AdweekMedia's Agency of the Year 2010



The Insurgents

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.”

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