Market Insights: Brand & Design

At River, we work to provide market-leading research gained through our network. We reached out to several of our senior contacts within the branding and design space from both in-house and agency sides to understand the key issues and developments that the industry faces.

In-House Vs Agency:

Since December 2020 there have been several major brand relaunches and campaigns led by agencies, including the Burger King rebrand by JKR, Pfizer’s new look by Team and Landor, and Tui recently appointed Leo Burnett to relaunch their brand for the post-Covid world.

Nonetheless, since Apple pioneered in-house branding 10 years ago, there is a consensus on both sides that in-house creative teams are growing in skill and power having recruited several ex-agency leaders (including a COLLINS co-founder moving to Chobani) to join their ranks and to bring their design expertise to a new challenge. A Samsung executive spoke about how despite inhouse previously being the last preference for a young designer as it was considered too corporate, the innovation happening in house means that it is increasingly first choice for those entering the industry.

Several agency leaders in our network certainly gave the impression that their next move would ideally be to an in-house team, as they relished the idea of a new challenge. Our contacts at Waze and WhatsApp highlight the value they place on creative control; being able to tackle a brand from the ground up and to define the DNA of a brand moving forward is something found only in in-house teams. Spotify and Squarespace are accepted to be doing this particularly well.

"In-house creative teams are growing in skill and power"

As a result of their growing dominance, in-house teams are looking to retain more work that previously would have been outsourced to a brand agency. An ex-Design leader at Coca Cola told us how in 2013 they were working with over 200 agencies, which he felt was far too many given the impressive calibre of the in-house team and which he worked to cut down during his tenure. Since 2018 there has also been a concerted effort at Coca Cola to give their internal design team greater ownership over their brand, aiming to bust the prevalent myth that ideas are better when they come from the outside. It was announced in December 2020 that Coca Cola are throwing every media and creative brand up for grabs in a statement of intent to cut marketing costs and consolidate its portfolio, and in January 2021 brands including Tetley, Twinings, Unilever, Just Eat and Philips have called for creative agency reviews.

Career movers looking for values as well as money:

When questioned about their next steps, leaders told us that Covid-19 had given them a great deal of time away from their office to consider their working life and how they wanted to lead it. Sources at companies from Facebook and WhatsApp to McKinsey said that their next move would be dictated by an opportunity that focussed on values, bringing meaning, and having a strong impact.

"Leaders in our network from majorcompanies asked for start-up mentalities even within established firms."

Leaders in our network from major companies asked for start-up mentalities even within established firms, not wishing to go somewhere ‘calcified’ where they could not progress their own abilities but also those of their company.

Continuing Dominance of Digital:

‘The brick-and-mortar agency is a dying model’

‘The brick-and-mortar agency is a dying model’; a dramatic statement from an ex. Dentsu leader, but one that has been echoed in various ways from all areas of the brand and design space. An Adobe executive questioned whether young designers would struggle to join a more traditional agency as they would be forcing new ideas through old processes.

Leading digitally focussed firms including Code&Theory have invested heavily with high numbers of engineers and developers to swell their ranks, demonstrating to the traditional branding agencies the commitment they need to put in to pivot in this direction.

A Creative Director at COLLINS suggested that the fact that until now traditional agencies have been behind the times could in fact be to their advantage now; instead of trialling ideas around digital they have seen what works and so can potentially leapfrog over other firms who have been doing this for years, provided they can successfully poach talent from digitally minded firms to show them the way.

The Inevitable Rise of Healthcare Branding:

With Interbrand Health, Havas Tonic and Code&Theory Health to name but a few, branding agencies are increasingly realising the possibilities of pivoting into healthcare.

The initial challenges are like those found in Financial Services or Education; a Creative Director at Interbrand told us that healthcare companies must be convinced to be less insular and push out into branding, but the rewards are compelling; our network suggests that healthcare work is particularly appealing because despite the narrow focus there are big budgets available which allows for greater creative scope.

Click here to download the whitepaper in full: Brand and Design

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