Gone but not forgotten, Barton F. Graf may have held its own funeral but its legacy lives on—and so do its computers.
Mojo Supermarket, an independent New York agency launched last October by Droga5 vet Mo Said, acquired Barton F. Graf’s computers as an homage to the agency with a desire to continue making the kind of cutting-edge work Gerry Graf’s shop spent a decade crafting.
Said explained that Mojo Supermarket found its unusual name when its first client said it needed help getting its mojo back, adding that he liked the idea of alluding to a supermarket where you can find what you need. It also happened to be the closest thing to his own name that he felt comfortable using.
Much earlier in his career, Said was confronted with a painful reminder of how much prejudice remained on both sides of the agency/client divide in the industry.
At the time, he was the creative lead for a client who said, “I don’t want Muslims running the account,” leading him to have to work behind the scenes with others at the agency who couldn’t acknowledge his contributions, solely because of what his mother had decided to name him.
“I had to make people successful who legitimately hated me,” he said. “Those realizations really push you.”
It ultimately helped push Said to launch his own creative venture, and he wanted to keep something from a shop that had served as a creative inspiration. “This agency is built on ideas that Barton F. Graf and Droga5 and all these people created,” he said.
When he heard Barton F. Graf was closing, Said reached out to creative director Maddie Smith and asked, “I want Barton F. Graf in my agency—what can we take?”
Unable to acquire any office space in the agency’s former home, Said decided to take the devices that had spawned the agency’s distinctive brand of creative.
“Barton F. Graf especially had a sense of irresponsibility. We want to create a sense of irresponsibility here where a creative can make work that’s incredibly weird,” he added.
The Barton F. Graf news hit especially hard for Said on the heels of Droga5 being acquired by Accenture. “These were beacons of creativity, and we were reading in the trades that creativity is dying and data is taking over,” he said. “We were holding on to these agencies in our minds [and] two of them fell really quickly.”
“When Barton F. Graf shut down, as a creative who’d been in this business for years, I was sad,” he said. “But as a creative starting an agency, I was excited to find what’s next. There’s much needed change in this industry, and sometimes we need a kick to the gut to find it.”
He added that while creative icons like David Droga and Gerry Graf should be celebrated for pushing boundaries, the recent shifts will cause “more people [to] understand this business has to evolve. There are no unicorns.”
Said joined Droga5 as a senior copywriter back in 2015 when the agency was still small enough that his creative director was David Droga, something he didn’t realize at the time was unusual. After learning a lot, he realized the agency and its place in the industry had shifted to the point where he wanted to start his own venture to have the freedom to work across a variety of clients.
David Droga himself was the first person Said told about the launch of Mojo Supermarket, and guided him through the launch process and remains an advisor to the agency.
Mojo Supermarket is among a class of new independent agencies attempting to evolve along with the changes that have shaped the industry in recent years.
“People like myself are searching for what’s next. It was a broken agency model that we took on for way too long,” he said. “There’s so many layers to an agency in 2020… The structure is all wrong to tackle content quickly.”
Mojo Supermarket is trying to address a number of problems with the old agency model, attempting to take a more blanketed approach, move away from overstaffed teams, and work more collaboratively with clients and other agencies. He added that the agency also wants to address a lack of perspective inherent at many shops across the industry.
“Creative agencies are some of the least diverse businesses in America,” he said, adding that Mojo Supermarket will be 50% female as of next month. “I’m a Pakistani copywriter whose accent is fake. … I faked it 10 years ago to try to get a job.”
He pointed to the creative team behind a recent campaign for Adidas, which included “a musician from Pakistan” (Said), a designer from Colombia, a skateboarder from Chicago, a rugby player from Australia and a researcher from New York.
“We don’t belong in one room, but when you put us in one… it’s pretty magical,” he said. “Agencies think that diversity is how many shades of skin they can get in their agency of the year photo. But the need is in diversity of thought. Bringing different people, that think differently, into one room to create something amazing.”
Said remains optimistic about the future of his agency and the industry, saying it’s the most exciting time to be both an agency owner and a creative, even more so than when David Droga launched his storied shop.
“I think if Gerry [Graf] started an agency now, it would be wildly successful,” he said. “[The issue] was the way the agency was set up, the way the business side was run.”
As the industry heads into the next decade, Mojo Supermarket will be using computers from an agency whose fortunes rose and fell during the 2010s. “These computers made some of the best work in the industry,” he said.
He noted small stickers on the computers reading “Property of Barton F. Graf.”
“When creatives look at that, they know where the bar is, how irresponsible to be,” he said.
At the same time, the sticker is a cautionary reminder for Said.
“I want it to be a reminder of what to do for my creatives and a reminder of what to be careful of for me,” he said. “For my agency, they need to create that work again. We need to fight to create that work as an industry.”
“Those computers joined a great agency to do great work,” he added, explaining that it was “honor to have them here” and that he hoped to continue that legacy.
Most of the computers are already at the agency, with a small pink “Mojo Supermarket” sticker placed over the old Barton F. Graf sticker in a way that makes both readable.
“It’s just an evolution,” Said said. “Barton F. Graf made amazing work, and we’re going to continue that with a Mojo spin on it.”