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Alex Lewis: Revolt

“THE WORLD IS ON FIRE. THERE’S NO TIME TO WATCH FROM THE SIDELINES”.

This is the first thing you’ll read from Revolt’s website, the brand consultancy dreamed up by the acclaimed strategist Alex Lewis.

Revolt is one of the first ever creative companies designed to both help brands tap into their social purpose - and - on the flipside - help activists and individuals better communicate their own brand. They count among their clients everyone from behemoths Mars and ABInBev to a host of grassroots activists.

Revolt wasn’t a side project, he admits, “it’s not quite as neat as that”. He left advertising with a plan to create his own consultancy, instead of starting the idea on the side. But, as many side projects are, it was rooted in a long history of his own observations and thoughts. 

Lewis can trace his first thinking about the concept of Revolt to his graduate job: “I started my career at the Co-operative Bank”, he says, “and they had a very strong ethical policy, and managed to grow their brand disproportionately off the back of it: they were doing really interesting things off the back of their values. In the back of my mind I’d always had that thought”.  

Writing Revolt

“The advantage of a book is that you can get it published relatively easily. Through doing that; it gets you thinking about the case studies you’re using, the theory you’re applying. That process was very helpful for Revolt as a business.” 

“It does take time, but if you’re writing a book you just need to find the time. If you want to start a T-shirt brand, you also need to find some money to start it. With writing, it’s just the sheer perseverance to find it that’s needed. You can just sit there at your computer pottering away at it.”

“With a business, you have a hypothesis of what the business could be, and how you might make money in different parts of it, and you set off and try a bunch of those.  And some work really well, and some there’s no appetite for.”

The key to building a brand

The aim behind Revolt is to leverage the full power of brand, the premise being that the best way to build a brand is to try to change the world. Lewis recommends that brands find a cause or issue or problem or fight that needs tackling, and use all of the media investment, creative imagination, and will and perspiration to tackle that.” Doing so, he says, will deliver “more emotion, more interest, more media coverage and more fame for your brand.”  

The second half of the business is centred around the idea that if you want to change the world, a brand can be really helpful. “The best activists, individuals and charities have had a disproportionate impact because they understand branding”. Lewis lists some famous names: Livestrong, Movember, Comic Relief - Why does he think they had such an impact? “Whether they knew it or not, they created really successful brands”. 

Good business allow for people to do what they’re passionate about

Revolt’s day to day work tends to naturally revolve around passion projects. “Because of the nature of what we do, there’s lots of side projects within the work we do. Sometimes the work comes from people in the team, a connection. The brands we build on behalf of charities and activists, often represent interests of people within here.” 

So far, they’ve built a nail brand for transgender activists, a charity campaign for the homeless around the royal wedding (after the council came out and criticised the homeless in Windsor), and next week they’re working on getting young people to vote to make an impact against climate change. 

But the team also have their own side projects, including one employee making and funding their own film. “The film wasn’t a Revolt project”, Lewis explains, “but it was good - partly because it stopped her working insanely here, but also because she learnt about Kickstarter, and she learnt about production, probably a lot of stuff she can apply here.”

“I had other side interests. I wrote a couple of screenplays, and the screenplays were a good outlet, as I couldn’t at that point lead a start-up.  It was a bit silly, because it’s very hard, but I did have a few expressions of interest to buy them. You learn about stuff, you immerse yourself into the subject, as you need to dig into a subject” 

Connecting brands with purpose

Revolt are starting to get a name for themselves. “We find the action that’s going to make the difference about what they want to change. People come to us now because they know they need to do it properly, rather than just spouting hollow rhetoric.”

Do they ever say no? It depends. “You might have a beauty brand doing amazing things for young girls but their packets can’t be recycled. But if you said ‘we are not going to help you create this fundamental shift for young girls because your packs aren’t recyclable’ I think you’d be shooting yourself in the foot. But equally we are not going to do something about climate change, if their credentials don’t stack up.”

What’s next?

Will Revolt be a trailblazer for the advertising industry? Lewis thinks ‘purpose agencies’ will follow the same pattern of digital transformation on agencies. “There will be a move to purpose being a mindset and not a bolt-on. Digital once seemed like a snake oil, and people didn’t trust it, but now it’s a part of most businesses. The only issue is realigning your business model around purpose can be difficult for incumbents” 

On the Revolt website, their values are written in bold letters. They believe in “Working fast and hard. Smarter, not longer; doing it, not talking about doing it”.

Hats off. They embody everything that is right about a modern day workplace culture, and everything that Out of Hours believes too… just they’re about 10x better at writing it. 

Check them out at Revolt London.

P.S. We’ve just found out they’re hiring too!