Finding companies that have done something different is not that difficult. Finding firms that have been both innovative and successful is somewhat harder. We’re pleased to have found no less than eight such companies.
This year, in a break with our tradition, we have selected six “insurgents” alongside our Creative Agency and Media Agency of the Year. These shops have forced their way into our attention by conducting business in unique ways or by focusing on endeavors ignored by others.
Our insurgents span a range of disciplines, from PR to branded entertainment to marketing software. There are even a couple of ad agencies in there. All push at the edges of the advertising and marketing business, collectively illustrating the future.
Our Agency of the Year, Wieden + Kennedy, raised the bar this year for cross-platform campaigns and gave new meaning to the phrase “join the conversation” with its campaign for Old Spice. Others will be trying to emulate its approach for years to come.
Horizon Media, our Media Agency of the Year, is the largest such shop not owned by a holding company. Led by CEO Bill Koenigsberg, it has shown the way forward by diversifying aggressively and profitably.
This is the 25th time we’ve made these selections of the best in our field. We believe the new structure of our choices presents a collection of ventures that are reshaping the industry.
WIEDEN + KENNEDY
Embracing digital via Old Spice and Nike creative leads to AOY laurels.
“Hardware hackers” build “toys” in the service of marketing.
Making Facebook more friendly to marketers’ brands.
Reality TV and product placement color Ben Silverman’s new venture.
This tech marketing powerhouse is not your standard PR practice.
Swedes combine digital advertising, filmmaking and art in New York.
WIEDEN + KENNEDY
Sweet Smell of Success
A cross-platform campaign for Old Spice catapults the agency into the digital elite
By Eleftheria Parpis
Photos by Chris Mueller
Wieden + Kennedy was in a digital death spiral. The iconic creative shop behind Nike was blocked on how to adjust its psyche and personnel to embrace the digital shift transforming media and marketing.
It already had lost some Nike business when, in 2007, the agency’s founding client shifted its core running division due to Wieden’s lack of interactive depth. The shop needed to evolve quickly or die.
“We were not the swiftest picking up on the digital revolution,” says Dan Wieden, co-founder and global ecd. He told his staff, he says, that “whether we like it or not, the rest of the world has eclipsed us. If we don’t get our act together, we are going to be a footnote.”
Now, thanks to its breakout campaign for Old Spice’s Red Zone Body Wash—which broke with a Super Bowl weekend TV spot—Wieden is the agency your agency could smell like.
The work, a slightly twisted, tongue-in-cheek production starring a towel-wearing Isaiah Mustafa, was part of a concerted effort by the agency to strengthen its digital offerings. The results have landed the shop in its own version of Bizzarro World, a place where other marketers are looking to “The man your man could smell like” for ideas on how to run their own campaigns. The creative has garnered the brand a 2,700 percent increase in Twitter followers, 800 percent increase in Facebook fan page visits and a 300 percent increase in traffic to the Old Spice Web site. It’s also generated an estimated 140 million YouTube views.
According to Marc Pritchard, global marketing and brand-building officer of Old Spice at parent company Procter & Gamble, it has helped the brand lead market share and is “growing sales in double digits.”
Indeed, the Portland-Ore.-headquartered indie has had one of its best performing years in its 28-year history. It saw client growth in both Portland and New York, and increased its U.S. revenue and billings nearly 22 percent (billings to $1.5 billion, revenue $145 million).
For the most part, it mined existing client relationships. Chrysler added Jeep, Target gave Wieden lead agency status, P&G added a corporate branding assignment as well as Ivory North America, Nokia added North America, and Coca-Cola digital assignments for Diet Coke and Coca-Cola targeting teens.
The agency has also produced some of its best work for Nike, a client Wieden calls “the soul” of his agency. (Its running business returned to the shop in 2008.) “We were born in that cauldron of the early ’80s, when [Nike] wanted to be the Saturday Night Live of the Fortune 500,” he says.
Wieden’s best Nike work this year was the stop-motion spot “Human Chain” and its “Write the Future” commercial directed by Babel’s Alejandro G. Iñarritu. The latter spot, which starred more than a dozen pro-soccer stars and debuted on Facebook, was also in play during the World Cup as a digital installation on a Johannesburg skyscraper. It received so much positive buzz that World Cup sponsor and rival adidas ended up looking as battered as England after being drubbed by Germany.
The creatives that led the effort, Mark Bernath and Eric Quennoy, were promoted to ecds of the Amsterdam office, which had produced the work with assistance from Portland.
And this month, Wieden opened a new office in Sao Paulo, Brazil, headed by Icaro Doria, ecd, and Andre Gustavo Soares, managing director.
Improving the shop’s digital output took four years. To start on that path, in 2006 the agency hired Renny Gleeson, former managing director at Aegis Group’s Carat Fusion, as global director of digital strategies. He built up the shop’s digital production capabilities, adding digital creatives, developers, designers, coders—”folks who help iterate,” says Gleeson. He also worked on communications planning—what he describes as “changing the way the media team approaches what it does, how ideas evolve”—and community management.
“It’s not like we flipped the switch,” Gleeson adds. “It was a build. And we needed the spark to set it off. That’s where Iain comes in.”
Iain Tait, recruited last April from Poke London, which he co-founded, joined Wieden as global interactive ecd. Within months of his arrival, the Old Spice team let loose its “response” campaign. For three days in July, the agency created nearly 200 customized videos starring Mustafa that responded to mentions of the Old Spice TV spots on blogs and social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. These videos spread virally and, in some cases, became ongoing two-way conversations, engaging participation from celebrities like Alyssa Milano and Ellen DeGeneres, not to mention a random consumer who wrote in seeking help from Mustafa in proposing to his girlfriend.
This social marketing component generated 1.8 billion PR impressions for the brand.
Even before the Old Spice response campaign, Wieden was being recognized for its new digital expertise at Cannes. It won the Cyber Grand Prix for its 2009 Nike “Chalkbot” campaign—a collaboration with Deeplocal for Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong charity—and the Integrated Grand Prix for the Livestrong campaign of which it was a part. (Wieden also won the top prize in film, and a Best Commercial Emmy from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for its Old Spice work.)
With its global growth looking strong as well—it had a 10 percent jump in billings and revenue this year (billings to $2.3 billion, revenue $230 million)—the agency is especially optimistic about the future. Both Levi’s and P&G are expanding the agency’s duties with global assignments next year.
Wieden remains philosophical. “Brands are no different than people,” he says. “They lose their way and forget their way. You need to give them a jolt, hand them a mirror and put them on stage.”
An aggressive expansion turns a media agency into a media player
By Steve McClellan
The media buying business is in many ways the antithesis of the personality-driven ad agency business—sometimes seen as a back-office, procurement function run by anonymous bureaucrats. And then there is Bill Koenigsberg—so ebullient, voluble, cocky and charismatic that he seems to be steering his company, Horizon, the largest independent media agency, out of the media buying business. Indeed, he is creating something that starts to feel like a hybrid of media buying and media making.
His new initiatives to this end have included a sports marketing operation and a division that helps clients dispose of underperformance assets in exchange for advertising. Up next: a new joint venture with as-yet named partners that will focus solely on helping clients to devise new ad placement techniques in traditional and emerging media.
The last big indie standing has had a very good year. At a time when other media shops have been forced to scale back, total client billings for Horizon, Koenigsberg’s 21-year-old shop, are up 30 percent to $2.6 billion—more than twice the amount of any other independent media agency. And the shop won a handful of marquee accounts including Dish TV, Corona and Weight Watchers. The CEO, in fact, is feeling confident—so much so that he’s making a series of radical moves into diverse arenas like sports talent representation and event marketing.
His goal is to continue doing more of what he’s been doing: grabbing market share from the holding company agencies. Koenigsberg’s success has fueled endless speculation that he’ll sell the company, speculation he doesn’t dismiss while hedging on the timing.
“Someday but I can’t tell you if that someday is next year or 10 years from now. Right now I’m trying to understand where the media world is going to be a month from now and a month after that,” he says.
With marketers pressuring media agencies for cheaper rates, said one search consultant, the company was shrewd to offer additional services “so it doesn’t get squeezed on compensation.”
Koenigsberg, a one-time collegiate tennis player, founded the agency in 1989. He has invested roughly $50 million over the past two years, launching new services, adding staff and strengthening existing operations such as digital—where it added social media, search and customer relationship marketing expertise—and research, where it expanded its consumer insights group. The shop also is moving into a 150,000-square-foot space in downtown Manhattan that will consolidate its four offices around the city.
Koenigsberg’s decision to reinvest and build had much to do with the agency’s revenue growth. In 2009, when the recession was raging, Horizon increased revenue by 5 percent. This year, it’s up 27 percent to $135 million, according to sources. (Koenigsberg won’t confirm the company’s numbers.)
Of the several new units launched this year, the dive into sports—still in its planning stages—seems, on the surface, the most surprising. For a company whose clients include major sports advertisers (for instance, Geico, which along with NBC has been a client for over two decades, and Corona), it’s actually a calculated land grab. Horizon plans to represent talent, acquire the media and marketing rights to various sporting events, and assist clients with their sponsorship and marketing efforts.
Heading the unit is recruit Michael Neuman, a sports marketing veteran who pops up regularly on TV and sports Web sites. In 2006 he founded Amplify Sports Marketing and Entertainment, which consults for companies including Absolut Vodka and Nikon, and reps properties such as the U.S. Open.
Up and running is Horizon’s event marketing operation, which helps clients develop and implement programs such as conferences, Webinars and trade shows, and a new trading operation designed to help clients dispose of underperforming assets in exchange for ad time. Koenigsberg notes that things like conferences are “billboards for the company.”
Early next year, in league with several undisclosed partners, Horizon will launch a joint venture focusing on new and innovative uses of media (think eBooks and small video players in print magazines).
Jim Sabia, evp marketing at Corona parent Crown Imports, says it’s even more critical for a challenger brand like Corona to have an innovative media agency. For example, the Gruden on the Bus Corona Light integration on ESPN’s NFL pregame show on Monday nights, says Sabia, has upped brand awareness and received excellent feedback from distributors and retailers nationwide.
Search consultant Russel Wohlwerth, a principle in Ark Advisors, credits Koenigsberg’s innovative attitude with keeping the shop hot. “It proves,” he says, “that you don’t need $20 billion in billings to be a success.”
Giant killer wins big by going beyond advertising and helping clients with growth strategy
By Andrew McMains
Since forming in 2004, all-star agency Anomaly has steadily built its reputation as a contender, picking up much-buzzed about business from the likes of Converse and Umbro. But 2010 was surely Anomaly’s banner year. The 120-person agency handily swept much larger shops aside to secure leading roles with Budweiser and Motorola in the U.S., and Sony Electronics in Europe.
The agency’s ability to think beyond the reaches of traditional advertising has been integral to its growth. (To land Virgin America’s creative duties in 2005, Anomaly didn’t even discuss ads with the client, but rather focused on cabin design, flight attendant outfits and in-flight entertainment.) More recently, the shop has ventured into creating its own products, launching a cosmetics line with YouTube makeup guru Lauren Luke and producing the PBS cooking show Avec Eric, starring Le Bernardin chef Eric Ripert. Along the way, Anomaly partners like Carl Johnson, Jason DeLand, Johnny Vulkan and Mike Byrne have attracted eclectic talent to their team, including the former global creative director at Urban Outfitters (Kevin Lyons) and an ex-marketing leader at Nike (Richard Mulder).
Johnson, an account man/entrepreneur, is the self-confident captain of Anomaly, which has offices in New York and London. Vulkan, a deep-dive thinker focused on innovation in communications and technology, and DeLand, a competitive multitasker equally comfortable in a pitch as at a shoot, are Johnson’s longtime first mates, having worked for him previously.
Byrne, the bearded creative chief (and Paul Giamatti look-alike), provides a creative aura beyond the shop’s output, based on his years as a creative director on Nike at Wieden + Kennedy.
Clients appreciate the team’s ability to adapt to their specific environments. “We think of them as Converse. We think of them as working here,” says Geoff Cottrill, chief marketing officer at the sneaker company, a client since 2007. Echoing the Virgin America experience, Cottrill adds, “The thing I like most about them is they bring us ideas and not ads.”
Sony’s confidence in Johnson, Vulkan and then new-hire Paul Graham led the company to hire Anomaly for its pan-European assignment just months after the shop opened its second office in London. Anomaly bested four rivals, including incumbent Fallon, to land the $50 million account. “They seem to instinctively understand how the communications landscape has changed,” explains Ben Moore, vp of marketing communications for Sony Europe. “It just felt like they were there.”
In its winning pitch, for example, Anomaly offered ideas on how to improve customer service, create broader digital platforms and better leverage the assets of sister units like Sony Music.
In 2010, Anomaly’s revenue rose 33 percent to an estimated $20 million, and only a quarter of that came from making ads. (Still, it’s worth noting that the shop did have two winners in the ad department this year, with its “Grab some Buds” campaign for Anheuser-Busch InBev and a Super Bowl spot for Motorola featuring Megan Fox.) The bulk of Anomaly’s work for the likes of Procter & Gamble, Umbro and new client PepsiCo (projects on various brands) revolves around new product development, brand strategy, design, branded content and technology. As Johnson sees it, the pressure on client CMOs has “moved to, ‘Have you got an answer or not? I don’t care how big you are. Have you got an answer?’ And that is fantastic for small companies. They’re valuing the thing that truly matters the most.”
Inventing new ways to live in the real world
By Brian Morrissey
This past fall, the world’s first interactive blimp—bright orange, it promoted Conan O’Brien’s new TBS talk show—floated above New York. Hardware in the blimp checked in on Foursquare periodically for fans to track its whereabouts. Enthusiasts took out their mobile phones, checked in and earned a “blimpspotter” badge. Over 18,000 people followed it on Foursquare.
The program was the handiwork of a small crew of young, self-described inventors toiling in Brooklyn, N.Y. Their shop, Breakfast, is blurring the boundaries between virtual and real worlds, and, unlike typical ad shops that hand off their ideas, is doing it with gadgets they’re building themselves.
“They’re hardware hackers,” says Richard Schatzberger, chief technology officer at Co:, a brand studio that’s collaborating with Breakfast on projects. “But they’re not just doing this for art. They’re doing this for business.”
Andrew Zolty, who along with Mattias Gunneras and Michael Lipton are co-partners in Breakfast, says he and Gunneras were “kids who took apart our Walkmans and wired them up to make talking dolls.” Even Lipton, who’s also the account director, is a software engineer well versed in coding.
“A lot of crazy ideas die on the table because the agencies don’t have the know-how to make the client comfortable,” says Zolty.
Breakfast, launched in January of this year, first garnered attention with a bicycle ride. A friend of Zolty’s was riding her bike across country to raise money for charity, and the agency turned it into a tweeting machine by outfitting it with sensors that collected data on everything from weather conditions to location to speed. The data triggered tweets from the road and were gathered on a dashboard that charted the trip.
TBS executives, impressed with the the stunt, hired Breakfast to help them make a splash for Conan.
The agency is now working with Johnson & Johnson on a health initiative, still in development, that seeks to create a home medical device with Nike Plus-like game mechanics. It’s also doing more work for TBS, which not only loved the blimp project, but the speed in which it was accomplished.
Zolty says the brief TBS had given them was “crazy shit”: The network had a blimp, needed a way to make a splash online, and wanted it developed and completed in two weeks. Zolty and Gunneras met when working at ad agency Poke in London in 2008. While there, the two led the creation of BakerTweet, custom-built hardware installed in a local bakery. When muffins or scones came out of the oven, a worker turned a knob to the type of food and hit a button. That button updated a Twitter account followed by customers. It touched a nerve, garnering lots of blog coverage and industry commentary.
They then decided to create an agency that built those type of “toys” in the service of marketing.
“The Web isn’t tangible,” says Zolty. “When you add a physical thing, people are more attached to it.”
Breakfast continues to tinker with other proof-of-concept toys, such as the Office Music Democratizer, a wall-mounted box that lets people vote on the type of music playing. It’s not interested in branching out into the standard fare of Web sites and banner ads, says Zolty, who adds, “We’re a never-been-done-before company.”
Shop’s software helps brands thrive on Facebook
By Brian Morrissey
Travelers arriving at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York are likely to see an ad reading “7 of the World’s Top 10 Brands Build Their Businesses on Facebook with Our Tools. What’s Your Plan?”
The placement, one of several purchased by 3-year-old Buddy Media in major airports countrywide, is proof that a small company can become a big player thanks to the social network phenomenon that is Facebook.
The company, which builds tools for brands to manage their pages, is one of the fastest growing in digital marketing. It has 115 employees (up from 15 a year ago), $33 million in venture capital funding and a seven-figure valuation. In its October $23 million funding round, WPP came on board.
Ad agencies are Buddy Media’s largest customer base. (The company has a total of 650 clients). That’s because ad holding companies saw the rise of Facebook and social media as an opportunity to add more services to sell clients. It turns out the big money is in building technology that helps brands connect with consumers on these platforms.
Like many good startup success stories, Buddy Media had a pivotal moment. It happened 18 months ago, when the New York company decided its original business as an outsourced Facebook app developer wasn’t working. It was seeing little growth and some apps, like FedEx’s Launch a Package, were merely short-term successes. A production services business, it was clear, did not elicit big multiples.
“We were a glorified agency,” says Buddy Media CEO Michael Lazerow. “Instead of building microsites, we were building microsite apps.”
But Buddy Media was at least playing in the right sandbox. Facebook use was exploding. When Buddy Media started, Facebook had 20 million members; it now has over 500 million. With most brand applications falling flat, the problem was the social network had yet to hit on the right way for brands to interact with users.
Lazerow, 36, didn’t waver from his core conviction that Facebook would “disintermediate the media business,” a business he knew intimately having launched two other companies. One, University Wire, was a news-sharing service for college newspapers; the other Golfserv, a content-and-commerce play that he started with his then-girlfriend, now wife, Kass Savarese (Buddy Media’s COO). Both were sold, Golfserv to Time Inc. for $ 29 million in 2006.
Facebook, he knew, was a new publishing paradigm that needed a common set of tools. “You’d never launch a blog and build the blog software yourself,” he says.
Buddy Media was helped when Facebook in March 2009 introduced Pages, a permanent place for brands. Lazerow shifted the company’s focus from providing tools for companies to managing their pages. Buddy Media built what’s in essence a hybrid of a content management system and Web analytics software geared specifically for Facebook. It solves problems in posting rights and scheduling for companies with dozens of marketers that interact with the page.
For example, Starwood uses Buddy Media to manage pages for its over 1,000 hotels. Hotel managers use Buddy Media’s drag-and-drop system to customize their pages, including shared features like a booking engine and add-ons like wish lists and virtual gifts applications. Clients typically pay about $5,000 per month for the software as a service.
“The value proposition is we can save [clients] 80 percent of those costs,” Lazerow says, since the system does away with the need to learn Facebook’s custom programming language
“What really attracted us is this was a company that was developing an innovative platform that solved a problem for big brands,” said Steve Harrick, general partner at Institutional Venture Partners, which led Buddy Media’s recent funding round, “They recognized where the audience was going.”
Like other Facebook platform companies, Buddy Media faces the risk the social network will decide to compete with it. Lazerow’s not worried, noting that Facebook has more lucrative opportunities in ad sales and virtual currency.
While the company is looking to build its tools to interact with other large social platforms like YouTube and Twitter, Lazerow plans to maintain its focus on Facebook, claiming, “It will be one of the biggest businesses the world has ever seen.”
Ben Silverman’s new reality turns brands into great entertainment
By Noreen O’Leary
Photos by Mitchell Haaseth
There are at least two things the TV-watching public can blame Ben Silverman for: an excess of reality shows and the in-your-face product placements that dominate programs like 30 Rock. Yet both are integral to the success of his new venture, Electus, which in its first full year has done a number of high-profile deals that aim to unite content creators, producers, distributors and advertisers in innovative ways.
“As a history buff and extensive traveler luckily still in the ‘demo,’ I try and anticipate and build trends to drive tipping points,” says Silverman, the former head of NBC’s entertainment division. “I like to change it up and integrate all of these learnings: From my work bringing back the single-camera comedy and mockumentary style after seeing the oversaturation of reality—for which I’m partly to blame—to the creation of The Tudors when everyone had turned their back on the historical drama genre, to business models from format distribution to digital content and programming with advertiser insight. The best is the combination of the avant garde and the accessible.”
For Wrigley, Electus partnered with DumbDumb—the ad production company formed by actors Jason Bateman and Will Arnett—to create a suite of star-studded, comedic viral shorts. For Subway, the company—which is backed by Barry Diller’s IAC—designed a crowdsourced Facebook contest focused on searching for “high-school heroes.” And for State Farm, Silverman, who is Electus’s founder and CEO, and his team paired up with Yahoo Music to create the “Ready, Set, Dance!” campaign, which aimed to connect the insurance company with a young adult audience. Working with AOL, last month Electus launched a Web-exclusive morning show called AOL Daybreak. In addition, Electus has had a number of more traditional deals with broadcast networks and cable channels for new reality and scripted shows.
Advertisers have always been a part of Silverman’s creative process. In 2003, The Restaurant, a reality show with chef Rocco DiSpirito, and the first program from Silverman’s former production company, Reveille—was backed by American Express, which had prominent product placement on the program. At NBC, he pushed for more aggressive use of such advertising (remember the short-lived Knight Rider reboot, which was developed in part with Ford?). Now, as the 30-second spot faces obsolescence, he’ll ramp up those efforts at Electus.
“We bring marketers right into the center of our conversations,” he says. “We share with them at all levels of the process and many times build directly for them based on a given initiative.”
That’s a fairly staid comment from the former network head perhaps best known for his outspoken remarks about competitors, parties with dancing bikini-clad girls (not to mention a caged tiger) and famous BFFs like Ryan Seacrest, who first broke the news of Silverman’s NBC exit on Twitter.
But Silverman, who as a kid famously told his cable exec mother, Mary Silverman, that he wanted to one day program NBC, may be settling down as he returns to his entrepreneur roots. In August he turned 40 and, just last week, Silverman married girlfriend Jennifer Cuoco in Jerusalem, with his award-winning music composer father, Stanley Silverman, as his best man.
Facebook’s agency of record succeeds with cross-platform tactics
By T.L. Stanley
Photos by Jonathan Sprague
There was a good reason why OutCast Communications rebranded itself as The OutCast Agency earlier this year. The 13-year-old firm wanted to show the world that it’s left traditional PR companies in the dust.
OutCast, a powerhouse of the technology marketing community, has staked its identity on the fact that it’s not your standard public relations group (hence the name), going beyond placing op-eds, securing media coverage and handling crises. The agency does all that, of course. But OutCast is unique in its ability to work seamlessly across all platforms and strategies—from print to digital to broadcast to events to design to SEO and blogging—to insure clients have the best means to reach the right people the right way at the right time. To do that, OutCast has consistently adapted to ever-changing technologies and designed a fast, new, Web-savvy approach to public relations for tech firms.
“There are a lot of agencies that say they’re digital experts, but OutCast can back up that claim,” says Facebook communications director Brandee Barker, who hired the firm three years ago after being impressed by its extensive work with tech companies. “They’ve helped us through nearly 100 product launches, media strategy, crisis communication, the f8 developer conferences, everything. They’re phenomenal.”
With all the attention lavished on Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, over the course of the year, 2010 has afforded some high-profile moments to OutCast, too. The agency snagged Zuckerberg a glowing 60 Minutes profile and helped pull off his September guest spot on Oprah when he announced a $100 million donation to the Newark, N.J., school system. The group also added accounts from several A-list marketers, including Nike, Cisco and ever-present, buzz-generator Netflix. Path, the secretive five-person startup from Napster’s Shawn Fanning and former Facebook exec Dave Morin, also joined OutCast’s roster.
It’s been a circuitous route to success for OutCast founder and CEO Caryn Marooney, a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker who planned to be a Manhattan-based lawyer. Marooney took what she thought would be a one-year detour between graduating from Cornell and starting law school—skiing and waitressing in Jackson Hole, Wyo.—before ending up in San Francisco, where she took a job as an assistant at a PR firm that specialized in technology companies. “If I’d landed in Washington, I probably would’ve gone into politics,” she says.
Marooney set up her own shop in 1997, insisting on the company’s name despite advice from friends and colleagues to go for something more “dignified and formal.” The company, which was sold to global communications firm Next Fifteen Communications Group in 2005, will see $16 million in revenue in 2010, up 10 percent over 2009. Looking ahead, Marooney says that OutCast will be keeping a close eye on mobile and social media and video. The company’s temporary offices in Boston and Los Angeles may well become permanent, as the company seeks new tech clients in those cities.
One change that may be coming for the company in 2011 is a shift in demographics at the heavily female company.
“I have been hiring more men,” laughs Marooney.
Creative filmmaking gives a Swedish shop its edge
By Noreen O’Leary
When Stockholm shop Great Works decided to open a U.S. outpost three years ago it went big, recruiting Swedish wunderkind Fredrik Carlström to run it. The film producer laid the groundwork for a new kind of agency—one that would combine the firm’s digital advertising acumen with Carlström’s facility with filmmaking and art. In 2010, the ingenuity of that relationship was on full display.
A highlight was “I’m Here,” a beautifully executed 30-minute film from indie darling Spike Jonze for Absolut Vodka, for which Great Works created what Carlström calls its “online experience.” (TBWA\Chiat\Day created the film.) The branding device, about two robots in love in contemporary Los Angeles, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
The agency also produced a series of online short films for Malibu rum, directed by Eric Fensler (a writer on cult favorite online show Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!), which were featured on the popular comedy Web site Funny or Die. Also for Malibu, Great Works launched a DJ Music Mixer app this summer featuring some of the hottest names in the DJ community, which has garnered over 50,000 downloads.
“A lot of production companies talk about how [getting marketers involved] is a great way to get brands to pay for films, but we’re coming at it from a different angle,” says Carlström, who holds the titles of Great Works America CEO and ecd. “We want to develop content around consumer insights. It might be a feature film or a comedy with very natural [marketer] integration. We know how to create things that delight consumers, but drive sales as well.”
The 34-year-old Carlström—whose wife, Christina Wayne, found and developed AMC’s Mad Men—has conferred upon Great Works a hipster sensibility that’s helped attract attention from the media and eyeballs for clients. Since arriving in New York in 2000, he’s been involved with the arthouse film scene, co-producing a series of short films that premiered at Sundance. The erotic series, Destricted, was from filmmaker Larry Clark and art stars such as Richard Prince, Sam Taylor-Wood and Marina Abramovic. He also became a partner at TV and film production firm Third Factory in New York, with which Great Works has an exclusive first-look deal.
Carlström also has an ad background. In Sweden, while only 21, he started Stockholm agency Graceland Sthlm, selling it when he was 24.
Because Swedish shops tend to stay close to home, Great Works is notable for the breadth of its expansion: This year it opened in Shanghai, and it has a presence in Barcelona and Tokyo.
Carlström says his guiding thoughts about the U.S. office go back to a 1998 article in the Harvard Business Review that tracked the evolution of economic models from an agrarian focus to industrial production and then services. “It really spoke to me,” says Carlström. “As media shifts from distribution to content, brands need to be engaging rather than interruptive to reach an audience, and digital is unbeatable when it comes to delivering relevant experiences over a period of time and in many forms.”
While these days he’s focused on marketing—in the last year, Great Works also created a new digital and social media strategy for Kahlua, launched a new perfume for L’Oreal and produced a study about the nature of play for Ikea—Carlström still does film on the side. He’s in post-production on My Favorite Neoconservative, a documentary by filmmaker Yael Luttwak about her military strategist father, to whom she is ideologically opposed.
Just as Carlström seeks to find greater engagement between brands and consumers in his marketing projects at Great Works, the outside film projects, he feels, encourage conversation among Americans. “One of the biggest challenges facing America,” he says, “is that it’s becoming increasingly polarized. The idea of civil discourse is lacking in this country.”
Photo credits: Great Works (Nathaniel Welch); OutCast (Jonathan Sprague); Wieden + Kennedy (Chris Mueller); Electus (Mitchell Haaseth/NBC Photo)