Antidote is helping actor Neil Morrissey launch his own branded beer as part of a Channel 4 series (MW last week).
The project is par for the course for an agency also involved in such headline-grabbing initiatives as the Anya Hindmarch-created “I’m Not a Plastic Bag” bag and We Are What We Do books, which urge consumers to undertake small “planetsaving” actions.
Despite his traditional advertising background – stints at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Lowe and HHCL led to him becoming executive creative director of Bates – Ashton is unwilling for Antidote to be so “pigeon-holed”. Instead, he says he is more comfortable telling people what the agency does not stand for. Unlike traditional advertising agencies, its instinct is not simply to come up with a TV commercial to deliver a big bang for a client.
“My experience with big, monolithic, uni-disciplined creative departments in design and advertising is that [TV commercials] tend to be what they enjoy doing and what they’re good at doing, which affects what they’re offering their clients,” Ashton says.
Graham Bednash, managing partner of Michaelides & Bednash, which has worked with Antidote, says the days when agencies could be put in clear, delineated boxes have gone. “Like us, Antidote get excited about an idea for a book as much as a 30 second TV commercial,” he says.
Significantly, Antidote is 25% owned by the WPP agency JWT, an archetype of the monolithic, uni-disciplined model Ashton so desperately does not want Antidote to become.
This apparent clash of interests is replicated in the agency’s mix of clients, which include Shell and Unilever, as well as the charity We Are What We Do, and Fairtrade nut brand Liberation.
So how can an agency do such convincing work for eco-friendly clients when it can, on the same day, meet with the chief executive of a multinational petrol giant?
Ashton says: “Are you going to rely on the Government to sort out issues such as decreasing quantities of energy and increasing populations? They’ve got politics and short-termism to get in the way. It’d much rather be inside of it [Shell] and working with its goal to secure a responsible energy future than sitting on the outside throwing stuff.”
On the agency’s approach he also sees the future as one of greater collaboration with creative partners, which helps to explain why he is comfortable with its relationship with JWT.
He points to Sydney-headquartered agency The Glue Society as the one creative outfit he aspires to emulate. The ten-year-old Cannes Lions-awarded agency has a portfolio of work that encompasses everything from traditional advertising to sculptures, installations and graphic design.
A reading of Antidote’s book of credentials reveals a slightly more down-to-earth vision for Ashton’s agency. He writes: “We are, after all, just a small design and advertising company that most people have never heard of.” So, he says, don’t expect it to enter awards, or be seen quaffing wine at the Ivy.
Right now, it is busy helping to create the perfect pint.