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A Unique Agency Positioning

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Is this what we've become?

That's what some ad folks were asking recently when a juvenile self-promotion ad from startup agency N2O appeared in San Francisco magazine.

The ad featured a crude drawing of two stick-figure dogs (or maybe they're horses?) humping. The one on top has its head thrown back and sports a carefree grin; it's labeled "Your agency." The one below, grimacing and looking shocked, is labeled "You." "Need a change?" asks the headline, followed by the name and phone number of the San Francisco shop.

Nancy Hill, president of GMO/Hill, Holliday in San Francisco, found the ad off-putting in the extreme. "This isn't an industry that needs to be treating each other this way," she says. "I just find it tasteless to position agencies this way."

N2O president and CEO Eileen Arbues doesn't see what the fuss is about. "The fact of the matter is, this is how we feel," she says. "We think people might find it comical. Plus, we pride ourselves on pushing people and getting them to think differently."

Arbues says she got only one nasty call—from a guy who mumbled a few choice words, refused to identify himself and hung up. On the flip side, she says, many people have called with compliments—including a possible future client.

That wouldn't be Larry Flynt, would it?