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A Ukrainian ad agency on creating campaigns despite threat of war

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By Sam Bradley | Senior Reporter

February 21, 2022 | 5 min read

News reports from Ukraine are currently dominated by fears of a renewed Russian invasion. But everyday life isn’t on hold. Ukrainian businesses still need to advertise, build their brands and engage consumers – meaning that the work of the country’s ad agencies hasn’t stopped.

Creative agency Bickerstaff is based in the country’s capital, Kyiv. It was founded 18 months ago, in the middle of the pandemic and six years into the undeclared war between Russia and Ukraine. In that time, it has already bagged itself some awards, including the first London International Awards ever given to a Ukrainian agency.

laska upcycling campaign photo

Kyiv creative agency Bickerstaff has created an innovative upcycling service for client Laska

With 17 staff, the indie agency’s clients include banks, wellness clinics, sportswear brands and tourist agencies.

Maryna Chernyavskaya, group head at Bickerstaff, says the war has ”obviously” affected the agency’s work. Ukraine’s digital and commercial infrastructure has been targeted in a series of cyber-attacks since conflict began with Russia in 2014, causing major power outages and disrupting businesses. Just this week the government accused Russia of targeting two banks with denial of service attacks.

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”The actual war in the eastern part of Ukraine has been happening for eight years already and the possibility of it getting even harder makes everyone stressed,” Chernyavskaya explains. ”It’s a sad fact, but we’ve got used to it, so we keep working, trying hard to create something meaningful, and keep believing and hoping for the best.”

Ilia Anufrienko is the agency’s founder and creative director. He tells us: ”I have two children born during the war in the east and Bickerstaff was founded during the height of Covid, so stress is part of our DNA. Stress is not a comfortable environment, but it prompts us to look for new formats and ways of communication and having war around sharpens the desire to create things that will benefit both the planet and business.”

Bickerstaff's Maryna Chernyavskaya and Ilia Anufrienko

‘Contributing to the development of mankind’

One product of this has been a new campaign for charity store Laska, centering on an ambitious upcycling initiative that will help clothing brands in Ukraine re-use discarded textiles to create new garments.

Anufrienko says the work aims not just to increase brand awareness for the charity, but to draw in new sources of funding by creating a novel new service offering for corporate clients.

”Our main goal was to hack the brief and open possibilities for unusual solutions,” he says. ”For example, instead of a donation campaign, we’d make a new sustainable business direction that would lead to long-term profit and support of the charitable part of the business.”

Chernyavskaya adds: ”There is one thing in common for all businesses, it doesn’t matter if you’re producing sausages or mental health apps – you have corporate merch clothes. So we thought: ’Well, we have plenty of old clothes at Laska, why not transform it into new merch?’”

The Laska Upcycle Merch project offers companies looking to get their hands on new corporate merchandise the option to re-use textiles already donated, with their livery printed on top.

Bickerstaff has also created a music video to popularize the idea (above), and arranged a fashion shoot by Ukrainian photographer Tanya Nikitina. Over 20 companies have already signed up.

”We need to create projects that would solve business problems in socially useful and meaningful ways, contributing to the development of mankind,” Anufrienko says.

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