Indie creative agency, YoungShand, is reimagining the advertising arena with their unique blend of curiosity, humanity and innovation.
If anything, Covid-19 and the challenges of 2020 have pushed brands further in the digital direction, with e-commerce and online engagement with customers proving to be the backbone of many businesses – a solid digital base is now essential for every brand. “Covid-19 has proved to be the final push a lot of people needed to adopt shopping online for more than their groceries. Once you remove the physical shopping experience, it becomes clear just how important the combination of an engaging online experience and a strong brand that people connect with really is,” says Duncan Shand, Managing Director of YoungShand.
Shand founded the agency a little over ten years ago when digital as a channel was just taking off. Since then, the agency has evolved, building on that digital foundation to respond to the changing needs of brands and businesses looking for a partner who can deliver the long term effectiveness of idea led brand thinking, but with a robust understanding of digital and innovation. “Digital is baked into the way we think and is just a massive channel today in any brand’s comms strategy. It has always been a strength of ours, but today we deliver it as part of a full-service offering for our clients,” Shand explains.
Over the past decade, YoungShand has helped many local brands embrace new technologies, change habits and find new ways of connecting with customers. However, not wanting to look at things in isolation – no pun intended – over the past three years, the agency has focused on insight-driven ideas that build brands over the long term, while still retaining the short term effectiveness that a deep understanding of digital gives you. “We are very much an ‘integrated’ agency in the truest sense. Yes, we have a strong digital offering, but we have grown into so much more and now – not by our admission – we are one of the country’s top indie agencies helping to captivate people with effective and emotionally engaging ideas.”
“We want to look after our clients biggest brand challenges. Five years ago, we were on the side-lines as the digital agency. The way we see it is that without being the lead agency, the impact you can have for your client partners is limited,” Shand says. “To solve these problems, we’re constantly searching for a deeper understanding of the customer, how they think, what their life is like and what experience they want to have. YoungShand’s work is very much focused on building brave, innovative brands. Today we have an exceptional team of strategic, creative, analytical and technologically minded people who can develop and implement creative, digital and media solutions that bring emotive and innovative new approaches to life.”
It’s this understanding of the current human needs of the audience, and an innovative approach that Shand says makes for a strong brand today. “It’s about being relevant now. It’s about understanding consumers and where things are going – being curious – and playing to that duality of humanness and the technological need. We have a philosophy of ‘future-curious’; we work to understand where things are going, growing brands and businesses today, by getting curious about tomorrow – rather than having them rest on beliefs that are no longer relevant.
But with so many full-service agencies in the market, what sets YoungShand apart? Shand says it comes down to two things: being independent and openly collaborative. “Before starting YoungShand, I worked on the client-side with brands including Air New Zealand. What struck me was how advertising agencies worked with us: it was all very black and white, and very little sense of collaboration. Now on the other side of the table, I want to have a much more transparent, open and collaborative relationship with our clients.”
Shand says that given the current Covid-19 climate and the favourable position New Zealand finds itself in compared to the rest of the world, being an independent creative agency is a good thing. “We’re well-placed to help local brands in a time of ‘buy local’, as well as multinationals looking to crack the New Zealand market,” he says.
Client Services Director Emma Dalton agrees, saying this collaborative approach has been a big push for YoungShand in recent years, and something clients appreciate. “We like to work really closely with our clients throughout the strategic and creative process. We’re not afraid to show them what’s behind the curtain,” she laughs.
“As much as we have a deep understanding of our partners’ businesses and the categories they are playing in, they will always know more than we do. We also need our clients to be able to embody whatever we’re doing from a brand perspective internally and to rally their team behind it. This has never been more critical than today where consumers’ expectations of brands are so much higher, you have to walk the walk. The more that we take our clients on the journey, and the more they believe in the ideas the better,” says Dalton.
Shand believes that having the best possible team in place who share the future-curious and collaborative ethos of the YoungShand brand is essential in the success of the agency’s work. “We want people that are excited to come to work – that have got passion. We want people that are interesting and innovative, and curious to find the new things out there. We want people that can collaborate and work together. And sometimes that’s a healthy, robust discussion. Collaboration isn’t about compromise; it’s about working together to find the best solution.”
And that collaborative nature, Dalton says, has to start in-house. “We’re all about a good old fashioned round table, discussing approaches and ideas with heads of departments at key milestones throughout the process. We’re small enough to be nimble in our approach, but have the depth in our team to be able to implement some pretty ambitious ideas. Our size – around 39 staff – makes it a lot easier for us to do this,” she says.
“It’s about having those different specialists in the building who can focus on key elements of our business and drive projects to completion,” Shand adds.
The agency’s creative leadership team have been a key part of the push to deliver a unique full-service offering. Anne Boothroyd and Scott Maddox head up the creative offering at YoungShand. Together they have overseen some of the agency’s recent award-winning work. Some pieces of note include; helping Kiwis to save lives with the NZ Blood Service and ‘The World’s Biggest Reserve Bench’, going smoke-free for our pets with HPA & Homecare Medical’s ‘Quit for Your Pets’ and Tend’s new brand launch.
With many years of experience working with brand agencies, Boothroyd says she brings an insightful and strategic approach to the creatively evolving, digital mix that is YoungShand. “Traditionally, digital agencies were much more about facts and figures, testing and results. Sometimes there was a real gap between the human and the piece of communication. With YoungShand, it’s about the best of both worlds – a deep understanding of the digital world and ideas that connect with the audience on a deeper level, building our clients brands in the long term.”
Boothroyd adds that it’s her focus to make sure that YoungShand is creating work and ideas that get under someone’s skin and move them into action. A philosophy shared by Maddox who references the agency’s recent work with HPA & Homecare Medical as an example of insight-driven creative that was highly collaborative, and effective.
“Looking for a way to help people quit smoking, we discovered that when you smoke around your pets, they’re twice as likely to get cancer. New Zealand has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world, and that was over-indexed further within our core audience. So, we set about creating a piece of film that connected with smokers in a completely different way.” he explains.
A key take-out from their work on this campaign, Boothroyd says, is the connection with the audience through completely unexpected messaging. “Sometimes, by repositioning something away from the messages that we’ve heard over and over again, and coming at it from a different angle, it catches people off guard. Whereas if we’d gone out with a message that they’ve heard before, it’s much more challenging not to get that immediate barrier that comes up, ‘ah, it’s just a quit smoking ad’.
“Our job is to craft campaigns that connect with people on a level that speaks to their emotions, wants and needs,” Boothroyd says.
She adds that this type of campaign and the work the agency has done with NZ Blood Service has been a great opportunity for them to show the thinking of an agency that can translate a brief top-down on a brand level. “Because of the sort of agency we are, the work we do often goes right from brand architecture to new website and every consumer touchpoint in between. That for me is exciting – tapping into the heritage of YoungShand, but focusing on combining brave, insight-driven thinking with new technology and creative innovation.”
As YoungShand looks to the future – and their new Ponsonby office – Maddox says all the building blocks are here to continue to build an agency that we’re proud of, and one that is uniquely designed to deliver on the long term effectiveness of idea led brand thinking, with a robust understanding of digital and innovation for our client partners.