Rosedale saw his most famous creation officially begin a whole new life in 2006—life in the mainstream. The immersive virtual world known as Second Life exploded into the social zeitgeist in a big way, transforming from a relatively obscure gathering place for the internet set into the hottest destination outside the real world, with its own thriving culture, lucrative economy and skyrocketing population (which nearly doubled from one million to two million registered accounts in the last two months of 2006 alone). The SL renaissance benefited from the wave of brands and agencies that descended upon the virtual landscape armed with fresh ideas for turning it into the next big marketing frontier—brands like American Apparel (a virtual store), Starwood Hotels (a virtual "test run" version of its new Aloft hotel) and Pontiac (an entire island dedicated to car enthusiasts); and agencies like BBH and Leo Burnett. But thanks to Rosedale's unlimited vision for Second Life's entertainment potential, the virtual world has transcended the advertising and internet communities to become a genuine pop culture phenomenon. Log on to Second Life at any given time of day, and you might stumble upon a Duran Duran concert, a movie premiere or Sweden's official embassy. On the key to Second Life's success over the past year: "Because Second Life is 99 percent user-created, population growth tends to drive itself. We've seen a number of high-profile businesses and media companies enter Second Life, and the media attention that came along with these presences has only helped to drive additional resident growth."
Blake Ross, Co-creator, Firefox
Ross changed the way we browse the internet, unseating such household names as Netscape and Internet Explorer in the process—all at the tender age of 19. That was back in 2004, when the software prodigy co-created Mozilla's now celebrated Firefox browser with fellow developer Dave Hyatt. Billed as a more streamlined and user-friendly alternative to the other major web browsers, Firefox instantly appealed to the websurfing masses, garnering 100 million downloads in its first year while becoming the browser of choice for the newest generation of technophiles. In 2006, less than two years after Firefox 1.0 was launched, Ross—now at the ripe old age of 21—and Mozilla released Firefox 2.0, an event that helped push the browser beyond the 200 million-download milestone. The year also saw Ross take major steps forward with his latest project, a collaboration with Firebug creator Joe Hewitt, called Parakey. Envisioned as a user interface that melds the best features of a web browser and an operating system, Parakey received key funding with an eye toward a 2007 debut. On why Firefox has been so successful: "There are plenty of reasons to create software these days—to make money, grow market share or extend a brand. But in each case, user satisfaction is just a means to an end. In Firefox, a nonprofit product, making software more enjoyable has always been the endgame, and I think that motivation yields a more attractive product. Version 2 was remarkable largely for what it's not: another bloated software upgrade that adds useless features and shuffles existing ones around just to make people feel like they're getting something new. Instead, we focused on aggressively fine-tuning the most commonly used areas of the product—such as tabbed browsing and search—to make them work even better. I think the release set the tone for future Firefox development and proved to people that we're all about making things easier, as opposed to flashier."
Robert Saville and Mark Waites, Co-founders/Co-CDs, Mother/London
Mother turns 10 this year, which in hot shop time should make it Methuselah. But co-creative director/founding partner Waites says the wild ride feels more like two years. Neither he nor the agency are showing much gray—Mother's still got a quirky swagger, and it's still independent. Making a most triumphant return were Al and Monkey, the former ITV spokesduo who came back to capture even more British hearts for PG Tips tea. Then there's Mother's heartfelt (ahem, syrupy) holiday Coca-Cola spot, "The Greatest Gift," which might make you think its cutting edge was now buttering a scone; but accompanying that was Nagi Noda's offbeat commercial debut, backed with a track by Jack White. U.K. cosmetics brand Boots became sexy with Chris Palmer's "Alice in Boudoirland" and David LaChapelle's glammed-up " 'Tis The Season To Be Gorgeous." The agency also teamed up with lad mag Zoo for a Brewster's Millions spending spree. Elsewhere, kid-roadies sweated while rock stars got all the glory for XM satellite radio; Schweppes accelerated retro cocktail culture; and Pot Noodle sang the day away in the noodle mines. Orange dealt the biggest blow to the agency when it left early in the year, but a few great projects came out after the fact—notably a branded field trip to Spain that anchored the "Animals" campaign, and a continuation of the Orange Film Board's pre-cinema meddling. With the New York office humming along and Madre in Buenos Aires warming up, no one can help but imagine another strong decade. Waites on keeping true to your roots: "You don't change. The things you set out to do you keep doing. You don't sell. It keeps our intentions pretty pure; we're not looking to take on clients to fulfill somebody else's projections and their targets. We're allowed to move at our own pace. We'd be a lousy agency in captivity."
Susan Sellers, Georgianna Stout and Michael Rock, Founders, 2x4
Last year, 13-year-old New York design firm 2x4, led by principals Sellers, Stout and Rock, reached the heights of industry recognition, winning the 2006 Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award in Communications Design. The firm, also named Creativity's 2006 Design Company of the Year, has garnered acclaim in a variety of design disciplines, spanning print, film/video, the web and environment design. Eclectic as 2x4 may be, its work is distinguished by a certain intellectual chic, leaning decidedly toward the upscale and the highbrow. Recent projects include: the brand ID and website for online art gallery Artocracy; the brand ID and environmental graphics for the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts; exhibition design for the Guggenheim Museum; environmental graphics at the new downtown Museum of Contemporary Arts San Diego; publication design for Open Society Institute; in-store wallpaper and "Waist Down" exhibition materials for Prada (the show is a traveling exhibit devoted to the skirt); Twice Untitled and Other Pictures (Looking Back), a book of the work of photographer Louise Lawler, for the Wexner Center for the Arts; Tom Sachs, a book about the American sculptor, for Fondazione Prada; and environmental graphics for Lincoln Center, and for the Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art. Stout on her most consistent source of inspiration in 2006: "Beard Papa cream puffs."
Erich Stamminger, President/CEO, adidas
Led by 24-year adidas vet Erich Stamminger, who was appointed president/CEO early in 2006, the aggressive marketing combo of "Impossible is Nothing" and "+10," along with a rich stable of world athletes, allows adidas and the one-two international punch of agencies TBWA and 180 to achieve global soccer dominance—right down to its name on the World Cup match ball. Indeed, adidas was, predictably, all over the FIFA World Cup last year, held on its own German turf, with out-of-home spectaculars like star goalie Oliver Kahn spanning a Munich Autobahn; a giant football fresco of adidas endorsers in the lobby of the Cologne train station; building-high "+10" billboards featuring individual stars in the manner of humongous trading cards; as well as a blitz of TV and interactive work, including the "Modular Man" campaign (themed "A player is greater than the sum of his parts"); the "Impossible Team" campaign, featuring kids picking all-star teams; and a slow-motion marvel of a film made with Paris' Pleix, demonstrating the built-in suspension of the adiStar shoe. On the artsier side, the brand's Originals division was a generous patron, commissioning the celebrated adicolor podcast series, featuring color-coded films made by the likes of Psyop, Saiman Chow, Charlie White, Neill Blomkamp, and the team of Roman Coppola and Andy Bruntel. In addition, there's a new series of Originals print ads featuring the surreal photography of Nadav Kander.
Jureeporn Thaidumrong, Founder, JEH United
In an industry where standout female leadership is a disturbing rarity, Jureeporn "Judee" Thaidumrong's 15-plus years in the business sets an example anyone in advertising should aspire to—yes, that means you, too, white Western male. Before she opened up her own 25-person, 20-plus-client shop in Bangkok, Jeh (Thai for "big sister") United in 2005, she'd already accomplished a lifetime's worth of creative feats. Early in her career, spent at agencies like DY&R, O&M's Results Bangkok, and Saatchi/Bangkok, the Thai ad industry had already dubbed her "angel copywriter," for mostly hilarious, headturning work that earned her 13 Golds at Thailand's main adfest, leading to various CD positions, more honors and a reputation as one of the most awarded creatives in her country. Last year, as head of her own shop, she was at her finest with the excellently absurd Smooth-E campaign—the Gold Lion-winning effort that many considered the dark horse favorite for the Film Grand Prix. The set of 90-second spots ran serially over the course of several weeks, telling the story of an ugly duckling of a girl who, thanks to Smooth-E face foam, goes through a miraculous transformation and finds love in unexpected places—pretty standard stuff plot-wise, but ingeniously executed thanks to some unabashedly over-the-top product promotion, super slapstick silliness, a tranny spokesperson and a pair of she-boy foils. And while Thaidumrong is an admitted workaholic, she manages to take time out of her busy schedule to feed stray dogs in the neighborhood—her biggest hobby—and to record songs for her own upcoming album. On inspiring her staff: "I support individuality. I always tell everybody that our office is like a zoo, and each person is one kind of animal. We don't need to like the same stuff, wear the same clothes, watch the same movies or read the same books. I believe everyone has many experiences in life that make them unique. I'd like for everyone to bring their inner strength to their creative work; each of us has different kinds of creative potential."
Ed Ulbrich, President, Digital Domain
Innovation, invention and inspiration are three words that sum up Digital Domain's 2006. The past year is particularly representative of how the company cultivates its success and where it intends to go in the near future. In terms of innovation, DD was involved in two of the most impressive videogame spots of the year, for Gears of War and Halo 3 ("Starry Night"). The Gears of War spot, "Mad World," was created within the game engine and, according to Ulbrich, it represents the "tip of the iceberg" in the convergence of entertainment, advertising and gaming. While its work on Oscar nominees and winners like True Lies and Titanic, or 2006 films like Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima certainly makes Digital Domain a major player in feature film visual effects, Ulbrich says the company's success is built on the back of its commercials. That's the thinking behind its most controversial project of the year, resurrecting the late Orville Redenbacher via CG, for Crispin Porter + Bogusky. Though the spot was widely panned (and even more widely noticed), the technological innovations it represents will certainly help the work for the upcoming David Fincher film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, set for release next year. "I make no apologies for the Orville work," says Ulbrich, who was visual effects executive producer on Fincher's latest film, the critically acclaimed Zodiac. "Digital human work is the most complex thing that can be done in visual computing, period. Each time we do it, it gets a bit easier and we learn a little bit more." The company also made waves on the web with VWFeatures.com and its "customized filmmaking technologies," which allow users to customize their own VW and have it star in its own web video. As for for the future, Windcrest Capital's acquisition of Digital Domain last May triggered significant growth in both the talent and technological infrastructure, as well as expansion into emerging media and web work. On 2006: "We're always involved in doing the really hard stuff. It's true to the brand, it's who we are and why we started."
Ted Ward, VP-Marketing, Geico
In 2006, the stalwart Geico spokeslizard was overtaken by his indignant cavemen brethren as the fun-loving insurance company's most popular advertising icon. Under the leadership of Ted Ward, the overly sensitive proto-humans' star had been rising ever since their first spot in 2005, and last year saw a rapid evolution from cheeky one-off to a full-fledged multiplatform campaign, which unfolded in a new wave of memorable spots like "Airport," "Topic" and "Therapy," and online with a viral movie trailer and the "Caveman's Crib" website. Word's even out that the cavemen have their own ABC sitcom in the works. Nevertheless, the gecko quipped on, in spots that took him on a talk show tour, talking up the virtues of Geico.com. Geico's cast of characters also expanded to include a bevy of C-list celebrities like Little Richard and Charo in a new customer testimonial campaign, and there was even another round of the classic "I have good news—I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance" spots. On the cavemen's popularity: "They're just so darn handsome, don't you think? It probably doesn't hurt that they're completely different than anything out there right now—they have attitude. I think everyone is having fun following the storyline, too. First we offended them, then we apologized, then we kept going with the 'Geico.com is so easy' message. And now, we even have cavemen switching to Geico. Who knows where it will go next?"
Sebastian Wilhelm and Maximiliano Anselmo, Creative Directors, Santo, Buenos Aires
It seems like everything Santo touches is blessed. The Argentine agency put out a stunning string of projects in 2006 with nary a miss among them. The shop spread its small self across a broad variety of categories and big-name clients—soft drinks (Coca-Cola Light, Coke's football work), beauty products (Unilever's Lux) and telecom (Telecom Arnet). The creative, however, all boasted the singular Santo stamp of wit and warmth. The Arnet work, for example, employed the likes of an online spokesperson with serious combover issues to silly low-budget spots that simply yet effectively encapsulated the fun of online timewasting. Led by Wilhelm (a former partner of Fallon/London's Juan Cabral while both were at Mother/London) and Anselmo, the shop is approaching its two-year anniversary at the forefront of a boldly resurgent Argentine scene, sustained on a childlike ethos. Anselmo on the best part of 2006: "Demonstrating that the mystique behind an agency isn't built only with a speech at an end-of-year party. Santo distributes part of the profits among all of the people who work in the agency. You should see how different and smooth a place can be when everyone really feels like an owner."
Ivan Zacharias, Director
With a total of three spots released in the last year, the word "prolific" isn't the first that comes to mind when describing Ivan Zacharias' 2006 commercials output. Yet, considering the work itself, the spots qualify as a pretty significant feat. The Czech-born director, repped by Smuggler, followed up the success of 2005's standout Honda commercial, "Impossible Dream," with an intricate World Cup adidas spot, dropping past and present football stars into a playground pitch fantasy. He also helmed a Nike commercial revealing Maria Sharapova as more than just a pretty face, and a Vaseline effort in which a slew of naked people become a gorgeous skin collage. Despite his general lack of availability (or could it be because of it?), his commitment to quality and his artistic touch keep Zacharias atop any creative's directorial wish list. Anyone granted access to his talent must have fulfilled certain prerequisites: first off, his spots must not only have a good idea, he has to like the idea. And each commercial must have an ending that, as Zacharias puts it, "makes sense and doesn't completely kill the idea." After that it's about timing—how much time he wants to be away from his family, particularly his 2-year-old son, and how much time is left in the year. That's because, in the European manner, he's so involved in every aspect of a production—from shooting to editing to sound—that 12 months tend to fill up fast. One of his favorite projects of the year was working with Sharapova on "Pretty," but Zacharias says his proudest accomplishment was four short films he shot for MTV encouraging Czech youth to vote in their federal election. This year, Zacharias already has his first spot on the air, a Hollywood-centric comedy for Diet Coke and Wieden + Kennedy, which debuted on the Oscars. On his goals for 2007: "I'd like to do a feature film, just to see if I can. Actually, any monkey can make a feature—I want to see if I can make a good one. You could find out you're crap, but it's worth risking it to see if you can do it."