Feature

‘We’re doing it ourselves’: why Made.com doesn’t need an ad agency

Made.com has just emerged from its most profitable year ever and is planning a European expansion. Behind the scenes, its in-house creative hub has quietly doubled in size, taking lessons from the fashion industry to build the brand.

In a year where online retailers like Asos faced their first investor jitters, digital pure player Made.com has just reported record results. In 2018, its revenue increased by 37% to £173m - £100m of which came from the UK. Chief executive Philippe Chainieux puts growth down to “digitally native” customers feeling more comfortable buying big-ticket items (like sofas) online.

But internally there have also been some changes afoot, including the development of its in-house creative team.

“The way we have organised the company is around vertical integration and the capacity to control everything from A to Z. “That's also true on the creative side,” Chainieux tells The Drum.

With a distinct visual identity and pastel-hued colour palette, London tube ads galore and increasing market penetration, the investment in its own creative team is one that has clearly been paying off for the brand. Tasked with spearheading these efforts is Jo Jackson, the ex-Diesel creative lead who was headhunted as Made’s chief creative officer 2017.

Jackson’s remit spans brand, production, influencers and retail strategy. In her two-year tenure, she has “doubled” Made.com’s internal creative hub to 45 staffers. Her team looks after everything from the creation and production of social, copywriting, and PR to visual merchandising and OOH ads.

As well as determining the look of Made.com’s brand online and offline, Jackson has creative oversight of the brand’s bricks-and-mortar showroom in London – which blends the two and has just trebled the size.

The space lets customers touch and feel some of the products, but it also houses a host of technologies, including giant screens that pull in user-generated content. It’s not a place for transactions so much as a “brand experience” she says.

Made already has four showrooms in Europe and it’s committed to opening more in some of the nine markets is operates in there. Germany’s Hamburg will be the first continental showroom to open in a few months.

‘We don’t need a big ad agency

Chainieux has been candid about Made’s march into Europe; a market he expects to supersede the UK in 2019. Following a £40m investment round last year, the next 12 months will see it enter Italy and Portugal.

However, even as it expands its foothold in the region it doesn’t look like the business has any plans to enlist a big-budget creative partner anytime soon.

Made.com is a brand that has previously flirted with ad agency relationships – appointing The Grid and Above + Beyond for TV project work in 2015. Since Jackson joined, it "collaborates" instead with cherry-picked directors like Price James.

“We still work with creative talent and directors, but we’re not the kind of brand to go work with a big advertising agency; I’ve been there and done that.”

Jackson recalls an experience at Diesel where the brand invited what she describes as “the top five ad agencies” to pitch for an “amazing brief”. What she got back was “old school thinking” that “wasn’t relevant”.

Eventually, the designer anointed a worthy agency, but Jackson says she was still “shocked by how out of it a lot of the big agencies were”. It's a lesson that’s clearly informed her decision to keep creative in-house at Made.

“All I did was come in and apply fashion marketing rules to a design brand,” she says. “In fashion, [brands] work with a fashion photographer, they style it themselves, and usually it’s just something they know would look aesthetically beautiful.”

Studios in London and Vietnam (where some designs are produced) mean it's quick, and simple, for staff to snap product shots themselves.

Jackson’s vision for Made.com is to maintain an identity where “you could take the logo off and people will still know who you are”.

Both Jackson and Chainieux, though, are keen to stress there’s still room for agencies in the mix: just last year the Made.com appointed a new buying and planning shop in The7Stars.

However, its investment into the marketing talent within its walls is indicative of a wider shift as other advertisers look to deliver more for less.

A recent study from Forrester and the In-house Agency Forum found that 64% of marketers had some kind of in-house agency, up from 42% in 2008.

Where internal marketing departments were previously tasked with delivering low-hanging fruit like promo posters or corporate films, the likes of Unilever and Lego are bringing crucial elements in-house.

Still Made.com is a rare example of a brand delivering creative on its own.

Cherry-picking influencers

Made.com was one of the first out of the gate with shoppable Instagram stories and as a first mover on social. Jackson reveals it has now also internalised its influencer marketing team.

Amid calls from some of the world’s biggest spenders to clean up the influencer ecosystem, she admits that it’s getting harder to pick out the “authentic and experienced” personalities from the “mass of influencers out there”.

While she has experimented with enlisting an agency to handle influencer relationships last year, she’s ultimately decided it sits better within her team and has expanded the resource Made.com commits to this.

“The conclusion was that we do it in-house and ourselves,” she asserts, saying that the brand is in it for the long-tail and not the quick hits.

She continues: “We’re not just farming stuff out. We’re not just giving [influencers] cash and asking them to say something about a sofa because it’s in our advertising campaign.

"We’re not taking that approach at all. It’s about building authentic relationships."

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