Strategic product design attracts corporate players

Could rumours around the industry that US-based Interpublic Group is ‘talking to’ one of the UK’s leading product design groups mark a change in attitude by the big marketing services agencies to industrial design?

Until now, 3D design generally, including interiors other than retail, has played second fiddle to communication design and branding within the likes of IPG, Omnicom, WPP and even French network Havas, the argument no doubt being that there’s more money to be had in these quarters, where strategy plays a huge part. Interiors and product groups tend to be smaller concerns, run by designers and linking into their manufacturing clients for technical design support.

History has shown that when a marketing services group gains a 3D consultancy, often by default, it tends to be a shortlived experience for the latter. WPP branding giant Enterprise IG made short work of former office interiors specialist BDG McColl when the two were merged by their parent a couple of years ago. Meanwhile, Enterprise IG’s stablemate Fitch has weeded out most of the players from the former PSD Associates, which it acquired through the combining of UK consultancies within the former Cordiant Communications Group, which was subsequently bought by WPP.

There are exceptions. IPG branding flagship FutureBrand, for example, set out with a core of retail and interior designers, courtesy of founder directors David Davies and Stuart Baron – now both happily independent of the megagroup. But its focus now across Europe is on packaging and this offer includes structural design. This was largely achieved through the merger of IPG groups FutureBrand and packaging expert Coleman Worldwide. The resulting business in the UK included the former Coleman Planet, which counted structural packaging as a strength.

But by and large the big conglomerates have shied away from product design in particular.

So what has changed? For a start, many product specialists such as Kinneir Dufort in Bristol, Jones Garrard in Leicester and London’s Factory have taken on structural packaging work as an important part of their portfolio. But, more importantly to the marketing services groups, the likes of Priestman Goode and Seymour Powell have gained the higher strategic ground with clients. The former, for example, has been lead consultant for Virgin Trains, Boa Housewares and now Yo! Sushi offshoot Yotel!

This enviable position could make them even more fiercely independent, but it also renders them highly attractive prospects for bigger groups looking to find a point of difference with their rivals and a new source of influence and cash.

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