The Production A-List 2009: What's in a name?

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The keen watchers of digitally-driven creativity out there may be looking at this list askance. Yes, a few of the companies that masterminded the production of some of the biggest digital efforts of this or any other year are absent. Companies like The Barbarian Group are producers par excellence. But they are also creators and strategists, they have direct to client relationships, they develop proprietary software, they are considered creative thought leaders. So is that a production company, or an agency? Or something else? And does it matter anymore? Fact is, as creative ideas have grown past one-way brand messages, and collaboration becomes less overused cliché and more essential M.O., the line between creation and production has become less discernable. Some of the digital production companies named above themselves strain at the categorization. Here, a nod to the other players that we feel funny calling production companies, but that demand a mention for their creative and executional prowess.

The Barbarian Group
The Group needs no introduction as the producer of some of the most era-defining work of the last several years (with Subservient Chicken and the Milwaukee's Best Beer Cannon to its credit) and it needs no taxonomological handle. "We don't' really care," co-founder Benjamin Palmer told Creativity last year, on the question of categorization. "We're acting like a software development firm, a venture firm and branding firm." After adding strategist Noah Brier in mid 08, and creating the delightfully unconventional CNN Tshirt campaign (where CNN.com visitors could order shirts imprinted with the day's most notable headlines), and undertaking self propelled software development, like its proprietary Plainview browser, this year, the shop went on to continue to expand the scope of its work, and the idea of what a brand campaign could be. In 2009 TBG launched its first project with GE, the GE Adventure blog. The "marketing journal" makes GE a bit more approachable, taking visitors behind the scenes and offering a fresh-eyed, civilian glimpse at the corporate giant's health, technology, transport and energy projects. The shop also built Modelinia.com (and the CMS behind it) dedicated to all things model, among other projects.

Big Spaceship
The Spaceship's project line-up is as broad ranging as it is creatively interesting, and based on a few upcoming projects, it's about to get even more so. BS was, of course, behind 2008 awards cycle blockbuster, HBO "Voyeur" out of BBDO New York. Since, the company has continued to expand its rep as creative provocateur and A list interactive production partner. This year, the shop developed the popular (and culturally ubiquitous) app for Urban Daddy. "The Next Move" app surpasses simple restaurant listings and reviews and offers upscale urbanites intel on nightlife options based on user's circumstances, companions and mood. Must have pork belly and you're with your cranky ex? There's an in-the-know reco for that. The shop also created the Institute for Human Continuity site for Sony Pictures' upcoming feature 2012 and was responsible for the relaunch of still kicking Second Life. 2009 also saw BS partner with Microsoft and Victoria's Secret on the lingerie brand's famous Fashion Show, with the agency creating an online experience including a runway model contest, an iPhone app, and of course, video. Among many, many other client- and agency- originated projects, BS also undertakes a steady stream of creatively stimulating self propelled ventures. The shop created buzz with its compelling Pretty Loaded site, essentially a showcase of the best of the web's pre-loaders. It's currently working on Corpsify, a visually-driven online version of the classic game Exquisite Corpse.

Firstborn
Firstborn also appeared on our list of Top Digital "Companies" of 2008, having served up several servings of impressive digital work over the last year, including the "Music Almighty" site, out of W+K, London, T.A.G.'s online destination or Zune and the award-sinning Sunnyville experience for Lowe's. The company's oeuvre continues to get even more sophisticated, as evident on the much talked about fan-centric site for Ford's new Mustang, which riffed off online gamer player behavior and invited users to partner in real time with each other to customize their own cars. Beyond that, Firstborn also worked with Droga5 to create the online component of the Puma LIFT campaign, featuring a website that allowed users to weigh the eponymous shoe against other light objects—and view some increasingly exposed models in the process. The company also helped home decorators determine their lighting personality for GE with Keathley Advertising and partnered with Atmosphere BBDO on Corona's site redesign. TM also tapped team Firstborn to help show off Sport Chalet's seasonal duds on "The Mountain" website, while Proximity BBDO engaged the shop to pull off an online Easter Egg hunt for M&M's "Speck-tacular" Eggs line.


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