Disturbing London, the boutique cultural consultancy co-founded by Tinie Tempah, has been on the creative scene in the worlds of music and nightlife for more than a decade. But with the reveal of its Smart car and accompanying campaign, it is beginning to cement itself as a worthy alternative to the traditional agency offering.
Disturbing London’s relationship with Mercedes and Smart began in a slightly more rock ‘n’ roll fashion than a pitch request. The two were first introduced through the auto brand’s sponsorship of London Fashion Week, but – so legend goes – the musician was already a fan: he used to drive a Smart car before he made his name with Pass Out in 2010.
Disturbing and Smart officially collaborated back in 2015 for a series of digital films and events. The idea of the consultancy actually designing a car was a “natural” evolution, according to Krishan Bodhani, head of Smart.
“The Smart brand is one of the youngest automotive brands in the industry and we’ve always tried to do things quite differently – we want to become pioneers in urban mobility,” he said. “But I think where the fit really lies is we share the same philosophies in terms of innovation, and attracting a younger, more millennial audience, which opens up the door in terms of the appeal of the brand to a wider customer base.”
The final product of this arcing collaboration – the cars themselves – have been designed and marketed under the banner of ‘The Art of Simplexity’, an ethos that comes straight from the millennial consumerist attitude of the Disturbing London team.
“We’re always talking about how we personally buy things today,” explained Sandy Cheema, the creative director of the #smartdisturbslondon project. “We like a muted luxe vibe, we like quality, we like limited edition, and so does the kind of the audience that we communicate to.”
“Muted luxe” is translated into the cars’ matte black finish, rose gold detailing and arctic grey interior, which was designed in collaboration with menswear designer Oliver Spencer.
Cheema, a senior product manager more comfortable behind the scenes in the music business, had never designed a car before.
“I had the same mentality that I would naturally have with music videos and photoshoots: I looked at the car as an artist,” she said. “That’s how I creatively thought about the films and how we could incorporate ourselves [into the campaign] in the best way.”
There’s no denying Disturbing’s association with Tinie Tempah has opened doors, however the scale of the project with a heavyweight, commercial brand such as Mercedes has pressure-tested an agency that is big in legacy but small in size.
“They’re a massive, massive corporation and so it’s given the company a challenge as to how to work with a huge, established brand,” said Damaris Rex Taylor, general manager of Disturbing London. “We do it on an artist level but this is something completely different.”
Rex Taylor hopes this work will lead to more big brand opportunities that were previously the reserve of traditional agencies.
“I think this [project] shows the industry where we are as a company,” she said. “I think we’re very unique as a management agency and I think it will open doors to allow people to understand what we want to do moving forward. We’re a very small team and to create something as big as a Smart car is not only exciting but it’s a massive achievement.”
This uniqueness is not only characterised by the agency’s culture (there isn’t, for example, a hierarchical structure in terms of account management) but in how it views itself as a hybrid artist management company within the marketing ecosystem, and the demographic it can bring ready-made to brands.
Dumi Oburota, Disturbing’s co-founder and managing director, explained his company aims to attract “the uninvited – the people that don’t get acknowledgement for the influence that they have on luxury brands or fashion in general”.
“We know that fashion is influenced solely by the streets,” he said. “This is a car to express that we know trend, and we can influence trend, and if you give the uninvited the chance to influence and predict trend, then this is what we can create.”
Disturbing has many ongoing projects weaving throughout many different industries – it would be erroneous to suggest it is a marketing or branding agency. So how does Oburota really describe what is company is?
“Disturbing London is a lifestyle,” he explained. “It’s a cultural supplier. Be it on a sonic level, be it visually, creatively – we just supply culture.”
That might be a somewhat abstract concept to the heritage Soho marketing crowd, but it’s one that’s attractive enough to attract the heritage – and cash-rich – Smart.