But multicultural agency Ad*itive's work for Wella's Ultra Sheen is not your usual campaign for a hair conditioner. In one new print ad, a young African-American man eats hamburger meat straight out of the Styrofoam supermarket package with a fork as another chews on a raw steak he holds between two slices of white bread. The ad's tagline, "Hair is raw," is one of a series that always starts with "Hair is..." and ends with a different word like "flavor" or "pattern" or "game."
At Ad*itive, it's all about .
"We call ourselves people scientists," said Monroe Blakes, the 32-year-old chief operating officer and one of three managing partners.
To connect the dots, the Ad*itive team adds brand and consumer insights, multiplies the sum by cultural codes, and hopes to end the equation with a big idea for the agency's clients. They are, so far, Wella's Ultra Sheen shampoo, a public relations effort aimed at African-Americans for the American Legacy Foundation's "Truth" anti-tobacco campaign and Timberland Co.
With Ultra Sheen, the initial insight was that the brand had a strong heritage as the first hair product to advertise to African-Americans, Mr. Blakes said. Consumer insights delved into self-esteem and the statement a hairstyle makes. Cultural codes included a negative self-image historically associated with black hair, black pride, hair as a fashion statement, and a retro trend in music and apparel that extends to hair. The big idea was to focus on retro-contemporary style, leading to the "Hair is..." campaign with provocative words and arresting images of cool and intriguingly coiffed young people.
Ad*itive started out as a unit of Havas' Arnold Worldwide Partners, but the Ad*itive partners have just done a buyback to take the 51% controlling stake common among multicultural shops so they qualify as minority-owned. The 20-person agency is still based at the Arnold McGrath office in New York.
Mr. Blakes was previously global advertising manager at Reebok International, where he worked with Henry "Que" Gaskins, 35, now Ad*itive's chief marketing officer. At Reebok, Mr. Gaskins was general manager-global marketing for the (NBA star) Allen Iverson brand. The third managing partner, Reginald Jolley, 32, is chief creative officer. Mr. Jolley was a creative director at Publicis Groupe's Burrell Communications Group, where he transformed Coca-Cola Co.'s Sprite in the African-American market.
Mr. Blakes said Timberland hired Ad*itive as its first multicultural shop to "help connect them to a diverse marketplace."
"The world is changing," he said. "The urban market is a terrific example. It's not necessarily about color but about a mind-set that can transcend color."
Another new multicultural entry is Factor, an Asian-American shop started in New York by CEO Jeff Yang, founder of aMagazine, a monthly for Asian-Americans, and Wendy Chan, president, who headed strategic planning and business development at Asian-American agency, Toto Group.