Jason Yates is many things. He’s a former actor who has appeared on some of the biggest shows in the UK (including Eastenders), a visionary marketing mind and a bloody nice bloke. First and foremost, however, he is the Managing Director of Thinkhouse UK, one the country's leading youth marketing agencies. Thinkhouse was voted as one of the world’s leading independent agencies by Campaign Magazine last year, and since then it’s been going from strength to strength with Jason at the helm of the UK office. One of the agency’s most exciting recent wins was a new campaign for boutique fashion brand Miss Guided and a campaign starring Khloé Kardashian for Protein World, which arguably changed perception of the brand almost overnight. I caught up with Jason to discuss his own transformation from actor to MD of Thinkhouse UK, the exciting growth and development Thinkhouse is experiencing as an agency, and how he got a Kardashian to work with Protein World and go on to make a successful and positive campaign despite previous negative feeling surrounding the brand.
How do you feel that your time as an actor helped shape you into a successful Managing Director?
Having spent my youth on shows such as Eastenders, Coronation Street and working with Steve Coogan, I have been very lucky to be surrounded by ambitious people with vision. The ambitious and strategic thinking of the show’s producers generated audiences of over 15 million people, so I understood from an early age what ambitious thinking was all about. This experience shaped my understanding of creative success.
Are there any skills you learned during that time of your life that you think are transferable?
I feel I’ve taken two key transferable skills from my time in the acting industry to where I am now. Creative discipline is critical – you have to understand what it is you are trying to achieve. Secondly, having a really good laugh is so important. You have to make sure you can love and be joyful in what you do, all day long. If people feel fantastic, they generate good work.
How do you think the world of marketing is going to respond to the shift catalysed by recent political changes?
Millennials and youth audiences have been totally shafted in the current political climate. As far as youth audiences and millennial marketing is concerned, I feel there will be an even stronger emphasis on ethics, connectivity, and gender and race equality.
What was your initial vision for Thinkhouse when you came on board?
The vision between myself and the founders of Thinkhouse Jane McDaid and David Coyle when I first came on board remains the same now - to make Thinkhouse the boldest youth marketing agency in the world.
You were named one of the world’s “Leading Independent Agencies” last year. Do you value your status as an independent?
It’s the reason we get up in the morning. Our independence offers agility and the flexibility to give our clients the best advice possible without layers of agenda or undue influence. Our independence allows us to champion and protect youth and millennial audiences.
Thinkhouse apparently embraces an ‘anti-agency’ stance with its work, could you elaborate on that for us?
That’s interesting, people always ask about this. It’s a general approach, for example we don't do clique-y, industry, patting each other on the back awards. Awards within the industry are irrelevant to the consumers our campaigns engage with - youth and millennials are our focus entirely. Unless an award is voted for by them, we are not interested. We hire the very best youth talent into our agency and we tend to hire left-field brilliance. That gives our agency a real competitive edge.
As an agency specifically focused on ‘youth marketing’ what do you feel you bring to the table that other agencies can’t?
It’s difficult to connect with young audiences if you don’t understand them. We are a specialist agency made up of millennials, so our employees live and breathe the places, spaces, trends and insights of our audiences.
Do you think it’s your focus on youth marketing that has helped you attract mainstream millennial talents such as Khloé Kardashian and net accounts like Missguided?
Yes absolutely. Brands that are building a business with youth audiences as their consumer base need strategic and creative partners to guide them in this ever-changing landscape. Our trends and insights division, The Youth Lab, future proofs brands and provides sector specific strategy and insight work for global brands. We are getting noticed in all the right places.
You are widely regarded as having helped transform public perception around the Protein World brand. Was this a challenge?
The first question was internal - was Protein World ready for the challenge? The answer was yes – they wanted to embrace a new relationship with consumer audiences. They recognised the missteps of the past. They were in the right place for the change curve and we met this collaboration with confidence. The second question was around the creative and in order to change a relationship with an audience, you have to tell a different story. When we looked at the DNA of the brand and the global brand of Khloé Kardashian, it became clear that the answer lay in a visually iconic creative. A central insight we focused on was the passion of youth audiences to lead healthy lifestyles, identifying a direct synergy between this health-conscious generation and Protein World’s brand DNA to inspire people to be their best selves inside and out. We took inspiration from the current trend of 1980s pop culture amongst young audiences for the shoot’s theme (think Flash Dance, Stranger Things and Fame), the result has resonated with audiences all over the world; in the US, Europe, Australia, etc. We’ve had incredible feedback and these images have become iconic in a short space of time.
How did you net a Kardashian for the Protein World project?
With great love and respect for what she represents, and of course with great skill (LOL). There’s no bullshit with Khloé, she would not do a six-month brand campaign with Protein World if she didn’t love the brand. This was absolutely not about a cynical brand endorsement. Khloé adored the creative theme of the project and we connected with her desire to be personally involved in the creative decision-making, making it a truly collaborative experience. At Thinkhouse we work with talent in a collaborative way, we don’t do pay for play.
Are there any marketing industry trends you foresee taking hold deeper into 2017?
Micro-influencers and the way that brands use them is going to change this year, it’s all going to be about storytelling. Thinkhouse has always engaged with influencers in smart and creative ways, leading the way around storytelling, and I am glad to say that other agencies are now playing catch up. The PhysiDigital fusion of experiential with a digital campaign is also going to be huge in 2017.
Thinkhouse has hugely influenced the marketing landscape with its fast-evolving, insight-led, innovative, social-centric, creative culture. The agency's unapologetic style sets it apart from traditional marketing companies as it embraces an anti-agency stance on many issues such as awards, agency structures and workplace culture. Thinkhouse works with some of the world’s biggest brands such as William Grant & Sons (Global), MISSGUIDED (Global); Heineken Ireland (Heineken, Orchard Thieves, Desperados, Coors Light, Tiger); Unilever (Sure, Magnum, Dove, Ben & Jerry’s and more); innocent; and more. Jason Yates’ portfolio work includes: Adidas, Desperados, L'Oreal, BBC, Topshop, Issey Miyake, Deutsche Bank, RSA, Fiat, E4, SAB Miller, Unilever, Banksy, London Live, Prudential.
Header Image: Thinkhouse and Protein World team with Khloé Kardashian (Jason far right)
Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and struggling musician from Kidderminster in the UK who would like to thank Jason for his witty and informative answers.