TBWA\Media Arts Lab is Ad Age 2020 A-List Creativity Agency of the Year
A massive billboard popped up seemingly out of nowhere on the side of a hotel in Las Vegas ahead of the annual Consumer Electronics Show in January 2019. “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone,” it read, playing off the city’s famous slogan. Greeting conference-goers riding the tram, it poked fun at the privacy issues faced by giants like Google, Facebook and Amazon while playing up the security of Apple’s devices.
Even though it didn’t exhibit at CES that year, Apple was one of the event’s most talked-about brands thanks to that ad, created out of its dedicated agency TBWA\Media Arts Lab. It was just one of many eye-catching creative feats the agency pulled off that year. There was the “Bounce” AirPods ad that made it appear as if a man was springing across city streets. And the ongoing “Behind the Mac” and “Shot on iPhone” platforms, which seem to get only more interesting and surprising over time. Another outdoor campaign also appeared out of the blue, covering retail locations and building walls with colossal images of dancers in curious positions, AirPods Pros clinging to their ears.
As the advertising landscape becomes increasingly packed with overcomplicated ideas and quick-fire shots, TBWA\Media Arts Lab ruled with its deceptively simple, culturally resonant ideas for its sole client, making it the standout choice for our 2020 Creative Agency of the Year.
“Our philosophy is simply to really care about what we make, and to care about what is best for Apple,” says Global Chief Creative Officer Brent Anderson, who stepped into the post in late 2016, moving over from sibling shop TBWA\Chiat\Day, Los Angeles.
“Care,” however, requires taking the hard road to making ideas stand out. “We will often ask ourselves, ‘What is the audacious way to make this?’” Anderson says. “We never want to be guilty of laziness of rigor.”
The making of stories behind TBWA\MAL’s ads for Apple are often as impressive as the work itself. The “Bounce” spot, directed by Pulse Films’ Oscar Hudson, could easily have been done with CG, yet it was all captured practically in outdoor settings and on a rebuilt cityscape set inside an airplane hangar—a decision that gave the spot a magical feel.
All the shots in the agency’s “Behind the Mac” spots and print ads use found imagery—a testament to the agency’s researchers and producers.
The “Share Your Gifts” holiday spot, about a young woman whose carefully guarded ideas accidentally make it out into the world, was an ambitious combination of computer-animated characters and a completely handcrafted set.
Even the CES billboard was a masterwork of ingenuity and persistence, with a bit of serendipity thrown in.
According to Group Creative Director JD Jurentkuff, the topic of privacy had been in discussions for a while, and CES presented a ripe opportunity. But the team didn’t jump until colleagues at Omnicom sibling and media agency OMD were able to secure the side of a building that would be in full view of attendees. And it ultimately faced off against another oversize billboard from Google.
“It was a good example of the rigor, the craft, looking under every rock and assessing every opportunity,” Jurentkuff says. “We were either going to show up in the best way possible, or we wouldn’t show up at all,” adds OMD Global Strategy Lead Mark Kirby.
Apple-dedicated colleagues from OMD sit within the agency as part of the shop’s Media Arts philosophy, which mandates that all brand messages work seamlessly together with everything Apple does, from their packaging and product design, to marketing.
Following a stellar 2018, when the agency jumped to the top as the most-decorated TBWA shop in the network, 2019 was a transformative year for MAL, both business-wise and culturally.
In 2019 it worked across more lines of Apple business than ever since it rolled out from TBWA\Chiat\Day in 2006 as a dedicated Apple shop.
The agency also made a concerted effort to ensure integration across all departments and refine its talent to better address its client needs and be prepared to “evolve” alongside the rapidly changing world, says President Katrien DeBauw.
She says that required some hard decisions as well, including the layoff of about 50 staffers in late 2019. “Making culture does not happen by accident. It only happens when people collaborate and integrate their thinking,” DeBauw says.
Cross-departmental integration, however, has been a widely espoused practice across the industry for more than a decade, so it might seem that MAL is just playing catch-up. But it’s the results that matter.
Anderson says: “What good is integrating and collaborating if the creative output is dreck? Our standard across the globe is meaningful collaboration that actually translates into great work, time and time again.”