Fired up by the perceived injustice of propping up TBWA’s European network but not getting rewarded for doing so, and armed with Campaign’s first-ever Agency of the Year award, the leadership team of TBWA/London – John Bartle, Nigel Bogle and John Hegarty – set up Bartle Bogle Hegarty in 1982.
The agency’s first three clients were Audi, Levi’s and Whitbread – all enduring relationships – and the black sheep, the agency’s mascot, came from its first work for Levi’s. This was a poster that showed a black sheep going against the herd, with the endline “When the world zigs, zag”.
In 1984, the “Vorsprung durch technik” idea for Audi was born with the film “Villas”, which ultimately led to one of the most successful and awarded campaigns in history. It continues to deliver: Audi’s “Clowns” ad scooped Campaign’s 2017 Creative Grand Prix of the Year and has won awards at every single global show over the past 18 months.
But it was in 1985 that BBH really entered the public consciousness with its first film for Levi’s – “Laundrette”, featuring model Nick Kamen and set to the soundtrack of Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through the Grapevine.
BBH’s ads for Levi’s over the following 28 years have resulted in some of the most memorable work across any generation. It launched Brad Pitt’s acting career in the 1991 ad “Camera” and delivered other creative classics, including “Creek”, “Flat beat” (featuring Flat Eric) and “Twisted”.
Music has always played a fundamental part in BBH’s work; seven tracks used in Levi’s ads made it to the top of the charts as a result of the exposure. As the 90s dawned, BBH continued to “zag” by focusing on big, unconventional ideas for clients that managed to cut through to reach popular culture. For example “Cream of Manchester” for Boddingtons and “The Axe/Lynx effect” for Unilever.
The awards juries were impressed, too – BBH won Cannes’ Agency of the Year twice, in 1993 and 1994, and Campaign Agency of the Year in 1993, having first won it in 1986. It also became the first agency to win the Queen’s Award for Export twice, resulting in a couple of trips to Buckingham Palace for its founders.
Acknowledging that media was now a discipline in its own right, the agency launched Motive out of the BBH media department as a standalone business. In response to client demand, it also created a micro network, with offices in Singapore in 1996 and New York in 1998. In 1999, 49% of the business was sold to Leo Burnett, which was to map out its future direction without compromising its own integrity.
The early 2000s brought further success and it was named Campaign Agency of the Year again in 2003, 2004 and 2005 – becoming the first agency to have won three years in a row. Notable highlights included Barnado’s, Vodafone and Xbox, and its presence on the global stage was rewarded with international wins from British Airways, Google and Barclays.
In 2007, Hegarty was invited back to the Palace once more, in this case to be awarded a knighthood. Further structural changes (as well as gongs) came in the newest decade and BBH was named Campaign Agency of the Year in 2011 and 2012. The creation of BBH Sport, BBH Health and then BBH Live, a social-content division, kept the agency firmly forward-facing.
In 2012 the agency sold the remaining 51% share to Publicis Groupe, but with an “autonomy inside protocol” that guaranteed operational independence. The following year, it was Bogle’s turn to go back to the Palace to pick up his knighthood.
BBH’s work continues in the vein started by its founders – even if they have now all stood back – with the likes of “Three little pigs” for The Guardian and “Equal love” for Absolut. When advertising zigs, BBH continues to zag.
Read the full run-down of Campaign‘s top 20 agencies of the last 50 years here.
Below we look back at some of the work that helped BBH to reach number three in Campaign’s ranking, including all-time classic ads for Levi’s, Lynx and The Guardian.