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Apparently, there are red people and green people. At least that’s so in New Mexico when it comes to chiles and the flavorful sauces blended from them. Red is smoky and heavy-handed in a comfort food sort of way, while green tangs up, citrusy. Meant to smother delicious regional fare, like carne adovada, chile rellenos and Frito pie, they add a regional air. At restaurants, servers ask which you prefer, because, again, you are either red or green.

© Chris Corrie. Jodi Corrie, producer. 

It’s true that the magic and lore of New Mexico—the Land of Enchantment is the state’s motto—extend across the globe. The state is at once provincial and influential, with draws like art and cuisine mecca Santa Fe, as well as spiritual landmarks located throughout the rugged landscape. A small-population state, it’s said to regularly sit on the top of the bad lists and the bottom of the good lists, from wealth to education to livability. Unlike its neighbor Texas, whose chest-beating is baked deeply into its DNA, New Mexico has a charming inferiority complex.

In a way, it makes sense that New Mexico is the land of fictional chemistry teacher turned meth savant Walter White. Albuquerque is where Breaking Bad filmed its five seasons, along with its prequel and sequel, Better Call Saul and El Camino. Novelty stores and gift shops in the city hawk all manner of the underdog-championing franchise’s swag, from baseball caps to snow globes to lighters.

3 Advertising, founded in Albuquerque in 2005, is uniquely equipped to capture both sides, the magical and the real. Its nimble approach serves regional and national clients, including Farm Credit, the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History, Facebook and Presbyterian Healthcare Services, for needs ranging from agency-of-record assignments to one-offs. With a small staff of ten, the agency artfully mixes design, advertising, media and account services. The 3, which rests off-kilter in an m formation in the agency’s lobby, is a nod to the founding partners, who all have m last names: creative director Sam Maclay, design director Tim McGrath and strategic director Chris Moore. Media director Sue Lewis joined in 2007.

If you were to put up art directors with less design backgrounds under the same budget and time constraints, you’d likely end up with less-interesting work.” —Jason Rohrer

New Mexico United (NMU), the state’s first professional soccer club, formed in 2018, is an apt embodiment of the state’s self-awareness of hard knocks. The name itself speaks to a goal of knitting the state together. From New Mexico United’s website: “NMU will be a championship-caliber soccer team, but it will do much more than play soccer. It will grow the state’s economy, employ New Mexicans, uniquely marry art and sport and show the world that New Mexico is the land of hope, vision, opportunity and pride.”

Maclay says, “New Mexico United came at a time when people were ready to cheer on something bigger than a sport. It’s about creating something that can become a source of pride. People are craving to make the state better.” Peter Trevisani, majority owner of the franchise, was going in an entirely different direction for his team’s branding when he found himself a weekend away from unveiling the logo. “It was a logo we had developed with another firm. The logo was OK, but it was not right,” Trevisani says. “We called 3 on a Friday and asked them to review the work and see if they could make it better. Seventy-two hours later, they had three ideas in front of us. We went with one of them. 3 Advertising could have left us to suffer. Instead, they jumped in and never looked back. We haven’t either.”

The spirit of the team—the idea of state pride, personified through a soccer club to cheer on—has been wildly successful. Fans have tattooed themselves with the logo. “I really appreciate the way 3 Advertising listened,” Trevisani says. “They spent a long time hearing our vision of who we are and what we want in our community. They worked to make our vision come to life, as opposed to convincing us of their vision.”

Collectively, we look at research and findings, and we talk through a strategy. Nimble and good are part of 3’s value propositions.” —Stacey Cost

Early on in Facebook’s branding, a designer the agency’s partners had worked with ended up in Silicon Valley. He called 3 Advertising with a project: recruiting the best software engineers. “Facebook was unlike most companies we work with,” says Moore. “It wasn’t as much about what they did as it was about their mission. They wanted the discussion to be about how they impacted people’s lives, not about what you can do on Facebook.”

3 devised a collateral campaign that would show the emotion behind programming and coding. The budget was minimal (funny to think of today). Using its own staff, family and friends, the agency created posters showing how Facebook could impact the world, all with code depicting different scenes. Like pointillism, the code illustrates a rally, a hospital, and a father and son reunited—the agency even borrowed a gurney from client Presbyterian Healthcare Services and rigged it up in one of its corridors. The posters infused stark coding with emotional storytelling.

“From a design standpoint, one of the biggest challenges was figuring out how to make the execution readable,” says McGrath. “We were using actual Facebook code—it had to be big enough to be legible, but small enough to make up the image.”

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Design plays a significant role at 3 Advertising. McGrath and senior art director Zak Rutledge, both designers, add a level of conceptual weight and finish to the work. The agency takes on 50 to 60 percent traditional and digital work, with 30 to 40 percent of its workload consisting of design projects. “I think a large part of what makes us different from some agencies, and possibly more successful creatively, is that both Tim and Zak come from strong design backgrounds,” says senior copywriter and creative manager Jason Rohrer.

“Being in a smaller market, it’s not uncommon for us to have smaller production budgets,” he continues. “Because they’re so strong at design, they’re able to do something interesting in a few hours that holds up against or surpasses work done on much larger budgets. They’re both excellent with type, and Zak in particular is a solid illustrator. If you were to put up art directors with less design backgrounds under the same budget and time constraints, you’d likely end up with less-interesting work.”

For Michael Barley Photography, based in Montgomery, Texas, 3 Advertising came up with an elegant solution to a problem it understood only too well. Barley was looking for a self- promotional piece to get noticed by agency creatives. But McGrath and Maclay knew how inundated creatives are with portfolios. So they crafted a business card–sized sleeve filled with miniatures of Barley’s images—a unique, stand-alone, little portfolio. Crafted in letterpress, each card has a die cut, requires two rubber stamps and is a fixed by a small adhesive label marked with MB—it’s at once stunning and fun, a perfect maker’s object for creatives to be delighted by. Every time Barley passes out a card, it means he’s spent a good while fashioning it together, choosing miniature images and rubber stamping, placing the label carefully, just so.

“Yes, the pieces are a bit work intensive,” says Barley, “but they allow me to constantly update with new client work or personal work. They’re brilliant. What sometimes hurts is handing a card to a potential client, and while conversing, they are folding it back and forth without realizing what they are doing.”

“Michael basically didn’t give any direction,” says McGrath. “He said, ‘I want business cards, and I want them to be cool.’ It’s nice that the client says that, but it’s also like, what am I going to do?” Barley wasn’t concerned. He says, “Having worked with Tim for quite some time, and seeing his ability on a whole host of design challenges, it was really liberating to say, ‘Do what you like. I have no worries.’ One of Tim’s gifts is his ability to combine an array of elements that, when assembled, bring an unexpected and spot-on solution.”

In a series of ads showing simple glasses of golden beer, the agency helped the Beer Institute, located in Washington, DC, overcome the idea that beer is just a bar drink, a party staple. Beer actually helps fuel the economy; it’s an industry that puts people to work. In each ad, the beer glass has a label crafted like a beer brand, with lines like “Real Jobs Lager” and, in smaller type, “4.6% alcohol. 2 million jobs.”

Moore says, “When they came to us, everything was in play, including their name. Ultimately, we recommended they just keep their name. We knew it was the right decision when [late-night show host] John Oliver spent several minutes of a segment just pining over the fact that there was a ‘beer institute.’”

Stacey Cost, vice president marketing and customer engagement at Presbyterian Healthcare Services and Health Plan, sees her relationship with 3 Advertising as collaborative. “Collectively, we look at research and findings, and we talk through a strategy. Nimble and good are part of 3’s value propositions. When we meet, everyone is in the room—I don’t have to be onboarding over and over again.” Agency partner Sue Lewis adds, “The health-care category is tough. People don’t want to go to the doctor because it’s too expensive or they have to wait in line or it’s just overall a hassle. We know this is a pain point.” In TV spots, print, outdoor and digital, the agency humanizes the health-care experience with humor and relatable stories.

3 gets an impressive amount of work generated with such a small staff. Their secret is they like to work, and they work hard. Lewis says, “We don’t grip and grin. We just are who we are. We want to attract great clients and get to work.”

And back to the green sauce/red sauce divide. According to Maclay, “When you want both, it’s Christmas.” ca

Julie Prendiville Roux is cofounder of Handmade, a full-service creative agency based in Los Angeles. Alongside her work in advertising, she is a screenwriter and author.


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