From its base in Bloomfield House, an old schoolhouse just off the South Circular Road in Dublin 8, Boys + Girls has conceived and implemented some of the most creative brand campaigns in recent years.

There is Jeff, the bearded dragon lizard, rocking out to music on the various Three Ireland advertising campaigns. 

Or Made for Ireland, the campaign for the Czech car manufacturer Skoda that helped drive a surge in sales, premised around the idea that the marquee was perfect for the Irish roads and the Irish climate. 

In the Local Drama campaign for RTÉ, the actor Emmet Scanlon sips a pint in a pub, before being abducted, gangland style. The list goes on. 

Rory Hamilton did not come up with each idea himself. But as a co-founder and the creative director of Boys + Girls, he has left his fingerprints on each campaign, working to sell the ideas to the client and then, if accepted, to the consumer. 

But just where do the ideas come from? How does a creative agency transform the wants and needs of a client into a campaign that can be rolled out across multiple media forms?

I wanted to explore these areas with Hamilton in the latest edition of Brand Matters, our podcast series in association with the law firm Whitney Moore.

I also wanted to get an insight into the creative process, and how to manage client expectations. 

“I try to avoid the ta-da presentation, and I always try and avoid the magic of creativity.”

Hamilton was polished, articulate, and engaging as befitting a man who presents for a living. However, some of his responses were also surprising, and wonderfully honest, particularly when it came to the process of cultivating an idea. 

While the stereotypical view is of admen striking a lightbulb moment, Hamilton was at pains to point out that it is more about process than a spark of genius. 

“I try to avoid the ta-da presentation, and I always try and avoid the magic of creativity,” he told me. 

“And this will sound like I’m trying to diminish the process, but I try and keep it away from eureka moments. It is almost impossible to know when you’re going to have a eureka moment.”

Hamilton said it was not a case of so-called “creative types” walking around the office in socks, playing table tennis, and waiting for inspiration — “there isn’t time and there isn’t money,” he said. 

“I studied philosophy and psychology at Trinity, and one of the modules of that was logic; it really stuck with me. And actually, I use logic trees quite a lot to accelerate the creative process,” he said. 

“I try to ask a series of questions of the problem and I ask: If this is the case, then what is the answer to that? And it does lend to far faster and far broader creativity.”

So, what type of questions does he ask at the beginning of the creative process? “What are the 10 things we could do that would be really interesting? It’s really about breadth of thinking, how do we make sure that we look at this problem from every conceivable angle? What would it be if it was a product design? What would it be if it was a simple story about this? We try and take those ideas and strength test them, make sure that they’re really robust. We execute off them and bring back answers in that forum,” he said.

Before you get to that point, however, you have to understand what the client wants. And that, as anyone who has worked in advertising or branding will tell you, can often be harder.

“Creativity isn’t actually subjective. What you like is subjective.” Photo: Bryan Meade

When Hamilton and his colleagues founded Boys + Girls, they implemented a strategic discipline they called “daring simplicity”. The idea was to take all the complexity that can often come with a client brief and make it as simple as possible. It sounds easy in principle, but, as Hamilton explained, it is easier said than done.

“I’m always fascinated by the client brief that I get,” he said, adding: “I don’t mean this to sound disrespectful to client briefs — but usually agencies rewrite them. It’s an art of distillation, and simplification to get to something. So for us, the best brief, the clue is always in the name — It’s a brief, and it has to be as short as it can possibly be.”

He said that real success in a campaign comes from simplifying everything to a single ask: What’s the single thing that’s going to actually make a difference for the brand? 

“Because the ask is always really broad, it can often be quite complicated, it can often have a number of stakeholders involved, it can often have a number of factors,” he said. “And the job of a real brief is to distil that into what’s the single thing that we can do or say, or build or story we can tell, that will actually make a difference and resonate with consumers and cut through all the clutter and the cynicism.”

Hamilton gave the example of the Connected Island campaign that the company undertook for Three Mobile. At the time, Three was viewed more as a youthful consumer brand, rather than a business partner you could rely on, and the telco wanted to have more of a B2B presence. 

Three asked the agency to come up with a series of testimonials that would highlight how it serviced businesses. Boys + Girls came back to its client with the idea of making Arranmore, a small island off Donegal with a declining population, one of the most connected islands in the world. 

Presenting again, and again, and again

“It came from one of our creatives, Kris Clarkin, who had read an article in The Irish Times about a particular company from Arranmore who’d had to move to London and couldn’t move home. It came from this simple Irish Times article that Chris spoke to us all about, and said, ‘What if Three could do something here, this would be a great thing’. And so we put together a presentation. They didn’t buy it. And then we presented it again, presented again, and presented again.”

The client, he said, showed bravery by backing the idea. “Obviously, it takes an amazing team within Three to buy that sort of thing, to push for it internally, to try and sell it in,” he said. 

In that case, the success of the campaign was validation for everyone. However, Hamilton also talked about the tension that can often exist between creative impulses and commercial necessity.

“Creativity isn’t actually subjective. What you like is subjective. What’s going to work is usually determined by a group of experts who understand it. That’s true in all forms of creativity. Any of the creative disciplines from art through architecture, through music, through film, through advertising — and this is the most commercial of those creative things — what’s good or bad isn’t just decided by an applauseometer of what people like. The Turner Prize in art isn’t what’s the most popular. It is decided by people who understand the process that’s involved in it and the effect that it’s going to have,” he said.

In this podcast, Hamilton also talks about how social media has changed the world of advertising, some of his favourite campaigns, and the future of the industry. 

Brand Matters is a podcast series exploring the issue of brands and brand development. It is presented by Alison Cowzer and sponsored by Whitney Moore, the law firm.