Mother London rode out last year’s storm with bravado—and a sea shanty
KFC’s big new U.K. campaign last March couldn’t have been more unfortunately timed—Mother London had created a whole new push around the brand’s well-known slogan “finger-lickin’ good,” featuring billboards and videos of people enthusiastically eating with their hands and licking their digits. But it launched just as COVID-19 struck and suddenly the world was hygiene-obsessed.
Mother reacted with characteristic bravado. Not only did it pre-emptively take down the work, it leaned into the embarrassment later in the year with a global campaign that cheekily addressed the problem, blurring out and pixelating its slogan both on packaging and on billboards and asking consumers to “ignore it. For now.” Having pitched the idea to KFC’s global team, the work ran in 12 countries.
Indie agencies come and go in London but Mother is one that has weathered the storms of the past 25 years, and none has arguably been stormier than 2020. (Perhaps it’s appropriate then, that the agency’s Agency of the Year submission video took the form of a sea shanty.) Not only did Mother grow its revenue 10% from 2019, it won 16 new clients, made no layoffs, repaid all its furlough money to the U.K. government, and eventually grew by 100 people, hiring several teams laid off by other shops.
It had early warning on handling the pandemic from its office in Shanghai, and started lockdown by immediately reassuring employees that their jobs would be secure. “For years we’ve talked about being a people business but this year I feel like the power of our independence really showed itself; we could take the decision to protect everyone’s jobs and do right by our people,” says Partner and Head of Strategy Katie Mackay-Sinclair.
The agency also addressed its employees’ WFH balance; providing access to homeschool tutors, giving employees mornings off for “winter wellness” so that they could exercise in the daylight, and closing its doors to new business in August to protect staff from burnout.
When the work kicked back in, the agency was limber and ready for action. Clients, which include Ikea and Stella Artois, were also kept happy. “I don’t see the Mother team as an external agency, but as an extension of our team, we’re embedded and invested in each other’s business,” says Jack Hinchliffe, Marketing Director of KFC U.K. and Ireland.
Since it was last Ad Age International Agency of the Year, in 2019, Mother has also expanded into new areas, birthing Other, a spin-off agency focused on smaller and startup brands, and Mother Pictures, creating a platform for screenwriters.