AdLand Through the Decades: DigitasLbi’s Abi Ellis urges industry to stop mimicking the great ideas of the noughties

In the fourth instalment of The Drum’s series looking at AdLand Through The Decades, Abi Ellis discusses advertising from the 2000s.

The noughties was an “amazing” time when creativity and advancements in technology collided resulting in incredible work, but the temptation for many marketers now is to simply try and recreate it, according to Abi Ellis, group creative director at DigitasLbi.

Speaking at Creative Social’s AdLand Through The Decades event in London, she joked: “When we went in we were really panicked about the millennium bug. We thought that planes might fall out of the sky. We got sat-nav, boom and bust of dot-comms, iPods, social networking, YouTube, broadband, TV On Demand, Wikipedia, and we got wheelie bins – it was an amazing decade of really useful shit happening as well as technology.”

It was also a time when brands experimented with tone of voice and how they engaged with consumers through mediums like packaging. Ellis held up Innocent smoothies as an exemplary brand of the time, a brand which adopted a different attitude to marketing FMCGs and sought to tell the story behind the company. She said she still had misguided clients asking her for "the Innocent tone of voice". In 2003, Orange Wednesdays was launched and over 10 years later it continues to offer its customers 2 for 1 tickets when they text Orange a message. The success they saw with that campaign has resulted in clients coming to Ellis and wanting her to think of something that they can "own". “What was lovely about Orange Wednesdays was their support in cinema advertising and giving people something back for it. When you have a client say ‘I want to own a mother's love’ – [you think] it’s not going to happen, think of something else. You have to have something powerful and strategic, you can’t just want to ‘own something’.”

And Ellis said the attempts to mimic the great ideas of the noughties didn't end there; clients will ask for “movements” like Dove achieved with its Campaign for Real Women, they want to "do a Burger King" and have their agency come up with a ‘Subservient Chicken’, or maybe they’ll hand over a brief that simply asks a creative to “make a Sony Balls”. “They are epic and water cooler moments,” she said. “When someone asks for [these things] for their brand you have to think, where’s the strategy, where’s it come from, what’s it trying to achieve?”

“We’re copying,” she continued. “We’re imitating from this time. All these things are great – but at the end of it the reason why they were so amazing is because they were so new. We had technology and creativity collide and now we’re moving forward we have to be creative in our own way."Mimicry means your ideas are fossilised before they’ve even begun. Go get your creative influence from other places.” Before Ellis looked back at the 2000s, Paul Kitcatt discussed how direct marketing challenged ad agencies in the 1990s, Havas Worldwide’s Gerry Moira took a wander through the 1970s and BBH’s Rosie Arnold gave an overview of the changes the 1980s brought to the advertising industry.