ZUG, Switzerland: Styling itself the 'World's Biggest Creative Department', OpenAd is a relatively minor Slovenian-owned internet business with just thirty-nine staff worldwide. Yet some see it as the shape of things to come - maybe, even, the writing on the wall for traditional ad agencies.

However, OpenAd md Katarina Skoberne stresses the venture isn't competing with agencies. She insists it simply supplements the use by clients of freelance creatives. "We are not an online ad agency, we are merely a resource of creative material," she says.

Although registered in Switzerland, OpenAd's sales and marketing arm operates out of London while the global support centre is based in Slovenia.

Membership of the exchange is free to the 5,000-plus creatives on OpenAd's register. Explains Skoberne: "Anyone who has registered as a creative supplier - and anyone can - is free to answer the brief, or not, as they choose. Clients pay an initial set membership fee to join OpenAd, then a licence fee for the ideas they use."

"This allows them to post briefs on the site and view existing ideas, paying somewhere between $3000 and $100,000 depending upon the number of pitches they want to hold, the number of categories they want to access and the number of [client] staff who have access."

Among those who have used OpenAd is UK-based charity Comic Relief. Enthuses Amanda Horton-Mastin, new media director: "Make Poverty History was a global campaign and the thing about OpenAd is that it opens the window to global ideas, even for very small clients. It was quick, it was cheap, and the idea we chose was excellent."

Another client is Emap's men's magazine FHM which has used OpenAd three times in the past two years. "We started off with one-off tactical promotions and recently asked for a full-blown branding campaign," says marketing manager Ben Cordle.

"The creative response was fantastic. It gave us access to heavyweight creative talent and saved us thousands or even tens of thousands of pounds on agency overheads."

Established agencies are understandably less enthused. Says DLKW chairman Greg Delaney: "The best creativity comes from a relationship, not a transaction. It's not just the creative people who are important, but the combination of everybody involved. So my feeling is that OpenAd will be an interesting sideshow."

Hamish Pringle, director general of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising - which represents UK advertising, media and marketing communications agencies - is neutral about OpenAd, believing that such projects could succeed, albeit not at the expense of traditional agencies.

"I think it will cause a small ripple in our ocean but a large splash in the pool of 'man and a Mac' operations servicing smaller clients," Pringle opines.

Although few think OpenAd and other similar ventures will spell the end of the ad agency business as we know and love it, Never Say Never, as the 1980s rock song counselled.

Just three and a half years ago BBC Online columnist Bill Thompson wrote: "I suspect nobody reading this will be able to recall a single web advert or campaign. They just don't seem to stick in the mind."

Data sourced from The New Zealand Herald; additional content by WARC staff