Jim Davies says that designers are the new ad agencies when it comes to creative poster design.

Back in the 1920s and 1930s – the heyday of the poster, when the likes of A M Cassandre, Jean Carlu and E McKnight Kauffer ruled the waves – the design fraternity appeared to have cornered the market, for what was then, the dominant advertising medium. By the 1950s and 1960s, however, the tide had turned and the emergent ad agencies had seized the initiative.

Over the years, admittedly, there have been some great exponents of the advertising poster. Most are strangely anonymous, swallowed up by the monolithic agencies under whose name they worked. Others – like John Gilroy, who produced literally hundreds of classic Guinness posters – made their names through sheer virtuosity. Even today, one or two names stand out – ad agency BMP DDB’s maverick art director Mark Reddy and ad agency Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO head of art Dave Dye – both of whom have a keen eye and strong design sensibility.

But they are undoubtedly in the minority. The typical ad agency art director’s overriding tendency is to follow the strict, predictable format of headline, photograph, sign off, with minimal interaction of type and image. It’s quick, easy and proven and just goes to show the relative lack of status accorded to the poster in the contemporary advertising mix.

But this lack of respect for a once-vibrant medium has at least opened the doors for designers once again. Increasingly, graphics specialists and branding consultancies are being asked to create poster campaigns, often working outwards from corporate identity programmes, printed literature, packaging and point-of-sale. There have always been exceptional designers who have broken the mould and worked successfully across the advertising/ design schism, such as Paul Rand and Alan Fletcher, but these days, it’s far less unusual.

Currently, the kind of poster commissions meted out to design consultancies tend to be the kind of client which perhaps can’t afford the service of a full-on ad agency. They’re also the kind of organisations which are prepared to take creative risks, because they recognise that this is a legitimate means of achieving “stand-out” on a small budget.

Having seen what design consultancies can achieve, in terms of ideas and execution, smaller brands are gradually starting to come on board too. If the trend continues, can we hope to see the next French Connection’s FCUK or The Economist campaign coming from the other side of the fence?

Here are four recent campaigns by design consultancies which are blazing the trail.

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