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.”
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