The Creative Lens: A Special Kind of Agency

New Zealand-founded agency Special Group has recently taken out Campaign UK’s Global Creative & Independent Agency of the Year award. Founder, Tony Bradbourne, reveals some of the secrets of its internationally renowned creative.

Staying creative is the eternal challenge for anyone working in the advertising industry. For Tony Bradbourne, Special Group Founder & New Zealand CEO / Chief Creative Officer, surrounding yourself with inspiration wherever you can find it is a great way to do this.

“It’s really important to constantly get out there in the world to fill your cup with new experiences. Staying creative is also about being curious in all walks of your life, and forever curious about different people, different cultures and different ways that companies work.

“I love that about the industry we’re in. You get to be a mini expert in so many different fields, and you have to be really curious about all different types of companies,” says Bradbourne.

Last year was seismic in terms of how the creative industry operates. But for Bradbourne, it also reduced the tyranny of distance and levelled the playing field.

“We’ve noticed that we’re now working with a huge number of clients around the globe. This is one positive outcome that stemmed from the pandemic – everyone is now an equally sized box on a Zoom call.”

According to Bradbourne, this new digital-first landscape means it’s no longer important where you’re sitting at the table, but what you bring to it.

“It doesn’t matter where you work, whether you’re on Madison Avenue or in South Auckland. What the clients are now solely focused on is just how good your thinking is. There is now more accessibility to tap into brilliant, creative, strategic minds, no matter where they are in the world.”

Special Group is no stranger to creative success, with its recent triumph as Campaign UK’s Global Creative Agency of the Year its biggest win to date. For Bradbourne, there are several key elements needed to produce award-winning creative that cuts through with audiences.

Insight, humour, innovation and bravery are the big four, Bradbourne explains. “It all comes down to what is right for the brand and the audience. You need to always aim for impact and thinking that will make a real difference,” he says.

Those key traits are clearly implemented across much of Special Group’s work, notably through its recent creative for Tourism New Zealand and Uber Eats.

Bradbourne has another special way (pun intended) of pushing creative boundaries for clients. The agency, he says, is constantly looking at ways to “misuse media”.

“A lot of our great work has been through what we call a misuse of media. So that’s a great place to start. Don’t just play within the tramlines, but look at the channel and see how you can do something totally different,” he says.

For Special Group, channels are not taken at face value, but instead are looked at from an angle to disrupt, which often leads to great ideas.

“When Instagram first introduced videos, we had this idea which really proved Smirnoff’s brand positioning in New Zealand, which was ‘Pure Potential’. The premise was you can mix Smirnoff with just about any other liquid to make a delicious cocktail – but only if you know how.

“We created a campaign called Instagram Your Fridge, and we got people to take a photograph of their fridge and tag us on Instagram. Then we had mixologists identify what was in their fridge, whether it was milk, orange juice, coffee, marmalade or any number of things. And we’d send them back a video of the mixologists making a cocktail, using just the ingredients in their fridge,” he explains.

“We discovered you can actually make a pretty tasty cocktail out of almost anything in your fridge – apart from cheese or fish. They stumped all of our mixologists”

“Our global campaign ‘Good Morning World’ for Tourism New Zealand, which was a real collaboration with the amazing folk at Special Australia, created new daily viewing habits by using instagram in a different way.

“We created a different film, every single day for an entire year. It saw 365 Kiwis getting the world up on the right side of the bed each day with a message of positivity. As New Zealand is the first country in the world to see the sun each day, we thought it would be a great way to show our natural Kiwi ‘Welcome’ to people who have never set foot in Aotearoa.

“Some 605 million views and 12 million comments later, the campaign is described by Tourism New Zealand as its most effective ever,” Bradbourne says.

Ideas of this pedigree don’t just appear out of thin air. Instead, they come from the collaborative efforts of creatives at all levels. And to those looking at joining the industry, Bradbourne’s advice is that ambition will get you far.

“Be hungry to change the world, not just make great ads. Aim higher and you just might end up making better ads along the way. Also, look to start your own thing. I believe independence leads to better creativity. Try it,” he says.