To say we are living through interesting times is, perhaps, an understatement as obvious as it is true.
For many the world is increasingly polarised and difficult to comprehend: known-knowns have become unknowns; unpredictability has become predictable.
Among the social media hubris, in which public accountability is unavoidable and reputational damage but 140 characters away, what you say and what you do need to add up. Brands are tapping into vogue issues for commercial gain – standing for something is certainly the new black. But it’s often inauthentic, and obviously so.
Revolt is a fledgling agency, but its founders are heavyweights. Alex Lewis and Peter Bardell have earned their AdLand stripes: the former was a leading strategist at AMV BBDO and Ogilvy, the latter led the global accounts of some of the world’s biggest brands at McCann, Mother and most recently, helped to grow Joint into one of the largest independent agencies in London.
The pair have set up shop at JKR in Camden – it’s a coalition, I’m told. A new approach, Revolt’s aim is in its name. Lewis says it has “the humble ambition to be the agency of record for all the people who want to change the world.”
Something akin to guerrilla marketing, it aims to leverage collective social conscience to, not just talk about change, but to implement it – in a commercially viable way.
“Any revolution is a turnaround of problems brought about by people,” says Lewis. “There are several brands that are taking social positions at the moment. The danger is that it just becomes lofty rhetoric. Whether it’s politics or whatever else, the world is becoming more fractured – it’s sort of on fire at the moment – and with all the big issues which are galvanising people, brands are going to have to decide which side of history they want to stand on.”
“Lofty rhetoric” is an issue Revolt hopes to address; it’s undeniable that many brands have a fairly cavalier “do as I say, not as I do” attitude when leveraging social conscience to market goods. Bardell uses the example of the Audi ads at the Super Bowl this year: “it agitated us both quite a lot – it was talking about gender and equal pay, this kind of stuff. But it was so transparent – they were doing it to shift a car – and when you look under the bonnet, which anyone, anywhere can do, you can go on its website and see it’s total nonsense. I can see Audi isn’t paying everyone equally in their own company.
“Now more than ever you need to do before you say, and that’s what we’re very keen on doing – it’s a case of getting that action first, then talking about it, as opposed to talking about something you haven’t actually done.”
Pick a fight
By associating brands with current issues – “picking a fight” – as the pair call it, the cultural impact lessens marketing spend through column inches and organic discussion. “By taking a stance people want to write and talk about, it will help to subsidise the media spend they would ordinarily have to put out,” says Lewis.
“I think you’ll see more and more brands prepared to recognise that they have a moral obligation to stick their neck out a bit,” adds Bardell.
But Revolt isn’t entirely focused on the big brands the pair have dealt with throughout their careers – those, as Lewis says, “who recognise the fact that ‘changing the world’ is the fastest shortcut to growing their brand, and their business. It also relates to interesting changemakers and activists who perhaps don’t ordinarily have access to the kind of branding skills that we might be able to offer.