The advertising outlier

 In Companies, News, Recommended

Ollie Olanipekun, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Superimpose is one of a new breed of advertising entrepreneurs who have revolutionised the mindset of an industry which has traditionally dictated trends to consumers. Now, he says, consumers are calling the shots and he’s been in Portugal looking for ideas and inspiration.

Text and photo: Chris Graeme

Superimpose is fast becoming an international case study. It has ripped up the rule books on how brands through their advertising agencies tell consumers what they want. Instead, it has done the unthinkable. It has gone to grass roots levels and asked consumers, particularly the younger generation, what THEY expect from their brands.
And in a few short years, Olanipekun’s London-based agency with its team of 45 has scooped the Creative Review’s ‘Agency of the Year’ award and has a stable of top fashion names under its belt including Adidas, Burberry and the British Fashion Council.
Superimpose started in London’s Shoreditch five years ago, a creative hub for startups in the UK capital where it was based until moving to Kings Cross The agency has also recently opened an office in New York’s China Town, while in Los Angeles it has a production team and is considering an office there.
With eight core clients and secondary clients within some of the UK’s and world’s biggest brands, work at the agency is pretty hectic working on projects for men’s, women’s and kids’ products.
Although Olanipekun loves fashion, the industry, he says, is a “world unto itself” and the agency tends to focus on lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality, including the lucrative drinks market. Although he can’t reveal names, Superimpose is foraying into hotel launch campaigns with a new proposition after the brand involved approached the agency on the merit of its growing success and revolutionary approach.

Definitely not dark suit and tie

Ollie had been working in the creative advertising industry for 10 years, but says he had always wanted to have his “own ideas seen and heard” with the aim of reaching the broadest mass of people. He says that his biggest psychological stumbling block was never having found a home. “I was never living with people who looked like me, sounded like me, or shared the same background” he says of his early advertising career.
He says, “I felt people just didn’t understand me and weren’t on my wave length. If you look back at advertising over the past 10 years, it was very much a white men in dark suits industry and that model did very well, but hadn’t yet moved on” from the kind of stereotype seen in the TV series Mad Men.
“The advertising business has completely changed, although there is still a place for everybody. Society has gone through a huge technological shift, there’s online social media and influencers.”

Ego and arrogance

Ollie adds that as a young person in the industry he felt there was a disconnect between the producer, the market and the consumer. “I suddenly realised that the teams I had been working with had no clue or interest in the consumer at all. It was all about the producer and the brands” he explains.
“There was no sense of going to meet potential consumers to discover what they actually wanted from a product. It was all about the brands arrogantly deciding for them, and convincing them that their product was what they had wanted or needed all along, but that they somehow just hadn’t realised it” he continues.
The advertising guru says that there was too much “ego and arrogance in the business” which had gone unchallenged. Ollie says that from TV advertising it is very hard to see a product’s reach, whereas on social media you can actually see how well a campaign is going, from the amount of likes and shares.
“For us, as an agency, we are very keen on helping brands to understand what their role is or can be in the consumers’ lives. You have to be a service to your consumers and not the other way around. Take Nike, for example. Their approach now isn’t just about getting someone super famous and posting them wearing their products on social media. It’s about empowering individuals and communities and our role in our consumers lives need to be adding value,” he explains.
Ollie says that as a young marketeer he had imagined that had always been the case and it was shock to discover that the consumer generally had “very little say in being able to figure out what exactly it wanted from a product”.
“We got very bored and frustrated with seeing bands and agencies pretending that they cared about the consumer. Now we’re living through an absolute renaissance in advertising. The question was why weren’t agencies in the business to add value as well as to make money?”

All about experience

People, he says, are now asking what the future of hospitality, retail and even working is. For example, in China and the Far East the retail experiences are completely different to what it is today in Western Europe and the USA. The consumer wants an experience and added value.
Ollie says that brands often have huge spaces and resources and it should be about taking these resources and involving the community in arts, sports and events, although these in themselves are not enough.
“The current high street shopping experience is one example. In the UK the model is dead and crippled by overheads. The role it should play in the community and independent designers’ lives needs to shift. We need to completely change the retail model” he says pointing to revolutionary new concepts such as augmented reality and robotics. In other words focusing more on community, technology and service.
This can include customers being able to virtually customise or design products themselves, virtually change the colours of garments, mobile image search and recognition to help customers find what they are looking for, in-house advice from stylists and generally creating a unique shopping experience. But Ollie says that this revolution extends to every industry.
The marketeer says that the era of retainers with massive €2.3 million budgets for the creative agency to just be “on hand” is over. Now brands want tangible proof that their message and product is meeting audiences.
“Today, brands want to see their image spread across TV, Social media, retail outlets and through guerrilla marketing. The agencies of the past were never proactive. They were always playing catchup with the latest technology and trends and not creatively innovating” he admits.

Learning from mistakes

Ollie’s dream was to come up with the creative ideas and have them rolled out on all the different channels. When the company launched it made a good start with the fashion and lifestyle brand Adidas.
“We’d done a previous campaign for Adidas, which was very much a design-led project. We had been excited about how well the campaign had done. The campaign was meant to be in eight global cities but ended up being in 18” he recalls.
“Then we got the next brief, which was a campaign shoot for the kids range. We did budget, production and then we got to the shoot and it just fell to pieces. I think what happened is that we suffered from lack of preparation and had the wrong team members on it” he admits.
Ollie Olanipekun says working with children is actually a lot easier than with adults, because “you have a limit of four hours”. And he says it’s not difficult controlling children because they are amazingly well-behaved and their parents are always present.
“It’s just that we were overconfident, that’s what it came down to. We just didn’t give the time to have the right team members for the shoot. I was thankful for that because I realised that you are only as good as your team” he says.

Dealing with clients

One of the aspects of the uber-competitive advertising industry that is most difficult for new marketeers in the industry is what Ollie Olanipekun calls “an atmosphere of intimidation”.
“I’ve learnt when going into these meetings with potential and new clients to just relax. Everyone is nervous and a lot of clients will make the atmosphere intimidating because they have that power to do so, yet I try and relax the room because, after all, none of us are saving dolphins. Never be intimidated by whoever is sitting across from you because they have to live up to someone else’s expectations above them as well. You have to remind the client that we’re in this together, and that if they make it easy for us, we’ll find it easier to make them look good” he says.

Advertising for the new generation

Ollie Olanipekun says that although new under 30 generation lives in a restless and insecure world of constant change, they are surprisingly confident and that brands and advertisers need to study their attitudes, ideas, wants and needs.
“These young people live transient lives, there are no borders for them anymore. In all of the brackets Generation X, Y and Z they are all different. When we look at new consumers we have to do a lot more work to understand them” he says.
“People’s attitudes, wants and needs change quicker than they ever have before because of technology. The way we’ve been doing things for decades simply doesn’t work anymore” he adds.
In order to feel the younger generation’s pulse, the agency has been working with educational establishments and youth centres to understand how these youngsters think.
“They are anxious about getting jobs in a world dominated by post-ascending authority, where influence no longer comes from top down, but rather from grass roots up. It used to be said the brands, institutions and celebrities were the influencers and their ideas, opinions and trends trickled down to the rest of us in society.
“It is the other way around now. Young people are now influencing the celebrities, but it’s how they harness that power and use it successfully that they are struggling with. They have an air of confidence, they want to work for themselves on their own projects” says the advertising expert.
And that anxiety over jobs and the expected acceleration in technological uptake has only excited both these desires and anxieties in a world dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The virus has hit us big time as an agency. One of our luxury fashion clients is 90% down in China. They are closing stores and laying off staff and China makes up one-third of every luxury purchase worldwide. But with a shift away from manufacturing in China I see an opportunity for Portugal and its leather and textiles industry and perhaps for us. I love this whole vibe here in Lisbon and the startup scene and its entrepreneurial spirit excites me” he concludes.