Woolworths and Jupiter

South African premium retailer, Woolworths, announced this week that would be pulling their account from Cape agency The Jupiter Drawing Room after a five year partnership to bring the advertising function in-house.

According to the agency’s management, this will result in more than a million rand’s worth of severance payouts for staff involved on the account and the obvious effects of unemployment for those staff.

A Woolworths statement cites “streamlining” and “cost-saving”.

This brings up a number of questions.

  1. Insourcing versus outsourcing creativity
    This has hardly ever worked. Ideas are born out of free perspective – an outsider’s view. From the inside, creative people will be influenced by corporate politics. Then you have to take into account the impact of an agency’s brand and its own culture on the quality of ideas. Furthermore, creative professionals working on a brand in an agency benefits from also working on other brands in other categories and thus enjoying cross-polination of insights and hunches.
  2. Woolworths’ commitment to the power of the idea
    As a retailer, the company works closely with designers across a wide range of disciplines (product design, store design). In fact, for a number of years now, it has been a sponsor of one of the world’s top design and creativity conferences – Design Indaba. So you would expect the company to be a global leader in valueing the power of innovation. Bringing the function in-house and commodotising it, seems to counter this notion.
  3. The timing
    The brand itself wants to embrace the spirit of the festive season. Have a look at their Share the Light initiative to see one example. The timing of this move, leaving so many people jobless just before Christmas doesn’t quite sync with this outward projection.

A sad week for the creative industry then. One of the country’s foremost proponents of creativity and design, thumbing its nose at one of the country’s top agencies.


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