The IPG-owned, Brooklyn-based agency Huge recently created a separate San Francisco entity in order to serve a single client: Apple.
The new agency has a name (Elephant), a homepage, a Foursquare listing, an office several blocks from Huge San Francisco, and a not-quite-accurate entry on IPG’s own site. (The holding company apparently chose and registered the pachyderm name in 2012 before its newest operation came to be.)
Yet — as with Omnicom’s MAL, another agency created strictly for Apple — communications regarding Elephant are nearly nonexistent. Its website clarifies that visits to its office are “by appointment only,” and since its inception it has functioned as a secretive “black box” entity with no press mentions or public announcements.
Sam Weston, a Huge spokesperson, declined to comment save for the following:
“Almost a year ago we moved the Apple business to an independent entity called Elephant. Elephant works exclusively with Apple.”
This all started last April when, as reported in AdAge, Apple chose to greatly expand its digital marketing efforts by signing with four new agencies: AKQA and Huge on the West Coast and Area 17 and Kettle in New York.
Elephant came to be almost immediately and, while the agency did not specifically address the “why” behind the decision to create an “independent entity,”the move would appear to stem from a desire to avoid an overlapping of teams on competing accounts. (Huge has worked with Google and Samsung, two of Apple’s chief rivals in the digital space.)
Last year, Apple’s at-times-uneven relationship with MAL went public via internal emails revealed in court and reinforced the fact that the client is very particular about its agencies.
This is not a secret…and the existence of Elephant isn’t quite a secret either. For example, various employees have used the #helloelephant tag on Instagram to share images of the design themes in its San Francisco office:
— Fernanda Saboia (@saboia) March 28, 2015
Here are members of the Elephant team celebrating in late 2014:
…and here are some pics from the agency’s recent one-year anniversary party:
What’s less clear is who does what at the shop. When the AdAge story ran last year, sources said that the four agencies hired by Apple would work on “user experience and digital strategy, among other elements,” and, given past work from Huge and AKQA, that would appear to be an accurate summary.
While Elephant’s work is all digital, it does not collaborate with any of the agencies Apple signed in 2014 (or MAL, for that matter).
Throughout the past year, members of the Huge team have moved over to Elephant. But the specifics regarding those changes are, again, not clear. A source estimates that Elephant currently employs 30 people who operate with complete independence from the larger Huge organization, but the social media posts above would appear to indicate that the two agencies do share some employees or, at the very least, that Huge staffers sometimes visit the other office.
The larger IPG organization has no comment on Elephant and, given Apple’s history, the client will not mention the work done by its newest digital agency anytime soon.