Digital Dirigible, Meet Brutal Simplicity: MRM Worldwide vs M&C Saatchi

by Philippe Paget on October 6, 2009

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2009 marks the 8th year of the Adforum Worldwide Summit. In attendance: 20 countries represented by 28 search consultants, two fewer than last year but still a lively bunch. You’re left with the impression these people, from so many faraway lands, have come to know each other fairly well, and the vibe is a lot like summer camp.

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Come morning we piled onto a big white and blue bus and headed to MRM Worldwide, which — as previously mentioned — indulged us with leisurely breakfast nubbins before packin’ on the knowledge.

MRM doesn’t sissy around about what it’s about. Its emphasis is digital. Its strength lies in providing technology platforms that help clients better manage relationships and present messages consistently and reliably across a menagerie of platforms.

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CCO Oren Frank says MRM’s goal is to provide “massive consumer centric value” — a vaguely jargonistic expression that brought tech press releases to mind, which was appropriate given the agency’s decidedly geeky approach to solving brand problems.

One tool they’re really excited about right now is MRM Works, a proprietary global workflow tool/colloraboration system. About 180 clients use it, and the tool is a symbol of MRM’s approach to everything.

According to CEO Reuben Hendell, digital shops are ripe for becoming lead agencies, just because digital is increasingly infused with all the media where you hope to reach a user (yeah, even billboards).

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“Our role continues to really be a global backbone, because most of [our clients'] needs are digital,” Hendell said.

This agency attitude — acting as the framework of a digital comms strategy — manifests itself in all kinds of interesting ways: from retro-inspired online games that glorify unthanked IT managers to crowdsourcing organized bake sales for Betty Crocker.

M&C Saatchi, our second visit of the day, proffered a contrast to the MRM experience. Where the latter seeks to be digital octopi, with tentacles in every crevice of a communications strategy, the former is obsessed with the notion of simplicity, where advertisers do less (but effectively!), not more (and poorly!). CEO Moray MacLennon even went out of his way to say it’s time to stop talking about digital.

His logic: digital’s in most everything now. Referring to “digital strategies” lends the impression it’s still something separate, even marginal.

The heart of M&C Saatchi’s presentation was “Brutal simplicity,” and the group went out of its way to ensure we lived it. Upon exiting the bus we were greeted by a saucy Dickensian saleskid on the street, selling cans of “Simplicity” out of a suitcase.

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The walls were white and bare. And when lunchtime came, the saleskid from the street came in and spraypainted “LUNCH” on a canvas hanging from one side of the room — at which time we were ushered through a curtain and into a long dining hall.

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What could be more simple than sushi, Perrier and fresh melon juice? Lunch afforded us a chance to peruse examples of M&C Saatchi’s BRUTAL SIMPLICITY manifesto in action: the infamously sparing Ketel One ads, an effort by Change4Life to encourage parents to better nourish kids, the stunning Whalesong ad by Optus.

We walked away with smart M&C Saatchi shopping bags for which contained what appeared to be a giant black marker — for nailing that big idea, the packaging suggested. But upon popping off the cap, what we found was a USB stick containing the day’s presentation.

A clever, even snarky inversion of the Leo Burnett/big pencil philosophy. Nice way of illustrating one of M&C Saatchi’s key points: that brutal simplicity, at its best, sends users to the heart of the matter: a core idea that simply attracts.

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