New Agency Tall Poppy Is Positioning ‘Creative Sustainability’ as Its Differentiator

First public project for the new agency features artistic shoes painted with Harlem-grown produce

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Alex Little and Karsten Jurkschat climbed to the top of the creative world fairly quickly. The duo, originally from Melbourne, Australia, won the Australian Young Creatives of the Year, Cannes Young Creatives of the Year and the first Gold Lions for Ogilvy Australia within the same 18-month period.

The two then created iconic campaigns for Verizon, AT&T and WhatsApp for McCann and Translation, respectively, before deciding to break away from the networks and open their creative studio, Tall Poppy.

Now, the two preach a concept they call “creative sustainability” that they are bringing to new clients, including their first project for Harlem Grown, “AgriCulture 1,” debuting today, a collection of artistic sneakers painted by NYC artists with paint made from Harlem Grown vegetables.

The first project

Harlem Grown is a New York nonprofit dedicated to empowering youth through urban farming and education. Through a collaboration with Tall Poppy, they have planned a unique art exhibition and event, which will showcase one-of-a-kind sneakers meticulously painted using real produce from their urban farms.

“AgriCulture 1” features six New York artists: Laolu Senbanjo, Lisa Whittington, Adrian Brandon, Whitney House, Lyne Lucien and Alex Caidor, who have transformed five Nike AirForce1 sneakers into vibrant masterpieces using paint extracted from Harlem Grown okra, beets, spinach and other produce. Every shoe tells the story of the organization’s commitment to growing healthy, ambitious children.

Artist Laolu Senbanjo poses with his art shoes.Tall Poppy

Tony Hillery, founder and CEO of Harlem Grown, said that the exhibition will showcase what the organization does to a new audience, street culture meeting agriculture, and he hopes the event leads to more notice and support.

“Instead of just another ‘gala’ fundraiser, we prefer to reach a broader audience, people unaware of our life-changing programs and amazing urban farms,” Hillery told ADWEEK.

The art featured in “AgriCulture 1” will be available for purchase through a three-week online auction where anyone can bid on their favorite pieces of art, with all proceeds directly supporting Harlem Grown.

Art shoes from artist Whitney House.Tall Poppy

What’s in the name?

In Australia and New Zealand, tall poppy is a slang term used to describe people who get too popular or too successful too young, and then the rest of their peers, instead of supporting, try to cut them down.

Little and Jurkschat experienced that after they capitalized on their early success, so they explained that the name arose from that experience.

“When we’re talking to clients, these people are also tall poppies. They’re ambitious and they want to do great work and get all the sunlight. So it’s a great way to empathize and talk about some common traits,” Little told ADWEEK.

What is creative sustainability

Creative sustainability, they said, is a project-based model that focuses marketing budgets around singular ideas built for lasting impact.

“We’ve made a career out of doing it at other agencies, now we’re creating a model that focuses on that,” said Jurkschat.

They pointed to lasting campaigns, like the 5G helmet for deaf football players they developed for AT&T while at Translation, which they said is still creating buzz over six months after its release. The same goes for Verizon’s “The Team That Wouldn’t Be Here,” a three-time Cannes winner that told the story about pro football players saved by 911 calls through the Verizon network.

Those campaigns encapsulate Tall Poppy’s creative sustainability concept, and they hope to keep doing the same for new clients like Harlem Grown and Air Company a business with a mission “to decarbonize the planet by transforming CO2 into an endless resource,” that has former Verizon chief creative officer Andrew McKechnie as its head of marketing.

“Alex and Karsten are exactly what we like to work with; smart, thoughtful, compassionate and eager to roll up their sleeves,” said Hillery.

Jurkschat said that he and Little looked at the industry and realized that a lot of people—and now AI—can make ads, but they wanted to take a unique stand.

“If you have a great platform thought or great brand positioning where we can attach something to a brand that gives them some purpose or gives them a real Northstar, we can make less ads by making these bigger pieces that really kind of sustain the cultural conversation for longer than 1,000 small pieces,” said Jurkschat.

Much of the time Tall Poppy spends with clients is in the planning and creative strategy before the actual work is started.

“It’s high-level planning platforms and giving brands purpose, and then being able to show up in the world with that purpose that proves whatever that brand statement is,” said Jurkschat.

Being a small creative studio means Tall Poppy can be selective about what clients and projects to take on.

“We’ve talked about taking on only 10 projects per year and being very careful and thorough about who those projects are with. So we’re not looking for quick growth, we’re looking for the right kind of brands and the right kind of projects,” said Little.

Tall Poppy has heard from clients that they want smaller teams with fewer layers to be true partners.

“We want to stay as close to the work and our clients as possible,” added Little.

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