Modernista Makes a Break With the Past

Company's Radically Different Website Is Barely a Website at All

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NEW YORK ( –- General-market ad agencies aren't seen as the most digitally savvy in the biz, but Boston-based Modernista has broken that mold with a new website to try to prove it "gets" the Web 2.0 revolution.
Modernista's website makes use of Web 2.0 websites like Wikipedia, Flickr and YouTube.
Modernista's website makes use of Web 2.0 websites like Wikipedia, Flickr and YouTube.

The indie shop founded by Gary Koepke and Lance Jensen in 2000 has had nearly as many websites as it's had years (this is the seventh), and for its latest effort, the agency canned the earlier freaky drawings of birds and babies to build a site so unfussy, it's barely a site at all.

You will now be redirected
Upon punching in the URL, a small navigation bar appears, redirecting visitors to a host of the best-in-class Web 2.0 services. Click on the agency's "about" section, and you're taken to its Wikipedia entry; "work" displays a TV reel via YouTube, print examples via Flickr and web executions on Agency news is delivered through Google News, and a "contact" section lets users get in touch via AIM or Skype.

"The thing about the web these days is there's all these great tools out there, you're just not going to be able to come up with a better way to share photos than Flickr or a better way to build community than Facebook," so it's wise to tap into what's already out there rather than build from scratch, said David-Michel Davies, executive director of the Webby Awards, which each year honors excellence on the Internet. "They're putting their best foot forward in saying we get Web 2.0," Mr. Davies said.

The response to the revamp, the brainchild of Modernista interactive art director Tim Blount, has been largely positive among the online community.

Brilliantly bold
Mitch Caplan, Y&R chief marketing officer and interim CEO of the Dell agency dubbed DaVinci, remarked on his blog, "What's Next in Marketing": "Not brilliant because it's based on an amazing piece of technology, design, etc. Brilliant because they had the balls to do it."

A small number of observers, though, have pegged the redesign less gutsy and more gimmick, and even worse, lazy.

"We could create a website just like everybody else or create our own social networking website, but what good is that?" said Mr. Koepke, Modernista's co-founder and executive creative director. "It's nice to let other people decide what we are. ... At least it's fresh. It can be very mundane in this business, and very methodical."

The new site launch hit a snag when, days after its debut, Wikipedia yanked it for a day or so.

No bragging allowed
Wikipedia spokesman Jay Walsh said the deletion may have occurred because the community interpreted Modernista as violating of one of Wikipedia's two critical pillars: maintaining a neutral point of view and no conflict of interest.

"An editor may have thought that those policies weren't being observed," Mr. Walsh said, and that Modernista "created a page solely for their business or to talk about themselves, which isn't what Wikipedia is about." But it was restored when it was made clear that Modernista wasn't controlling the content of the page.

So, the site's safe for now, but there still remains the danger of Wikivandalism -- with Wikipedia's more than 75,000 active contributors in more than 250 languages. Already the site has been spoofed: Witness, a knockoff where visitors are redirected to Google News for reports about everyone's favorite fallen pop princess and Flickr pics documenting Britney Spears' fashion faux pas.

Will it work?
Whether the site will be successful in helping Modernista, which counts among its top clients Cadillac, Hummer and TIAA-CREF, boost business remains to be seen. The Webby Awards' Mr. Davies said that can hinge on "the kind of clients they are trying to attract -- that's a huge factor to whether it's successful or not." Modernista, for its part, is hopeful the buzz from the site redesign will get the attention of a broad spectrum of marketers.

"We started out as an ad agency, but we've ended up being something totally different. We like to get involved in things that aren't just TV and print ads," said Mr. Koepke, citing recent projects such as a Business Week redesign, a U2 video and, most recently, a collaboration with Paul Oakenfold for his 2008 World Tour.
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