WPP’s latest agency conglomeration declared itself open for business last night with a launch party in London and the unveiling of its new name, 'Superunion'. Made up of five WPP brand and design agencies—The Partners, Lambie-Nairn, Addison, VBAT and Brand Union, which has by far the largest footprint in Asia with offices in Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Jakarta, Beijing and Shanghai—the new shop will be headed in this region by CEO Benedict Gordon.
“The main stimulus for this is that WPP found itself in a position with a lot of specialist agencies, but with a lot of potential synergies between them that weren’t necessarily being leveraged and built upon,” says Gordon, speaking exclusively to Campaign Asia-Pacific. “I think there's a lot of benefit for clients to have a one-stop-shop where they can come to an agency with a really broad and deep set of skills in the brand and design space.”
The new "next-generation" agency, as it’s described, is hanging its hat on what it calls “upstream creativity”: taking innovation beyond a campaign or logo to the core of all business operations. Gordon gives the example of a legacy insurance brand needing to think creatively about what customers are looking for in a world where traditional offerings no longer necessarily appeal. “[Customers] are looking for something that is much more digitally driven, much more intuitive in terms of the customer service that they want. All of that requires a much more creative mindset, right at the board level.”
Globally, Superunion will employ 750 people in 18 countries and will be led by Jim Prior, formerly CEO of The Partners and Lambie-Nairn, as global CEO.
There will be a number of hiring opportunities for Superunion in APAC, Gordon confirms, particularly in the Shanghai office. But the new group's formation will require more of a “mindset shift” than a logistical one in Asia, where Brand Union is the only agency to have more than a partner presence.
“Previously different offices were relatively independent, but I guess the secret is in the name” says Gordon. “If we're going to deliver on that then it is all about taking a much more collaborative, joined-up approach in Asia, which I think is exciting because it means we can bring our best talent from different bits of the region to bear on some of the larger clients in this part of the world.”
Superunion already has over 100 active clients across Asia, including Tencent, Oppo, Alibaba, the Hong Kong Jockey Club and Zalora, and Gordon is “optimistic” about the new agency’s growth plans here. Homegrown brands looking to extend their wings overseas, he says, are customers that Superunion is primed to help.
“We've got people who really understand deeply the local culture and origins or where a company like Zalora has come from, but we also are really able to look out across the rest of region and the globe and say right, we understand what consumers are looking for.”
China is "the big story" in this respect with native brands, especially tech firms, reaching the “tipping point” as growth saturates in their home market: Oppo, for instance, is a Superunion client presently occupying the middle tier in the mobile market but with its sights on new consumer realms such as South East Asia, the Middle East and India.
“For a brand like that, it’s actually really challenging. These are brands that are very comfortable operating in China and feel they have a good understanding of what Chinese consumers want and therefore can build their brand around that. But now it’s a different challenge, they are looking at whole new markets, different consumers, getting to grips with what a consumer in India, say, would think about Oppo... it’s about how can we position ourselves around that.”
Gordon himself returned to the Brand Union—now Superunion—fold on January 2 after a year and a half as associate partner at the consultancy firm Prophet in Hong Kong. He first joined Brand Union in 2008 as part of the London strategy team, moving to Hong Kong in 2011 and becoming managing director the following year.