David Douglas, Managing Director, Sharon Murray, Operations Director and Aiden Grennelle, Creative Director of Ebow discuss the view that “Creativity is more important than ever in an increasingly uniform digital environment” with the Business Post.
As it enters its third decade in business, Ebow, the Irish-owned digital agency, is poised for change.
Change is nothing new for Ebow, however. Launched in 1999 in the heady final days of the Dot.com boom, the agency has continued to evolve in the years since in response to rapidly changing trends in its field.
Now, says founder and managing director, David Douglas, digital marketing is entering yet another phase, one that requires more creativity and a sharp focus on quality and originality across all platforms.
“The ‘digital gold rush’ is over,” said Douglas. “Digital, now, is actually under performing for a lot of people, particularly versus their expectations.”
“It’s too crowded now with very little niche. There are so many touch points – the web, Google, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok – that the whole space has become too noisy.”
Every brand is on the same platforms and every brand is following the same route to market, with very little science and appreciation for nuance, said Douglas.
“That means a lot of homegrown brands and companies aren’t getting the sales they deserve.” he said.
In response, Ebow is championing a return to “traditional brand sensibilities” and an ethos of quality and individuality.
“If you look at the sheer volume of the content we consume online now, there is this creeping homogenisation across the board,” said Douglas.
“A few years ago, you’d see lots of creativity. It was kind of fun and very internet. Now, it’s all the same. Some brands are even continuing to shoehorn above the line into the digital space which is making the experience quite boring.”
“We’ve forgone invention and, instead, we’re seeing brands now echoing the ‘filter aesthetic’ of Snapchat and Instagram.
“The result is that everyone is using the same language and everything looks the same, so cut-through creativity is more important than ever.”
Ebow’s long standing experience working with clients in sectors, such as retail, travel, finance and health, has imbued the agency with a solid understanding of how to smoothly manage varied projects across all platforms.
“That’s really key and that’s where our years of experience come in,” said Sharon Murray, Operations Director at Ebow.
“We know what can go wrong, because we’ve seen all of the potential mistakes over the years. Now, we know how to get it right and we know that it needs to go up another level.”
Murray joined Ebow in 2003, just as Douglas was relocating the agency to a new office in Temple Bar having signed up a strong of big clients, including Budget Travel.
“When I first joined, we did a lot of creative design for print even though digital was our speciality. The communication model then was quite different,” says Murray.
“Over the course of my first decade at Ebow, our work went from being very traditional to being almost exclusively digital.
“Now, we’ve come back out the other side again. The digital gold rush is over and, for us, the focus now is on finding the right mix of different media to do justice to each brand’s story.”
Ebow’s clients include Peter Mark, the Irish-owned salon chain, Kerrygold and the HSE.
The agency specialises in what Douglas calls “digital positioning”, spanning web design, email, search, content and social media.
“If you combine all of our skills and energies, really what we’re about is managing brand reputation,” said Aiden Grennelle, Creative Director at Ebow.
“From that perspective, what we do is not about ‘advertising versus design’, nor is it about ‘web versus traditional’.
“With all of the companies we work with, we manage their reputation across numerous channels.”
Grennelle started his career in the advertising industry in the 1980s, his work has been included in design shows in London’s Design Museum and he is the Irish winner of a prestigious D&AD pencil.
“Back then, there was this clear distinction in the sector between design and advertising. Advertising was viewed as the ‘Premier League’ and design was the ‘B League’. Later on, when web design became part of the equation, it was regarded as less important again,” he said.
“That’s not the case anymore. Marketing has become ‘digital-first’, but the industry has gone down the same siloed path, where companies were working separately with a brand consultancy, an ad agency and then a digital agency.”
Grennelle said a more holistic approach was now emerging, whereby clients wanted to work with one trusted agency across platforms, ranging from corporate films, press and out-of-home to radio, web and mobile.
“That approach suits us because we have good people with specific skill sets we know we can count on,” he said.
Ebow is an agile agency, with a small core team and access to an established network of specialists, who come on board as needed on a project-to-project basis.
“Our vision is to keep our team small, working with clients who are willing to invest in their brand and want to work with people who similarly invest in their own profession and skills,” said Douglas.
And Douglas is also on the hunt for a new home for The Ebow Gallery, having been forced out of the much-loved gallery on Castle Street the agency had occupied for 17 years in early 2019.
“We had to leave, because of anti-social behaviour and zero reliable support. It was no longer safe for our staff to work there, but moving out was a huge loss for me as an individual,” he said.
Douglas said he was “actively looking” to replicate the gallery space in a new building.
“It has such as a strong on-street presence. It was almost our USP, our point of difference in our market,” he said.
Over the years, the Ebow gallery hosted shows and exhibitions for The Rolling Stones’ Ronnie Wood, Horace Panter, bassist with the ska band The Specials, and Pattie Boyd, the British photographer and former model.
The space was intrinsic to Ebow’s creative DNA, playing a crucial role in the agency’s success as a unique and progressive player in Ireland’s digital marketing sector.
“Ebow was actually named after a song by REM. It’s also a piece of equipment you can use when you’re playing guitar to extend the sound,” said Douglas.
“I’m a guitarist myself and music, and the creativity it represents, has always been hugely important to us as an agency.”
The gallery on Castle Street had helped Ebow to translate digital activity into footfall,” Douglas added.
“We had fun there, in this kind of playground, working on these really cool campaigns and we want that back.”
Murray said Ebow’s experience building its own brand and reputation, in part, through the gallery had given her a keen sense of the need to help clients build a strong, tangible, brand in the real world in tandem with their digital presence.
“If you think only in pixels, you’ll never be creative,” she said. “Having a physical creative space is really important, because it challenges you creatively. You have to think differently.
“For all the years I’ve worked at Ebow, David has always had the unique foresight to be able to flip the company on its head over and over.
“When we had to move out of the gallery, it felt really big, but I know that he’ll be able to bring it back in some other, better, more refined, form.”