When is an advertising agency not an advertising agency? What is a shop that makes ads, but isn’t principally interested in selling products? Actually, in addition to ads, it often makes documentaries, Web series, builds sites and apps, and pitches reality shows. Still, it’s not just a production house, nor necessarily an interactive agency. It’s a new game run by entrepreneurs who are focused on tools and technology. And they’re doing it in a world far removed from Manhattan and its corporate mores and price structure—but one reachable by the L and F trains.
When ad shops first started to populate Madison Avenue in the 1920s, they were a hybrid of talent agency, commercial art studio, vaudevillians, radio announcers, novelists, and nascent marketers (a.k.a. hucksters). The new ateliers that have grown up in Brooklyn are as unformed: geeks, Final Cut Pro jockeys, visual artists, and video guerillas, supported, as often as not, by advertising work.
If their function is not always clear, what’s evident is that they’re remaking the way the creative world is conceived, executed, and produced—and at what cost. Worth noting: more and more, ads aren’t even made on Madison Avenue (or in TriBeCa or SoHo); they’re subcontracted to Dumbo or Williamsburg. And, too: those heretofore cheap subcontractors increasingly are talking directly to clients.
This then, we believe, is the first map of the unfolding creative revolution—a reconfiguration of geography and function, in which creativity gravitates to new talent, a different vision, better tools (and those who can use them), and cheaper real estate.
Indeed, it’s unfolding so quickly that, as people in the know have already begun to say, even before Brooklyn has been officially acknowledged as the new capital of creativity, Philadelphia could soon be the new Brooklyn.
– The editors
428 Graham Ave., Williamsburg
First there were the Hasidic Jews in Williamsburg, then writers and musicians, and now video artists and storytellers. GoodGreatGrand, launched in 2009, employs its talent on behalf of food, beauty and makeup clients including Covergirl and Cointreau—despite a roster of only three employees.
For Covergirl, the group, and its freelancers, wrote and directed 12 online spots; for Cointreau it teamed up with Dita Von Teese for the Web-based “Be Cointreauversial” ad campaign that included the sex kitten shimmying on stage, bottle in hand. “It’s literally about pretty storytelling, or ‘stylized realism,’” says creative director Tom Goldstein, 31. “There are no big car commercials. It’s about making people’s stories believable and fun—which is harder to do, as you know, than people suspect.”
190 North 10th St., Williamsburg
Area 17 co-founde r George Eid says not studying French in high school turned out to have been an ill-advised decision: His business partner lives in France—and, more importantly, his wife is French. “She wanted to move to France and that’s when we [started formulating] the company,” says Eid, 38.
Since launching in Williamsburg in 2003—when it was but a blip on the cultural radar—and expanding to Paris, the aesthetically minded Web design and marketing firm has integrated its operations with ease. With two offices and clients as iconoclastic as Etsy and Madame Figaro, and as large as Condé Nast and Coca-Cola, Area 17 has “had to juggle,” says Andrew Ackermann, 28, creative director. “But so far we’ve really used it to our advantage.” Among Area 17’s recent projects is Adweek.com’s redesign.
BK Media Lab
255 6th Ave., Park Slope
The road to success for BK Media Lab included stops in Africa and Washington, D.C., before launching in leafy Park Slope last year. The group’s co-founder, Zimbabwe-born Itai Kaitano, 32, dreamed up the video and Web production firm while consulting at D.C.-based MGP Software, which tracks fundraisers and contributions to political campaigns, then established the company with the firm’s Emmy-nominated director of production, Timothy Betler (a former producer at MTV, NBC Universal and National Geographic).
It has carved a niche in the political realm, among other industries, serving up media packages for politicos across New York while taking on clients like MNET (parent company of South African TV network Vuzu), and a boutique vodka maker. “We learned there was demand for low-cost, high-quality video—and decided to get in there,” says Kaitano.
55 Washington St., Dumbo
It all started in a Greenpoint living room in July 2007, a year before Lehman Brothers collapsed and many companies imploded in its wake. For Apex Exposure, however, now based in Dumbo, the unfolding economic climate hasn’t hampered its ability to draw in some of the nation’s biggest corporate clients. And with an uncanny skill for precisely applying its services where they best benefit clients, each job tends to differ from the next. For Nike, the group looked to Facebook to promote a marathon in Washington that the shoemaker sponsors. To update Rolling Stone magazine’s website, Apex utilized crisp design and plenty of video.
Despite its influx of top-level clients, however, the group has no plans to leave Brooklyn anytime soon. “Our lease is up in a couple of months, and we’re looking at renewing and staying right here in Dumbo,” says Apex Exposure president Josh Scheiner, 28. “A lot of our employees all live in Brooklyn. And in Dumbo there’s a million trains that come in, so it’s very, very simple to get to, and we can deal with our clients in the city. It’s really just a great location.”
45 Main St. | The 2nd floor, Dumbo
If Huge, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies, wasn’t the first digital shop in Dumbo when it launched in 1999, then its predecessor has stayed under the radar. Twelve years ago the neighborhood was, in executive creative director Joe Stewart’s words, “sort of this weird balance between recycling plants and [the border of] this super posh, super-duper nice part of Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights. It was a weird mix of unbelievably grimy and these super nice amenities.”
The sentiment could be applied to Huge itself, which has remained energetic, cutting edge and, dare we say, punk rock, even as it rises to the top of an ever-growing industry of design and production firms across New York. “Kids in a room, pounding away on keyboards” is the way Stewart, 33, describes the business, which has grown from two employees to 300-plus. When MediaPost named Huge Agency of the Year in 2010, few knew who it was, and others were taken by surprise. But with clients like Pepsi, Reuters and Mattel, the kids with the keyboards have made sure the agency is now firmly on the map.
45 Main St. | The 6th floor, Dumbo
Consider for a second that The Joey Company, a Dumbo-based full-service integrated ad agency, juggles assignments for both the Centers for Disease Control and Trojan, the condom manufacturer. With the former, the firm masterminded Web campaigns dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the H1N1 virus, a deadly strain of influenza. As for the latter, it used humor in 2009 to create a line—“You can’t wait to get it on”—that the Sundance Channel called the “best condom tagline ever.” This is a company with range.
Since 2002, when the firm relocated from New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, where it had operated for 11 years, the staff of 17 has exceeded expectations. With a roster that boasts Arrid Anti-Perspirant, an auto dealer, a baby products company, and, most recently, advocates for Title IX, the company is taking on a menagerie of clients. “Blessed and humbled, we’ve actually grown in the face of a tough economic time,” says Joey Cummings, the agency’s founder. “People have been calling us the ‘best kept secret.’” The secret, it seems, is out.
45 Main St. | The 7th floor, Dumbo
Before James Oates launched Hudson Union, the design and email marketing boutique, he had established himself as a prognosticator in New York media circles, working at Vogue and the The New Yorker as a marketing director, as well as at Newsweek. In 2006, however, the salesman spun off his talents, building a company from scratch with the help of a huddle of colleagues. After a brief stint in Manhattan, the group relocated to Dumbo in 2007, where it quickly overcame its position as David (as in “versus Goliath”) with a staff of only six employees to draw in some of the media world’s biggest game.
From its office’s Bloombergian bullpen, the group has since wrangled accounts from Oates’ former employers, as well as Elle, which recently hired the company to redesign its website, and Condé Nast Traveler, for which it engineered a mobile application that digs into the magazine’s dusty archives for reportage on Italy. “The media world is very small and you tend to move all around,” says Oates, 49. “So, yes, I know a ton of people in the publishing business.”
45 Main St. | The 8th floor, Dumbo
Like many of these firms, Big Spaceship started out small—so small, in fact, that when Michael Lebowitz founded it in 2000, his entire staff of two could squeeze into a bedroom in his home in the Brooklyn nabe of Boerum Hill. That he had the bold foresight to christen his company “Big Spaceship” might have been aspirational or cocksure, but regardless, his mission has blasted off.
With a growing staff of 50 employees, and digs now in the same building at 45 Main St. that houses many of his competitors, the company boasts a roster of modern-day empires like Google and Lucasfilm, the latter of which tapped the group to update the Star Wars film franchise for the digital age. Add to those names Wrigley and General Electric and it’s easy to see how publications like Esquire—which raved about the firm’s mobile application for Urban Daddy in 2009—would predict Big Spaceship’s atmospheric rise.
“Dumbo has changed pretty radically,” says Lebowitz, 38. “There were really tumbleweeds rolling by [here] on the weekends. Now it’s this sort of tourist destination, where people really walk around. It feels like a residential center, certainly, but now more of a cultural center, with all of the galleries that have opened. I’m happy about that because it follows the roots of [this arty] neighborhood.”
45 Main St. | The 10th floor, Dumbo
When Miramax laid off its new media department in 2002, its vice president, Robert Nuell, took the news in stride. After teaming up with Maria Quinn, his former Miramax colleague, the pair launched Mammoth Advertising at 45 Main Street.
The group has bloomed into a tiny town of 25 employees, with many of its clients boasting the silver screen pedigree that Nuell had known so well. It has forged alliances with the some of the people behind the Oscar-winning movie An Education, as well as TV shows The Cape and Project Runway. For Top Gear, the History Channel show, it worked on a print and digital stunt that reimagined Lamborghinis and Ferraris as Checker cabs that, for one week, picked up unsuspecting passengers across Manhattan. (The Civic Entertainment Group, a big ideas firm, devised the concept while Mammoth created the digital solution).
As for the Weinsteins, Mammoth still keeps in touch. “They didn’t have digital anymore, so we filled that void,” says Nuell, 42. “That’s really how we were able to grow.”
100 Jay St., Dumbo
With offices in Calgary, Canada, and now Dumbo, the design and production firm’s work has won awards for clients including HBO and Bombay Sapphire.
54 Downing, Bedford-Stuyvesant
This Web design and social promotion firm, headquartered in Omaha, Neb., has expanded to Montreal and Brooklyn. With clients ranging from OfficeMax to local businesses, the firm has found a way to grow without stumbling.
25 Pierrepont St., Brooklyn Heights
A self-proclaimed “collective of top artists” in animation, visual effects, digital film, these Brooklyn Heights-based desktop demographers have worked for outliers like the World Poker Tour and Cirque du Soleil.
304 Boerum St., Bushwick
649 Morgan Ave., Greenpoint
Going Off Script
181 N. 11th St., Williamsburg
Situated next to Williamsburg’s iconic McCarren Park, the firm specializes in digital and social media marketing. Its clients include non-hipsterish New Jersey-based groups like Lidel Homes and Villagio, a senior center.
Dancing Diablo, Inc.
Animation is at the heart of this Venezuela-headquartered firm. Its design and production skill setters have wooed the likes of Disney and Nickelodeon. The key to its success? Work with color and texture.
Calling itself “media agnostic,” BBMG utilizes applications, social media, and websites to produce campaigns from its offices in Dumbo and San Francisco. Samsung and are among its clients.Harvard’s Kennedy School
Dedica Group, Inc.
From Web development to brand creation, Dedica—and its team of European and American designers—has created successful work for clients including Jack in the Box, Coca-Cola and British Petroleum.
Born and raised in New York, Social Bomb has worked with HBO, Fisher-Price and Viacom to create media awareness on a variety of media platforms.
55 Washington St., Dumbo
An interactive design studio and video production firm focusing on socially progressive organizations like AeroFarms (an advocate for locavores) and Greenpeace. Among its work is a campaign for Greenpeace that fought against pollutant corporations.
The Jar Group
By exploring clients’ online behavior, The Jar Group has increased revenues for clients such as Century 21, Pfizer and MTV. In 2010, the group was included in Inc. magazine’s annual 500 list.
Quint & Quint
Working primarily with publishing and media firms, as well as a few select nonprofits, Quint & Quint, born in the ’70s, has excelled as a direct marketing and copy studio. Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, The Economist, Redbook, and Food & Wine have come calling.
With its emphasis on mobile marketing and text messaging, this firm has carved out a unique niche. Clients, including the Sacramento Kings and The Humane Society, make good use of the billions of daily texts sent worldwide.
Billed as a consulting company that specializes in the development of messaging strategies, the JNDA Krukowski partner firm focuses on elevating philanthropic organizations and recognized institutions like Columbia University and Harvard.
45 Main St. | The 2nd floor, Dumbo
Whether working with a small company (Hamburger Nation) or a behemoth (Crest), Red Antler believes strategy should be based in consumer insights. Its methodologies, including concept testing and qualitative studies, are used to help brands evolve and grow.
With a unique focus on cultural distinctions between the East and West, this Web design and production firm has worked with Asian-American organizations to overcome identity challenges. Chinese nonprofits and other New York-centric businesses are also among its clients.
Since 2001, this Chicago and Brooklyn firm has blended art and technology for interactive experiences that have lured companies like Sheraton Hotels, Porsche, and New Line. (For New Line, the firm created no less than a marketing blitz for Rush Hour 3’s Wii videogame launch.) Meanwhile, it has earned a host of laurels, including Webby Awards, for its innovative work.
With clients on both sides of the culture divide—McDonald’s at one extreme, Pitchfork Media the other—this studio has added interesting twists to graphics and digital motion assignments since launching in Dumbo.
By focusing on consumers who actually want to be targeted by its clients, Pontiflex has streamlined the messages of companies like Huggies, organizations like Unicef and political campaigns no less in import than Obama ’08.
Big Duck Studios
Working exclusively with nonprofit organizations—the National Military Family Assn., National Brain Tumor Society, and the United Way, among others—Big Duck has raised brand awareness through design and digital strategies.
With experience in graphic design and Web technology, Engine Three has developed both stirring and functional branding ideas for numerous companies, including a host of fashion industry firms like the photography agency Hollister Lowe, designer Alice & Trixie and stylist Nicoletta Santoro.
Founded by the former employees of a museum design firm that focused on the curatorial side of large-scale museums, Evidence Design quickly expanded into Web and video production. It now works with clients like the Museum of Science and Industry, for which it has boosted its interactive media capabilities.
Billed as a “digital storytelling firm,” this new shop has produced video for a variety of Web campaigns, including those for Warner Bros.’ The Rite (Anthony Hopkins), and New York City’s “Fashion Night Out.”
45 Main St. | The 12th floor, Dumbo
For clients like Pepsi, Major League Baseball, Crayola, and NFL, Carrot Creative president Mike Germano has a childlike ability to create wonder on the Internet. In the 24 hours following the launch of a Facebook campaign for Ford, for instance, the page logged 30,000 “likes” from users.