From a glitzy NBA All-Star Weekend activation for adidas in Los Angeles to a multisensory wellness installation for Childish Gambino in New Zealand to community-driven performances for Stormzy in inner-city London, SUPERIMPOSE is the agency pushing forward the boundaries of experience for today’s generation.
With roots in culture and lifestyle, its portfolio is one of “quality over quantity,” symbolic of its mindset as a new-world creative agency. Recognized as 2019’s Studio of the Year by Creative Review and one of the hundred fastest-growing agencies by Adweek, the agency is seeing its doing-things-differently approach paying off. For SUPERIMPOSE, the exciting projects are in fact the less glamorous ones sometimes. It sees these as opportunities to make a bigger impact and create real value.
If you are an avid sneakerhead, chances are Zalando and its 2019 campaign Join the Sneakernet feature heavily in your browser history. A punchy, futuristic take on a virtual sneaker store that used computer-generated imagery to build a series of digital scenes, from a hyperqueue to an infinity stockroom, the campaign invited Generation Z to buy from Zalando while upping the European e-commerce giant’s youth-culture creds to the likes of the agency’s client adidas.
The campaign ushered in a new era for Zalando, not only drawing a younger audience into the fold but also giving the online fashion retailer access to better buys. It’s a chicken-and-egg situation. “They came to us saying, ‘You need to make a concept that looks insane. You need to make our products look better than anything else in the industry,’” says executive creative director Ollie Olanipekun. And that’s what he and his team did. Playing to Zalando’s digital strengths, SUPERIMPOSE created a hyperworld, brought to life with the agency’s signature progressive styling and casting—the agency has long adhered to showing real people doing real things. As with all its projects, the work was grounded in relatability and a delivery of clear key performance indicators. Olanipekun says, “It was a great opportunity for us to show that we don’t just do cool and trendy, we answer business needs.”
Olanipekun, 35, cofounded the London agency in 2014 with friend Toby Evans, and their combined skill sets—Evans is a designer, today flying solo, back on a graphic design path—kick-started SUPERIMPOSE. The desire was to challenge outmoded ideas within advertising culture. Having worked his way up in trend forecasting and branded content—Olanipekun contributed to Battlefront, Channel 4’s Emmy-winning project to encourage young people to engage in political activity—he later bounced around a few agencies before landing at We Are Social, where he was responsible for creative content strategy on the adidas account.
Fate conspired: creating the Stan Smith–relaunch campaign for adidas galvanized the agency’s fast-track success. Six years down the line, SUPERIMPOSE has worked with a whole array of lifestyle and fashion brands, including full creative on campaigns for eight adidas collections—one high point was the huge activation it created in London for the launch of Stormzy’s adidas Originals capsule in 2018—as well as projects for Tommy Hilfiger and Burberry.
Located on the fringes of Coal Drops Yard in King’s Cross, London, SUPERIMPOSE has grown from a two-man team to a core staff of 35, and it’s the agency’s nimble structure and collaborative ethos that bring the good stuff in. Very cool but not pretentious and incredibly creative, this practice thrives on flux and is fueled by being open in every way. Whatever the brief is—long-form video, performance, event or experience—the agency keeps the team compact and brings the talent in. This sets it apart from traditional agencies and allows for more agility as a result. The agency’s team members are not coders, for example, so for Zalando, they had someone help with that. SUPERIMPOSE drives the core creative, but the “nuts and bolts” is a collaboration. “The people we partner with help to make our vision come to life,” says strategy director Jenny Zhang, who is instrumental in shaping the agency’s proposals and packaging them. “They facilitate, execute and come along the journey of making what’s in our heads come to life.”
There is much transparency that comes with this—gone is the Mad Men era where everything agencies did with clients was secretive and hidden. “It was this ideal that we had to pretend we knew everything,” Olanipekun says. “For us, no, we’re transparent. We tell our clients: this is the team, this is what we’re bringing in, this is where we’re going to need external help. The smart clients understand that for the best work, it has to come from multiple sources. It can’t be one creative director closes a door for four weeks and comes out, ta-da! Those days are gone. That old-school way of working is so backwards, yet a lot of big agencies still rely on it.”
On the contrary, SUPERIMPOSE is uniquely placed to flip the traditional output of what a creative agency does. In a time when the world is flexing—never more pertinent than now, with the pandemonium caused by the coronavirus outbreak— by creating a platform for creativity and positioning the specialists on it, the agency can evolve as well as bring more-progressive ideas to the table. The team always likes to push its clients into being brave and trying something new.
A conscious principle of balance governs the SUPERIMPOSE structure. Mentoring has always been important to the agency, which is a long-term workshop partner to University of the Arts London (UAL). More recently, the agency has taken its passion to the next level with Supercurriculum, its in-house education program.
“We thought, how can we do something more meaningful than a one-hour workshop?” says Zhang of the agency’s desire to develop a more sustained collaboration within creative education. Preparing for its first collaborative experience with UAL’s London College of Fashion (LCF), in January 2020, the agency crafted the idea of The Anti-Fragile Collective, a weeklong course, and staged a takeover of an LCF campus, inviting freshman students to become “future agents of change.” This culminated in a live exhibition that asked attendees what being “anti-fragile” means to them.
“For me, the course was to put an arm around the shoulders of Year One students and give them a boost,” says Olanipekun. “Year Ones are nervous. They have so many questions. They don’t know how far they can push things, so we were there to give them support and see how far they could grow in the space of five days. They went from shy mood boards to full-blown takeovers. It was everything.”
The agency hopes to bring the creative industry closer to students while learning from them in return. Zhang says, “For us, it’s genuinely a case of, if we want to forward our business, if we want to forward what we’re doing, we need to invest in younger individuals because they are essentially the talent that will build the agency.” Olanipekun says, “Agencies all over the world will bring in younger people. ‘To keep us fresh,’ they say. But as soon as you bring someone into an agency, you’re isolating them from learning. We want to keep them learning. We want to learn from them.”
Client work, education... the third platform of SUPERIMPOSE is Services Unknown. All noncommercial, special projects fall under this umbrella, whose aim is to facilitate experimental ideas, useful not only for in-house creativity but also for attracting new work. As Olanipekun explains, the agency is not the type to knock on client doors. By being open-ended, Services Unknown also provides an opportunity for less-conventional ideas to be developed; for instance, the merchandising of a clothing line and the agency’s very own hot sauce. Originally manufactured to gift to clients at Christmas, the hot sauce was so good—sweet yet spicy—that the agency made it available for sale.
One example of a campaign that sits as part of Services Unknown is #Swindled, a simple word that sparked an entire movement around Brexit. Having originally conceived the campaign for anti-Brexit group Best for Britain, SUPERIMPOSE decided to produce the #Swindled concept independently after big-agency involvement threatened to take the stripped-back creative core of the message elsewhere. Ever resourceful, the agency managed to get national billboard coverage—the one located on the way to Heathrow Airport is the most-viewed billboard in the United Kingdom, says Olanipekun—and the agency hooked interviews with media outlets all over the world. When Barack Obama’s campaign manager is calling to say he is flying in and wants to meet, you know things have gone well. “Me talking about politics?” recalls Olanipekun on his Sky News interview with British journalist Adam Boulton. “I’m just a creative. I came up with this idea because I care. On Brexit, everyone who voted to remain or leave voted on a lie. We didn’t have the facts.” Stripping things back to the core, swindled was the word that SUPERIMPOSE decided to use to connect with Middle England—middle-class, traditionally minded people from the United Kingdom—speaking aloud the truth that we all feel like we’ve been let down. “It did extremely well for us,” says Olanipekun. “It epitomizes what Services Unknown is about: raising awareness.”
Evolve, evolve, be nimble: this is how Olanipekun describes the SUPERIMPOSE DNA and all that it entails. This is an agency that by its very nature is not greedy, yet its ambitions are high. They always have been. Long before the days of bloggers and influencers, Olanipekun created the hugely popular website Better Never Than Late in his twenties with his friends, where they documented their lifestyles and everything going on in creative culture. Today, with new SUPERIMPOSE offices in New York and Los Angeles—the mentality of UK cool is proving popular in the United States—his sights are set on travel and hospitality. City planning also holds lots of charm. SUPERIMPOSE has already completed projects with Donald Glover, who goes by the stage name Childish Gambino, and that’s laid the groundwork for the agency to experiment within social spaces and contribute to communities.
“We want to impact culture and change behaviors for the better,” says Olanipekun. “My hope is that with all these collaborations and partnerships, we create a new generation of creatives that can go into the industry and change how it works, whether it’s them setting up their own agencies or going into big, established firms. My dream in terms of all the work we do is to make sure that happens. It’s quite ambitious, I know.”
If SUPERIMPOSE has one consistent narrative, it’s change. An award-winning agency, a cult brand, a thought-provoking creative platform and an alternative learning experience grounded in the philosophy of collaboration and community will inevitably evolve once again. Even now, inspired by a turbulent future, the agency is preparing to unite a new cohort of innovators called Futurimpose. As we step into a changed world, Futurimpose will be a new compass to help guide consumer culture to a better place. ca