“My company would never work with an agency with the word ‘murder’ in its name.”
“Murder hornets failed to launch in the U.S.”
“I prefer almost any of the other names on the list.”
The above is advice from a great CMO, the creative lead of a global agency, and mostly everyone I know. So why would anyone call their ad agency Murder Hornet?
In March of last year I decided that, armed with a few campaigns people have heard of and some solid industry and client relationships, it was time to plant my entrepreneurial flag on American soil. I’d done it twice in South Africa, starting Joe Public Advertising (a corner store that sold ads off a menu) and FoxP2 (named after the language gene in humans), but I had never found the stomach to do it stateside.
My wife, Robyn, has a crazy skill for naming products and companies. She named both the agencies mentioned above. So, we started thinking and sharing ideas with colleagues, friends and family.
Friends and ex-colleagues loved the names that had to do with my insanely large size—names like Giant or sixeight300—but those felt too oddly self-referential. Loved ones liked the names that had sentimental value like Silly Not To (my family credo, we’re up for most things) or Richards of George II (the entrepreneurial sequel to my dad’s beloved but failed clothing store).
But then it dawned on us that what we wanted to create wasn’t an ad agency at all, but a brand that would live in culture and have a great ad agency attached to it. An ad agency that made our brand (and other brands) famous. Like if Supreme or Liquid Death also had a world-class ad agency offering.
Suddenly, one of my wife’s crazy names halfway down the list was the only name it could be: Murder Hornet. It had so much attitude that it couldn’t be ignored. A name that one might imagine as the next great energy drink, skate brand or maybe… ad agency.
I’d been working at big agencies for two decades in the U.S. where we spent a ridiculous amount of time on our own agency positioning. Each agency’s poor head of strategy bleeding out of their eyeballs trying to find something unique to say that wasn’t already being said by every other agency. Gut, Mischief, Mojo Supermarket, Slap Global—some of the hot new kids on the block don’t have that problem. Their name and creative output do so much of the heavy lifting that a stream of first letters of last names of retired founders just can’t do.
There is also something about my brand of advertising that can best be described as “creative violence.” If you’re trying to raise more awareness of your burgers, I’m going to turn it into a triple platinum hit with Rick Ross, Gucci Mane and 2 Chainz. It really is not for the faint of heart.
I also tend to violently push against the restraints of corporate culture. For too long in the big agencies, I was a murder hornet in a beehive. Not the best fit.
So Murder Hornet it was.
Then, we had to figure out how to build this company. So along with Murder Hornet the agency, Murder Hornet Ventures was born. A friend and great designer (and co-founder of FoxP2), Andrew Whitehouse, designed the mark and developed the corporate identity.
The feedback we’ve gotten so far has been double thumbs-up. Murder Hornet started with a B2B staffing client on retainer and a large, concentrated push to register voters in Georgia for the last election. For each of these, we created a Swarm of the very best people for the job and, as you can imagine, those two Swarms looked nothing alike. The two briefs had nothing in common, so how could they have a team in common?
And this is how Murder Hornet is set up going forward. A brief comes in, our small permanent team chooses a Swarm of experts in that field to collaborate with, and we run at the problem. This works for projects; it also works for AOR clients, who get their own bespoke Swarm.
Now, Murder Hornet Ventures is also in full swing, choosing which products to make, who to partner with, how best to finance, what to spike our energy drinks with and who should wear our sunglasses.
Yes, it’s a lot. But these Murder Hornets don’t sleep.
If you’re starting something in advertising and marketing, make sure it’s something different and that it leans into your greatest strengths (which are ironically also often your biggest weaknesses). Try to launch it like you would launch a brand you work on, (i.e. add some “creative violence”), be as visible as you can, surround yourself with ridiculously talented people, and just go for it.
What’s the worst that can happen? You have to get another job.
This article is part of an ongoing Voice series that takes a behind-the-scenes look at new agencies in their first year of business.