believed absolutely in themselves," says Mr. Putter.
"The work is very arrogant, and I think it probably frightened a few whites."
O&M, like other agencies, had its creativity limited by the apartheid regime. Mr. Putter can remember shooting a dance to make sure whites and blacks were not actually touching, and a commercial scuttled by a soft-drink marketer that dressed whites and blacks in reversed roles.
COUNTRY FULL OF JOY
Things have changed, though.
"Suddenly every commercial in the country has a South African flag," Mr. Putter says. "The country is so full of joy."
O&M has been South Africa's largest agency since 1988. Billings in 1995 reached $91 million; nearly 500 employees handle about 300 brands.
South African Breweries is the largest client, with a $12.8 million budget. In addition to Nedcor, other major accounts include Volkswagen of South Africa, Nestle, Unilever and the Old Mutual insurance company.
Two major new accounts won in 1995 were Sun International, the leisure company that operates the Sun City resort and others in southern Africa, and M-Net, a pay TV service that has expanded across the continent.
South Africa's democratic transformation has made it an economic engine for the rest of Africa.
With many South African marketers expanding northward, O&M this year decided to create an African network based in Johannesburg. Other offices are in Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe, with a staff outside South Africa of about 300.
Mr. Putter has managed to keep creativity and sprawl working in one agency.
He notes that nine of the 14 directors are creative people. At the entry level, many newcomers are products of the 3-year-old Red & Yellow School in Cape Town, which O&M thinks may be the only one run by an agency.
A TEAM CONCEPT
The agency uses "brand teams" that include not only the art directors, writers, researchers and strategists but also client representatives who are encouraged to participate throughout the creative process.
Old Mutual's manager for marketing communications, Helen Casey, finds that approach particularly effective.
"You are involved up front," she says. "You don't have wasted time because you can see when you are on the right track."
O&M has developed Old Mutual's "member stories," a new take on frequently tried idea. One uses a slow, arresting but sympathetic style to document how multiple sclerosis is crippling the hands on which a 34-year-old fork-lift operator has depended for his livelihood. Old Mutual, in effect, becomes his hands.
"They managed to do these stories in a real way without being soppy or over the top," says Ms. Casey. "The feel of the stories is much at the agency's direction."
RECENT WINNERS: INTERNATIONAL
1994 Abbott Mead Vickers/ BBDO, London
1993 Casadevall Pedre¤o & PRG, Spain
1992 Hunt Lascaris TBWA, South Africa
1990 Baker Lovick, Canada