Agency A-List: Anomaly

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10. ANOMALY
Carl Johnson
  • Redefines agency pay
  • Gains Converse
  • Guerrilla stunt for kids
  • Creates second shop
  • London entry ahead
You know you're dealing with, well, an anomaly when an agency touts its compensation policy at least as much as its work. For don't-call-us-an-ad-agency Anomaly, the priority on innovative deals over slavishness to meager fees translates into not just a different way of getting paid but a different way of doing business. Anomaly's credo: "All agencies are not created equal. Therefore, we do not sell time ever."

Don't want to be confused with a hoary ad agency? Then refuse to get paid like one. No time sheets means developing intellectual property and hitching compensation to sales, blurring the lines between a marketing execution and a business solution and disrupting traditional notions of what an agency can aspire to.

That's how Anomaly does it, and in 2007, the 3-year-old model really took off, with strong work in design, guerrilla promotion, interactive and traditional creative for clients ranging from a 100-year-old sneaker brand to a fledgling airline to a children's charity. It all filled the bill of media neutrality -- a marketing cliché that might make Anomaly founders such as Carl Johnson blanch but nevertheless is dead accurate. It helps that Anomaly is committed to a diverse staff that can dive into product development as easily as it can create brand communications.

Marrow in Jawbone
Witness Anomaly's work for Aliph, the maker of the Yves Behar-designed Bluetooth headset known as the Jawbone. As the company's de facto marketing department, Anomaly handled online advertising, public relations and celebrity seeding. It helped make Jawbone the highest-selling and best-reviewed product of its kind. In return, Anomaly is getting a royalty for every headset sold and a stake in Aliph. The creative centerpiece of the Jawbone work was a series of short web films from legendary music-director Samuel Bayer illustrating how the headset blocks out noise.

Back in 2004, Virgin America, Richard Branson's airline start-up, tasked Anomaly with handling launch duties. But less important than manufacturing ads to be supported by Virgin's tiny media spend was a host of other work undertaken by New York-based Anomaly. The insides of Virgin's jets, for instance, was designed with Anomaly's consultation, as were the ticketing, website and in-flight-entertainment deals. Virgin and Anomaly parted ways at the end of 2007 but not before creating a case study illustrating how deep into experience creation an agency can go.

With these ideas popping, it's hard to get excited about Anomaly's biggest traditional win: ad duties for Converse. The relationship produced stark, well-received work for the sneaker brand, but more interesting was a guerrilla attack for a different client. The program infiltrated the queues outside retailers for Apple's iPhone with an Anomaly staff promotion for Keep a Child Alive, an organization working to get medication for African children with HIV. Anomaly folks waited in line to buy the very first iPhone, then auctioned it off for $100,000 on eBay. This bit of postmodern marketing fun both fueled and benefited from the media trance around iPhone, resulting in 50 million media impressions in a week.

Splitting off
Rounding out 2007 was the establishment of Another Anomaly, which interprets quite literally Jay Chiat's maxim about getting big. Once Anomaly hit 60 employees, an optimal head count, it was clear another shop was needed, not more and more layers of bureaucracy -- the bugaboo of fast-growing shops -- at the current one. Hence, the new shop that stands completely independent of the original, save for a set of shared values.

The year ahead should be a big one as joint ventures to develop products with skin-care expert Tammy Ha and Le Bernardin chef Eric Ripert come to fruition and as Anomaly launches its model in London. The shop is also dropping hints about new products from a joint venture between Coca-Cola Co. and Nestlé, more opportunities for Anomaly to continue to break down the limits of what an agency can be.

If nothing else, Anomaly -- with its obsession on innovation -- should provide a blueprint for an ad agency in a post-advertising world, where consumers are too sharp for empty sales pitches and marketers are so desperate for real, fast solutions to complex business problems.
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