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Startup Anomaly Is Hoping To Live Up To Its Name

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Johnson, Lupinacci and friends say ads usually won't be job one

Former TBWA Worldwide COO Carl Johnson, veteran freelance creative director Ernest Lupinacci and a handful of partners have decided to go it alone. Today, they're opening Anomaly, an independent agency in New York that positions itself as offering brand-building solutions beyond advertising.

The other partners are Andrew Kibble, former director of creative services at G2 Worldwide, the design and brand development arm of Grey Global Group; Justin Barocas, former media director at independent Wieden + Kennedy in New York; and Jason DeLand, former new-business chief at G2 and, before that, the New York office of TBWA\Chiat\Day. All five partners will have a stake in the operation, which opens without any clients.

"We want to basically sell clients solutions. We don't want to sell them serviced man-hours," said Johnson, 44. "We want to give them answers, which may mean package design, interior design, a piece of branded content, an advertising idea, a new product extension. We want the focus to be on the solution we give them and be paid for the quality of that."

Added Lupinacci, 37, a former Wieden + Kennedy creative: "We're executionally agnostic."

The partners want traditional advertising to comprise no more than one-quarter of Anomaly's overall business. "We're interested in being more commercial, not making more commercials," said Johnson, who left TBWA in 2002 after a year as COO and two years as CEO of TBWA\Chiat\Day in New York.

Johnson and Lupinacci pointed to the development of Apple's retail store in SoHo and ESPN's ESPNZone restaurant—which Lupinacci had a hand in—as examples of how Anomaly hopes to extend brands without ads. More generally, Johnson said, why not produce a DVD or sponsor a rock concert, if that solves a brand problem? If Anomaly develops such transactional ideas, it will seek to own a percentage of them, said Johnson.

Anomaly will be based in the offices of production company @radical.media in New York. It will use @radical's conference rooms, support staff and some resources.

The agency will seek media planning business alone via a separate division called Synonymous, which Barocas will run. That business could come from clients or other agencies, Johnson said.

At this stage, of course, the agency is little more than a plan, its eclectic mix of disciplines and piecemeal executional approach an untested model. Also, the small lineup and promise of hands-on service is a common selling point of most startups. As Lupinacci admitted, the proof will be in the pudding.

In any case, Anomaly will not be entirely experimental. The partners have nothing against ads. Indeed, Lupinacci spent most of his five years as a freelancer creating them for agencies such as BBDO (on FedEx, Diet Pepsi), Young & Rubicam (Sears) and Euro RSCG (Volvo). He is best known for casting Star Trek's William Shatner as a hip lounge singer for Priceline.com in ads from Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Boston.

During Johnson's (and DeLand's) tenure at TBWA\C\D, the Omnicom Group agency won accounts such as Circuit City, Orbitz and Kmart. As COO, Johnson helped acquire Brand Architecture International and spread the practice of connections planning. He left abruptly in June 2002, citing the needs of his family, and spent the last two years in Sydney, Australia.

Barocas, 35, who spent 10 years at Wieden, has developed creative media placement ideas for the likes of Nike, ESPN, JetBlue and Avon. For JetBlue, for example, Wieden bought newspaper ad space in the shape of the letter "J."

Kibble's brand experience ranges from Absolut and Diet Coke to Masterfoods USA's M&Ms and British American Tobacco's Dunhill, Pall Mall and Kent. At G2, where he spent seven years, Kibble, 36, managed a department of 55 that designed packaging, retail space, collateral, Web sites and point-of-purchase materials.