Small Agency Awards 2009

Small Agency Awards: Boone Oakley

Charlotte Shop Is Southeast Agency of the Year

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- From pretending to blow up a Ruby Tuesday to creating arguably the most talked-about agency website of the year, Boone Oakley has found a cheeky groove and is sticking to it.

TALK VALUE: Boone Oakley's site is composed entirely of YouTube videos.
TALK VALUE: Boone Oakley's site is composed entirely of YouTube videos.
In 2008, the 30-person shop in Charlotte, N.C., created spots that compared its client CarMax to a ship-in-a-bottle shipping service and placed Erik Estrada in the checkout aisle at a Bloom market.

Known for stunts that reel in the earned-media hits, the agency has infused that playfulness into the brand fiber of the upscale grocery chain from its single-store launch five years ago to 64 markets across the mid-Atlantic and Carolinas today.

The agency saw a 60% bump in revenue from 2007 to 2008, getting new assignments from national brands State Farm and Ruby Tuesday. For the casual-dining chain, the agency staged a fake demolition of an old-style Ruby Tuesday restaurant to announce its new look via a live webcast. It was one of Boone Oakley's trademark's gotchas, a way of illustrating how fast-casual restaurants can all look alike.

Boone Oakley's production capabilities, coupled with its first interactive director hire in December, crystallized as a social-media sensation in ad world: an agency website composed entirely of YouTube videos. BooneOakley.com redirects to a YouTube page that boasts more than 500,000 views since June, and has all the content of the standard agency site condensed into one linear video with in-player navigation.

Opening doors
"What you want to do is have a conversation with people who are interested in you, and being on YouTube allows us to do that," said agency cofounder David Oakley. "We can get instant feedback from people. But the real reason we did it was because we wanted a great way to showcase our work."

The site won ad-world praise and international blog hits. But it wasn't just the blogosphere that paid attention.

As a direct result of the agency site, Mr. Boone reports the agency is currently working on projects for a video-game manufacturer and software company, both on the West coast.

But to the Boone Oakley duo, former Martin Agency creative directors who went out on their own in 2000, these new services are mostly in place to support what they do best: get attention for clients.

"We've become known as an agency that creates buzz," said Mr. Boone.

For its oldest client, Bloom, Boone Oakley has used offline stunts to increase the impact of small budgets. The agency staged a mock protest with people in muffin costumes outside a Bloom market.

"One of the unique things about Boone Oakley is that their forte is guerrilla marketing," said Ken Mills, VP-sales and marketing for Food Lion, parent company to Bloom. "Bloom doesn't have huge marketing budgets, but has been able to garner huge buzz with guerrilla."

RUNNER UP: PUSH

One of the more interesting social-media experiments so far came when the restaurant chain Smokey Bones made its employees brand advocates. At each location, an employee was designated to run a website promoting the restaurant to participate in social-media platforms. The program, part of a revamp of the chain, was the brainchild of Orlando's Push, a 40-person shop getting ready to shed its reputation as a purely local player.