Until last month, Dick Sittig's agency had not landed a new account since 1999, when the shop won the now-defunct eCoverage.com.
The dot-com win was also the last time Secret Weapon Marketing participated in a review until earlier this month, when it successfully pitched creative duties for Activision's $20 million TV account.
The agency won the business a week ago, following a six-week review that included Colby & Partners in Santa Monica, Calif., and davidandgoliath in Los Angeles. Colby had handled the business since January, when it absorbed various accounts from the folding D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles in Los Angeles.
Media remains with MediaVest in Los Angeles.
Activision, with headquarters in Santa Monica, is now the second client on Secret Weapon's roster, joining Jack in the Box, which spent nearly $75 million on ads last year, according to CMR. It is only the fourth client the agency has worked with since Sittig opened the shop in 1997 (it briefly handled project work for Porsche).
Now that it has two accounts, Sittig said the agency is not actively seeking a third. "We want to make sure everything runs smoothly with Jack in the Box," he said. "We're in no rush to find No. 3."
Secret Weapon managing director Patrick Adams said the 10-person shop's business model allows for only three clients at a time. "We want to make sure we choose them carefully," Adams said. "If we were a winery, we wouldn't try to be Gallo. We'd rather create 400 cases of incredible wine."
Activision's understanding of its brand—knowing exactly what it wanted to do through marketing—intrigued the agency. "They provided a thorough brief," Adams said. "They're really smart people who had their act together."
Secret Weapon's involvement in the pitch was a surprise to many, but the shop has always maintained an air of mystery. While officially named Secret Weapon, it was more popularly known as the Kowloon Wholesale Seafood Co. for several years after it entered an awards show under that name, Adams said.
Adding to the quirky reputation is the shop's physical appearance—from the outside it resembles a Chinese restaurant, and the name Kowloon is listed on the buzzer. Inside, a giant chalkboard lists the fish specials of the day, a camera is hidden in a fish's eye, and visitors must have their hands scanned to enter, Adams said.
To win the Activision business, Secret Weapon developed about a dozen ideas for a fall TV campaign for the client's True Crime: Streets of L.A. game.
"We went a little wider because we didn't know their risk tolerance," Adams said.
While the shop has no history in videogaming, Adams said he worked on Nintendo at the former Kresser Stein Robaire and helped launch Sega's first handheld game at Della Femina, a feat that "gets you stared at like you're the old man in the room."
"We did our learning when we entered the [Activision] pitch," said Adams. "Dick had never worked on fast food before Jack in the Box or batteries before the Energizer bunny."
Secret Weapon also trumpeted its knowledge of Activision's target audience. "The same guys who play videogames are the ones who line up at 3 a.m. at Jack in the Box," Adams said. "We've been selling them hamburgers for the past eight years."
Activision is the No. 2 videogame publisher in the U.S. (behind Electronic Arts), with titles such as Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 and Bloody Roar 3. It also makes games based on licensed entertainment properties from Disney (Buzz Lightyear) and Marvel (Spider-Man).