Ten years of monkey business

Rachael Micallef
By Rachael Micallef | 26 August 2016
Scott Nowell, Mark Green and Justin Drape

The Monkeys, arguably Australia's most talked about ad agency, was built from one simple philosophy; to be the place clients go to “when the same old shit doesn't make a difference”.

Speaking to AdNews to mark 10 years since its launch as Three Drunk Monkeys, the indie agency's founders Mark Green, Justin Drape and Scott Nowell say it's the stuff that ladders up to that ambition that makes them the most proud.

“What we wanted to do when we started was change the agency model and what clients would perceive that an agency could create,” Green says. “We had a point of view on the industry that the blurring between advertising, entertainment and technology was going to change the way you could communicate but we found the structures that we worked within were just geared up to making advertising.”

The three 'Drunk Monkeys' worked together at Saatchi & Saatchi before increasing frustration with the way traditional agencies ran pushed them to consider doing it on their own. Drape says they would propose longer form content and inventive strategies for brands, which the clients would love, but baulked at the prospect of turning it into a reality.

“We were always disheartened,” Drape says. “After a while we realised this is just never going to happen so we started looking at alternatives.”

That alternative was a new agency, with provocative ideas built in as its modus operandi. Each of the partners put in $10,000 to get the agency running and it moved into a design studio in Redfern as its new base.

It started as it meant to go on and by the end of its first year that the agency had already won numerous accolades including the AdNews Emerging Agency of the Year award.

It is currently the AdNews Agency of the Year, which bookends the decade.

Looking back on building the agency Drape says that culture has been a hugely important attribute in driving the forward the agency's aim of building work that straddles entertainment and advertising.

“One of the most important things we've learnt along the way is to cultivate an entrepreneurial culture so people can come in and be self-starters,” Drape says. “It's what we say when they come on board: make of this place what you will.”

It's also a differentiator for the agency when it comes to clients. Green says that culture stems from the fact that the owners have skin in the game.

“If you haven't lived on the line of 'your livelihood depending on pushing a crazy fucking idea to big business behemoths', it's not something you can manufacture,” he says. “It's just the reality. You walk that line and you get comfortable with it.”

With adland increasingly seeing competitors from outside the traditional, such as consultancies like Accenture and Deloitte, and with Australia's new-found focus on startups, Green says the agency is in good shape going forward. But he does say that it would be great to see more indies startup and give the big guys a run for their money.

“The style of the business has changed so drastically that if you're an old legacy company you feel old no matter how much you look at it, and a lot of those businesses are probably past their best,” Green says.

To mark its 10th birthday, the agency is producing a hardback coffee-table book that chronicles the agency's work over the last decade. It also held a party at its Surry Hills offices last night.

To read the full feature about The Monkeys turning 10 and meet some of the Monkeys behind the scenes, check out the new feature Meet the Team, in the first monthly edition of AdNews - out next week. You can subscribe here to get it in print, or digitally on desktop and mobile. https://www.greatmagazines.com.au/magazine/adn

In the meantime, check out 10 years of iconic work from the agency below:

My Family Feast – SBS TV series:

Part cultural profile, part cooking show, My Family Feast aired in 2009 and took viewers into the cooking traditions of Australia immigrants and their families. The show was hosted by chef Sean Connolly and ran for 13 episodes.

Sun Sound – Cancer Council NSW:

Tasked with the challenge of how to make Australians take sun safety seriously, The Monkeys designed a five-second jingle in collaboration with songwriter Ben Lee designed to remind people to cover up in the sun. It was trialled for the first time at Cronulla and Gosford beaches.

:30 Seconds – Foxtel TV series:

Written by Drape and Nowell along with Prodigy Films director Tim Bullock, :30 Seconds was a six-part comedy series satirising the Australian advertising industry. The series was produced by Andrew Denton's production company, Zapruder's Other Films, exclusively for Foxtel and went on to receive a spate of award nominations.

Reverse Robberies – Oak, Parmalat:

After a change in ownership left Oak milk without distribution, The Monkeys created a series of videos purporting to be footage of “reverse robberies”: mask-wearing robbers raiding convenience stories to stock the shelves with Oak. It used Facebook to seed the idea and then to execute the campaign.

Intelligent Sounds – Intel:

An experimental piece with production partner Finch, Intelligent Sounds sees a band of intel-powered tablets perform an original composition created by Flume. It aims to showcase the creative power of Intel processors within tablets.

Ship Song Project – The Sydney Opera House:

A reworking of Nick Cave's 'The Ship Song' was the catalyst for this branded content piece which invited the world inside the iconic Sydney Opera House. Artists including Neil Finn, Sarah Blasko, Angus and Julia Stone and Paul Kelly teamed up to perform the song and position The Opera House as a contemporary cultural hub.

Airbnb – Ikea:

In what was the first AirBNB collaboration in the world, The Monkeys helped Ikea turn the spotlight on its bedrooms and bathrooms by allowing Australian families to spend the night in Ikea Tempe. It picked up global attention across Time Magazine, Daily Mail and Huff Post among others.

Homer Hudson:

Working with its design agency Maud, The Monkeys grabbed headlines across the country by relaunching iconic Australian ice cream brand Homer Hudson. At one point it was available in more than 800 Woolworths stores in Australia and proved that the agency was more than willing to work outside the boundaries.

Richie's BBQ – MLA:

After picking up MLA's lamb portfolio, The Monkey's 2015 installment of its iconic Australia Day campaign was the brand's most successful ever ad. The agency designed the ultimate Australia Day barbecue hosted by cricket legend Richie Benaud and featuring Aussies from Captain Cook to Ita Buttrose.

Thrive On – Telstra:

The Monkeys have numerous big brands on their books but this year's relaunch for Telstra marks among its biggest work to date. The fully integrated campaign shows how Telstra enables people to thrive in a connected world, effectively moving the brand from a 'telco' to a 'techco'. To highlight this point is a quote from renowned science fiction writer and futurist Arthur C Clark with the film also featuring a voice-over form slam poetry champion Phil Wilcox and soundtrack from Aussie band Flight Facilities.


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