I Have Met the Client and He Is Me
by Ernie Schenck
At some point, it gets to you.
At some point, you think there’s got to be more to it than this. Yes, the awards are cool. And OK, sure, the money can be pretty darn good. And of course, there are all those location shoots. A couple of weeks at Shutters. The food. The wine. The siren call of that damn crafts service table. Still, at some point, you think, wait a second, if I can put all this time and energy into building a client's brand, why can‘t I be the client?
A growing number of agencies aren’t just thinking it anymore.
Two years ago, Boston agency, McCarthy Mambro Bertino, created a character called Noah Wild, a kid who’s hellbent on saving the planet’s wildlife. Noah is the point kid on what’s turning into an increasingly impressive example of what can happen when agencies conceive and launch their own brands.
“There was a surprisingly heartwarming article in Sports Illustrated about Michael Vick’s pit bulls.” Jamie Mambro is co-founder and chief creative officer of MMB. “The story was about the dogs recovering from the abuse and how well they were adjusting. My youngest son read the article, too. I asked him what he thought he could do to help animals. His answer was, ‘What can I do? I’m a kid.’ That sense of powerlessness led to Noah. We decided to find a way to give kids, with all their passion and unconditional love for animals, a way to make a difference. For the most part, kids’ brands tend to be passive and this was a chance to do something different."
A portion of the proceeds from Noah Wild merchandise goes to one of five wildlife preservation organizations. Kids and their families can choose to have the money go to any one of five wildlife preservation organizations including The American Wildlife Foundation, Amazon Conservation Association, Defenders of Wildlife, Hearts United For Animals and Oceana. But that's just the beginning says Mambro.
“Noah is a lifestyle brand with a social responsibility halo for kids, parents and friends. From that platform there are a number of avenues that we’re hoping will ultimately lead to some sort of media presence. Whether Noah gets expressed as a television show or a feature or independent film has yet to be decided. But the potential is there to get into the cultural conversation.”
A few years ago, Lauren Luke, a single mother from England, came out of nowhere to become the YouTube queen of cosmetic advice. The self-taught makeup artist and her home-brewed online cosmetic tutorials quickly led to an enormous following in Great Britain, as well as a regular beauty column in The Guardian. It wasn’t long before the young cosmetic maven caught the eye of New York agency, Anomaly, and that was it. By Lauren Luke was launched with Anomaly, Luke and Zorbit, the manufacturer, as co-owners.
And then there’s Fat Pig. Fat Pig is one of the funkiest lines of chocolate I’ve ever seen and the brainchild of New York shop, Brooklyn Brothers. Talk about authenticity. You want chocolate. You know you can’t resist it. You won’t resist it. So what do you say we just drop the pretense and get to the gooey truth of the matter as captured on the back of the packaging. “Get your snout in this. Shove every single square in your face right now. And do it quick, or some other fat pig might ask you for a piece. Oink, oink!” It’s irreverent. It’s edgy. It’s everything you’d expect from a bunch of advertising guys. And I’m not surprised it’s doing great.
Cabell Harris is no stranger to creating his own brands. Cabell runs an agency in Richmond called WORK. In 2000, a local beer company approached him about doing some advertising. Seeing an opportunity, Cabell worked out a deal that’s since proven to be a pretty smart one. WORK would do the creative in exchange for some media dollars and WORK beer. Like Brooklyn Brothers, WORK did all the packaging, advertising, posters, even apparel.
Of course, it’s not all fun and games. Like any other business, there’s a lot of messy stuff to deal with. Dealing with investors. Begging retailers for shelf space. Driving yourself insane waiting for vendors to come through in the nick of time. On the other hand, there’s no one whining about your logo design or the colors on the Web site or that the radio scripts are too cute. And if the brand takes off, who knows, maybe you’ll be the one whining about the logo. CA