United Biscuits' shock decision to pull Williams Murray Hamm's radical Jaffa Cakes packaging just six months after its launch outraged the design community so much that the biscuit maker received a deluge of letters defending the agency's work.
Despite the scrapping of one of its finest pieces of work, it was WMH's position as a creative leader and innovator that justified the modestly sized shop being named Marketing's 2004 Design Agency of the Year. Consistently effective - winning business and producing exciting work - means it has only been only two years since the agency last won the accolade.
Another reason for the shock surrounding 'Jaffagate' was the effectiveness of the redesign, which led to the brand growing 12% last year, an anomalous achievement in what has been a poor year for United Biscuits. Despite this on-brief success, next year the packs will vanish in favour of a design featuring a larger logo.
In this instance WMH appeared ahead of its time, but during 2004 there have been many clients eager to secure the services of the agency and its innovative approach.
Burton's Biscuits jumped at the chance of a bit of design magic once United Biscuit's had dispensed of WMH's services and the agency is currently reviewing the company's identity across its range.
As is commonplace in the world of branding, a number of WMH's business wins this year are shrouded in secrecy, but the fact that it was chosen by the long-suffering Sainsbury's to work on an undisclosed project for launch early next year is proof that big companies trust the agency to deliver.
The recent appointment to work on packaging and identity for Sadie Frost's uber-cool fashion brand FrostFrench ensured WMH retained a balance between corporate and cutting-edge in its 2004 wins.
When Fortnum & Mason hired the agency to communicate its heritage through a new corporate identity, jealous detractors accusing the agency of an over-reliance on creating brands for new companies were silenced.
Admittedly, much of WMH's highprofile work this year has been for upand-coming brands, such as the fair trade organic Clipper Tea, premium ice-cream company Hill Station and burgeoning beer brand Cobra. But big-budget corporate identity work for banking giant Barclays also did well at Marketing's Design Awards.
Clipper was instrumental in helping WMH retain its position at the top of the Design Business Association's Effectiveness League Table. The tea brand took the DBA Effectiveness Awards Grand Prix for a 374% increase in sales to the end of 2004. This was despite no marketing activity other than WMH's packaging design, which features striking photographs of animals from the tea-growing regions against a black background. Again, this has the hallmark of WMH's design principle to do things differently.
In part thanks to WMH's inventive bottles which tell the story of the brand's development, Cobra has this year broken out of the niche Indian restaurant market, growing the brand 30% to a value of £60m.
Besides picking up three Marketing Design Awards for its work on Jaffa Cakes and Barclays, WMH's refreshed look for Hill Station led to its commendation in both the Food & drink and fmcg categories, growing sales by 31% in the first two months after the relaunch and 44% in the next two.
This year has seen the agency increase company turnover by 33% to £2.1m, the projected year-end figure. Such a performance belies its size - for the past two years the staff of 16 has remained the same, loyalty that has clearly contributed to productivity.
Existing clients including Coca-Cola and Unilever have certainly been impressed by their experience. Both awarded WMH incremental business in 2004. The agency now has an NPD project for Coke and branding for Unilever in the personal product sector to add to its workload.
Such success has gone straight to creative director Garrick Hamm's head, a head which formed part of the National Portrait Gallery's Blueprint for Life exhibition of influential designers. Hamm was also appointed to the D&AD executive board this year.
2003: Checkland Kindleysides
2002: Williams Murray Hamm
2001: Landor Associates
This article was first published on Marketing