Small Agency Awards 2009

Small Agency Awards: Pocket Hercules

Minneapolis Shop Is Midwest Agency of the Year

By Published on .

CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Like all creative communities, recent shifts in the media and technology landscape have violently jolted Minneapolis' big agencies. The difference between Minneapolis and other markets is how often those shakeups spring vibrant creative pods out of those big shops.

PEARL IZUMI: Pocket Hercules adopted a grinning donkey to explain the sports-apparel maker's technological advantages in a non-wonkish way.
PEARL IZUMI: Pocket Hercules adopted a grinning donkey to explain the sports-apparel maker's technological advantages in a non-wonkish way.
No agency better illustrates that trend than Pocket Hercules, an 11-person creative juggernaut led by former Carmichael-Lynch Chairman and Chief Creative Jack Supple, alongside two other C-L creative standouts, Tom Camp and Jason Smith.

"I really feel like this is the Carmichael I joined in 1979," said Mr. Supple.

The shop aspires to use its big-agency experience without forcing clients to pay for big-agency overhead costs. "What we learned [at Carmichael] was how to work with brands at the apex, and how to make people feel a special way about them," he said.

At Pocket Hercules, that experience was on display in work for Pearl Izumi, a leading bicycle-shorts manufacturer that had been losing market share to European manufacturers whose products weren't as technically advanced. The agency's brief was to explain Pearl's technological advantage in a non-wonkish, non-elitist way.

'Happy ass'
So it chose a grinning donkey as a mascot and urged bikers to "have a happy ass" on an elaborate website and in print and out-of-home messages, as well as water bottles,

T-shirts and a "Win a happy ass for life" contest. To demonstrate how the shorts kept bikers cool, the agency put its donkey on an ice cube, telling bikers that "a cool ass is a happy ass." And to tout aerodynamics, it strapped a rocket on his back ("A fast ass is a happy ass," and so forth.

The work got the point -- technical superiority -- across: Sales rose 30% in a down market.

The agency, which derives nearly a quarter of its revenue from public relations, has demonstrated a knack for creating chatter about its clients. To launch craft brewer August Schell's Lakemaid Beer, the shop seeded fishing and beer blogs with chatter about the existence of mythical lakemaids, freshwater mermaids,.

Pocket Hercules built the Lakemaid brand from scratch, from the labels and packaging to the messaging. The campaign also benefitted and incorporated two other clients looking to reach younger consumers: Rapala USA, a major fishing-pole manufacturer, and the International Game Fishing Association, which was looking to raise its profile among young, freshwater fishermen.

The key to its social-media strategy for the launch was decidedly low-tech: a giant airplane banner, which somehow sent the brand's Facebook page ablaze. "It was about as high tech as a sandwich board," jokes Mr. Supple. Still, the banner -- along with descriptions of different "catches" on the inside of each bottle cap, which fueled a popular barroom game -- led to a product shortage as the launch exceeded expectations.

Not bad for a place with just 11 full-time employees and $2 million in revenue.

RUNNER UP: MONO

With Pocket Hercules, Mono is evidence that Minneapolis is the new bastion of Midwest creativity. In five years, it's built a list of cool brands that includes Herman Miller, Apple, Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day, NBA TV, and "Sesame Street." Behind it all is a boundary-less approach that's led the agency to ditch offices, not to mention distinctions between strategy and creative, design and advertising, or between traditional and digital media.


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