Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Why the ad industry needs a new frame of inspiration

By Adrian Rossi, Creative Partner, The Constellation Collective

They are vermin.
They carry disease.
They caused the Bubonic Plague.
They chew through everything.
They are filthy.
They are good for nothing. Right?
They are unusually intelligent.
They are actually clean.
They almost never carry disease.
And crucially they have an amazing sense of smell.
So, what does this make them good for?

In the 1990’s in Belgium, a pet lover called Bart Weetjens heard that rats had an incredible sense of smell. Not only that but they were clever, which meant they could be trained. Fortuitously, he met his former university lecturer, Professor Mic Billet. Their combined thinking led them to solving one of the world’s most horrible, illegal and hidden dangers.

Landmines. They kill or injure 15-20,000 people per year, most are women or children. Hundreds of millions of dollars had gone into trying to find a way to detect them but with limited success.

Bart and Mic worked out that rats could be trained to sniff out landmines. They’re light weight – around a kilo -meant they wouldn’t trigger any. Their sense of smell and speed meant they could clear huge swathes of land quickly and effectively. Thousands of landmines have been cleared from Mozambique to Thailand by their rats.

Then, far from carrying disease, Bart trained rats to sniff out tuberculosis in parts of Africa. They had a 100% success rate. These results meant that rats were then used to detect TB in patients across 28 locations, detecting on average 800 cases per week.

Bart looked at rats in a completely different way to the rest of the world and by doing so resulted in something amazing. That is the way we are looking at marketing.

Our industry has barely evolved for 100 years. The haircuts and clothes might be different in Mad Men but not a lot else has changed. Everyone lives on a little island called Adland, an inward looking place, where there is barely any evolution never mind revolution.

Inspiration is from within and consequently stale. Points of reference are from a mirror. Everyone talks a good game about being different but with the same input the output is the same. Our inspiration came from outside, at other industries and from what clients really want. We looked at things in a different way. That is why we created The Constellation Collective.

It is built on one simple premise. Great ideas. But today, what is an idea? They are very different from 50 years or even 5 months ago. We have cut any legacy ties or thinking that may anchor other entities. Starting with the needs of clients we are creating an agile, forward looking, group of companies with tech, digital and innovation at the heart. We are assembling a collective ready to create, and make, ideas for today and tomorrow.

Bart and Mic worked together and used their combined talents to create something unique. We believe in the same formula with The Constellation Collective. People working together will achieve magic that individually they couldn’t. Capabilities from across the Collective can be used as and when a clients’ needs dictate. They will not be buying one company, rather the whole Collective.

Our name, our logo and indeed our philosophy reflect this. We are assembling stars in their own right, that combined will burn brighter still. Together we can solve complex problems and create unique solutions and ideas for clients.

Even though we are a collective with a tech and innovation focus, people still come first. Both in terms of how these capabilities connect with people but also the people in the collective. We might be a collection of people but we act as one.

My fellow partners and I, with over a hundred years’ experience between us across disciplines, are here to help as and when required. We are the bridges and the glue. We want to make sure each company retains its own brilliant culture and independence. The partners aim to grow each company and maximise their potential. In that respect we are the football coaches, we create the conditions for the plethora of talent to flourish.

Like Bart and the mine detection rats, it is time we look at the world differently and make a positive change. That is our belief and our North Star.

As an animal lover the crucial bit of data for me is this: Landmines cleared – 108,236. Rat deaths/ injuries – 0.