Mischief's ascent has been swift, with each campaign living up to the shop's name
“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” At a scary moment in his career, after he had lost his job as chief creative officer of BBDO New York in April of 2020, respected agency vet Greg Hahn encountered those words on the website of No Fixed Address, an independent Canadian agency known for its flexible, anti-layered and no-siloed model. Within two months, he had partnered with the company to open the doors of his own New York shop, Mischief.
Fearlessness encapsulated what Hahn had wanted to do going forward. “I didn’t want to be part of the past,” he says. “It felt like the advertising world was lacking. Something was broken and I thought there had to be a better way.” And then, when he met NFA’s Founders Dave Lafond and Serge Rancourt and future Mischief President Kerry McKibbin, everything clicked.
Since Mischief officially hung out its shingle on June 1 of 2020, its ascent has been swift and storied, with each campaign living up to the agency’s name. The first, for Kraft Heinz, gave kids water-filled packets of Capri Sun, a prank highlighting the brand’s probono initiative to provide H20 to Chicagoland youth.
The agency continued with the client on another cheeky move to position one of its most famous products, Kraft Mac & Cheese, for the young adult set. The “Send Noods” campaign played off the word “nudes” and featured pixelated images of the product, encouraging people on lockdown to treat far-flung loved ones with their favorite comfort food. Though the effort sparked controversy when social media commenters tied it to a hashtag hijacked by QAnon groups, it was ultimately a business success, with a spokesperson saying that it led to 20,000 consumers receiving boxes of the product.
“I purposely named the agency Mischief because I wanted people to know what they get when they come to us,” Hahn says. “We want to show people we’re going to approach things askew. If you put that out into the world, it draws the right kind of clients.”
By the end of 2020, the agency saw its revenue jump 2,234% compared to its first month, teamed with 15 clients on as many projects and created six major campaigns. It grew from just its founders to 44 strong—at the time of this interview, none had yet met in person.
“I think we can attribute our growth to doing the right thing in this business, which is focusing on creativity,” says McKibbin, who came on board after serving as senior VP and group account director at MullenLowe. “Our best business tool since we launched has been doing good work. That has begotten more good work and brought in more and more clients, and therefore, more success.”
Outside of Kraft, in 2020 the agency went on to create daring work for OKCupid, including the “Cockblocker” election-themed push, as well as a disturbing series of films for bipartisan organization RepresentUs, starring deep-faked world leaders reveling at the United States’ self-destruction. A Pfizer vaccine confidence campaign inspired viewers not with science, but with memories of pre-COVID intimacy.
Though the agency’s calling card has been its off-kilter approach, it’s not defined by it. Sleep tech brand Oura tapped Mischief as its agency-of-record and went on to debut a brand platform centered around knowing “why you feel how you feel."
“Not everything we do has to break the internet,” McKibbin says. “We do want it to be the best work in its category or the best work the client has ever done. That really is our goal.”