Renaissance Men

Ernest Lupinacci looks a little tired. The former freelance creative director and co-founding partner of Anomaly—usually a bundle of energy—had a daughter recently, and she’s keeping him up at night. His daughter has, however, inspired a motto for the agency, which it had printed up on T-shirts: “Georgia needs a new pony.”

“That’s what it all boils down to,” says Lupinacci, sitting in an airy kitchen with windows overlooking the Hudson River, in’s Hudson Street offices, where Anomaly will be located for a few more weeks before moving into its own loft space in SoHo.

Whether Georgia will, in fact, get her pony depends on how well clients respond to Anomaly’s business model. According to partner Carl Johnson, former worldwide COO at TBWA who fills the CEO role (there are no official titles at the agency), the model rejects the traditional “silo” approach to agency structure (media department, creative department, etc.). “One of my last jobs [at TBWA] was to probe the future blueprint of an agency model,” Johnson says. “We came to the conclusion that driving change through an existing agency network would take years and years … because there are so many structural barriers. It was personally way more interesting to build it from scratch.”

Anomaly, which opened last June, prefers a multidisciplinary approach. Each of the seven partners has an expertise, such as media or design, which they pool together in planning meetings with the staff. Founding partners include Johnson and Lupinacci, as well as former G2 top executives Andrew Kibble and Jason DeLand, and Justin Barocas, former media director at Wieden + Kennedy in New York. Partners Sal LaGreca, the former worldwide CFO at IPG’s McCann WorldGroup, and Johnny Vulcan, former senior project director at Publicis’ Fahrenheit 212 in New York, were added in February. Whoever has the most appropriate experience takes the lead. Barocas, for example, leads media-focused projects. Lupinacci, who spent six years working at Wieden + Kennedy on brands such as Nike and before freelancing for five years, heads projects with more of a traditional advertising creative approach.

“It’s the opposite of the old model, which is almost like a relay being passed from one person to another,” Johnson says.

A key facet of the 25-person shop, which Johnson says he would like to grow to about 75 to 80 people, is that advertising is not the sole focus. In fact, it has produced only one traditional advertising campaign to date: the estimated $20 million Dasani campaign, which broke March 18. That assignment grew out of a package design, corporate-identity brief, says Lupinacci.

The resulting three TV spots, directed by The Life Aquatic’s Wes Anderson, show people in animal costumes discussing how much better Dasani tastes than other water they’re usually forced to drink. The tagline: “The water that makes your mouth water.” They also created a design language for the brand and redesigned its logo, packaging and Web site.

“I like working on Web pages, bottle copy, they’re more touch points for the brand,” Lupinacci says. “Rather than trying to collaborate with another vendor or agency, we’re all working on it in-house. … Our whole vision of Anomaly is that we could do anything or everything.”

It was this flexibility that drew Coca-Cola to the shop. “They were intriguing to us because they weren’t mired down in a lot of layers. They were great creative and strategic people on a mission to create a vision for their agency to solve client problems,” says Sara Schmid, Coca-Cola North America advertising manager. “They were very conscientious … about how things worked in stores, how the visual language would play into it.”

Anomaly is currently working on projects for about 10 clients, says Johnson. They range from design, mobile content and Web development to creating a restaurant concept for an undisclosed car company—and all are rolling out in the next two to 18 months. Separately, their mobile content and distribution unit owns rights to images, including many of Marilyn Monroe, which consumers can buy directly and send over their mobile phones. “All of that is all really part of what we want Anomaly to be,” says Johnson. “We want it to change shape and change form, all the time.”

Whether Anomaly will live up to its name and prove to be a unique alternative to the traditionally structured agency remains to be seen. But they have some time: Georgia won’t be able to ride a pony for a few years yet.