Buenos Aires innovation house +Castro lives its business model with a small core staff of about 15 senior people, plus countless collaborators, from architects to a cardiologist, recruited on a project basis. The agency even moved late last year to a former stable block for racehorses in order to share space with three other companies that are frequent collaborators, including co-founder Pedro Saleh's integrated production company Sake.
The three-year-old agency works only on a project basis, and its biggest clients, who keep coming back, are Mondelez, Disney and Danone. Many of those projects involve inventing technology that didn't exist, and +Castro likes to call its space "Buenos Aires' miniature Silicon Valley."
For Mondelez, +Castro has created "Fly Garage," a program where Mondelez execs along with agencies and other creatives gather for up to two weeks to brainstorm about a brand and the creative process. The first one, for Trident gum brand Beldent, led to Beldent Random Fest and brought the idea of a mixed playlist to a live event. Four different bands appeared on four separate stages, but who would play was determined by a lighthouse randomizer in the middle of it all, sending audiences running in a mad frenzy across the venue.
Now Mondelez is looking at possible Random Fests elsewhere in Latin America. And +Castro masterminded the first global Fly Garage last year in Silicon Valley, gathering participants from agencies including Droga5, CP&B and Forsman & Bodenfors to work on Oreo's digital platform.
Nicolas Pimentel, +Castro's co-founder and innovation director, said the Silicon Valley gathering, which included visits to Google and Twitter, came up with an idea that will be implemented next year "on a big scale" after a prototype is developed.
In another project, +Castro took a big risk to help Google convey to ad agencies that any idea can be enhanced with digital thinking. Mr. Pimentel's proposition: +Castro would pick a local ad campaign that had been a complete loser at ad festivals, approach the agency about rethinking the idea with a digital mindset, and win a Cannes Lion with the newly-digital campaign. The effort would sell creatives on the potential of digital technology by using their own criteria for success: ad festivals. The revamped campaign, for a local retailer, won a Gold Lion at the Cannes festival, and after the stunt was revealed, agencies clamored to hear more about Google Digital Studio and how it could give their ideas a digital boost.
The campaign that required a cardiologist was for Danone. The company's infant formula brand Vital wanted to emphasize the importance of a mother in her baby's first months, but it was also the brand's 40th anniversary. So +Castro tested the idea that even adults are soothed by their mother's heartbeat.
The agency chose stressed out call center workers, and approached them at work (with the call center owner's approval) after already recording their mothers' heartbeats. Even before knowing what they were listening to, the test subjects relaxed. Also, +Castro put the machines for mothers to record their heartbeats at shopping malls and hospitals.
"After the big success the video had on YouTube, Danone decided to make it mainstream and asked us to do a TV spot," Mr. Pimentel said. "So something that started as really digital ended up as a TV campaign."
By including the mothers of adult children in the heartbeat effort, +Castro connected different generations of mothers, which tied in the 40th anniversary message. Plus women with adult children who are having their own babies—aka grandmothers--are powerful brand advocates whose recommendations for products like infant formula are taken seriously by new mothers.
"We really believe in the power of small," said Mr. Pimentel, who headed innovation at BBDO Argentina before starting +Castro with Mr. Saleh. "Small gives you flexibility and freedom. With 15 [people], you know each project will be bigger than you. That helps you customize it, and hire the best people."