Rather than speak from any of the Cannes stages at last month's confab, Mojo Supermarket founder Mo Said perched on a patio off the Croisette and invited one-on-one conversations with all comers. Throughout those discussions, Said reminisced about what he had to do to just get a shot in advertising.
Mojo Supermarket grew up while maintaining its DNA
“I killed my accent on purpose,” Said said, explaining the sacrifices he had to make as a Pakistani looking to work in the industry. “I wouldn’t have gone this far with an accent, I wouldn’t have gone this far as Mohammad. … Bias is pretty natural in human beings.”
Eventually, Said got his shot as a creative director at one of the hottest agencies in the country, Droga5. Still, he felt something was wrong. “[I realized] I will never win in this game, I just had to create my own,” he said. “I realized, what am I going to run? I’m never going to run an agency. I’m [probably] going to run the most liberal account that wants me there just so they can say they have me there.”
Three years after opening its doors, New York-based Mojo Supermarket has grown in size and stature, raked in creative awards, snagged big-name clients and turned a healthy profit. Yet through it all, the agency hasn’t lost that outsider ethos that made it stand out in the first place: Said sent a look-alike to accept a One Show award so that he could attend his company’s party. And the shop agreed to sell one of its Gold Lions this year for $10,000 to help Afghanistan residents affected by an earthquake.
But out-of-the-box thinking is only one part of Mojo’s story.
Getting the business side right
Said, basically an unknown commodity, launched Mojo in 2018. Soon after, the agency hit a major speed bump when the pandemic began and its only client, Adidas, paused its marketing budget.
“I had to decide: Do we close up shop or keep this thing going?” Said wrote in the agency’s awards submission. In fact, he was considering closing up shop in April of 2020 to take a job as a chief creative officer at a major agency. Instead, Mojo made headlines when it hacked the Oscars to draw attention to the lack of female-directed films being honored during the awards, an attention-getting campaign that drew work for Savage X Fenty, Kraft Heinz, Netflix, Amazon and Girls Who Code.
The question was no longer whether the agency could survive, but whether it could sustain its momentum. It did. Mojo’s revenue grew from $1.9 million in 2020 to $10 million in 2021. For the first time in the agency’s history, it was able to add its first agency-of-record clients when it won Truth Initiative, Hydrow, Match and Stockx. The agency also added Grayscale, Meta and Bleacher Report to its client roster.
The shop grew from six employees in 2020 to 61 employees currently. Among the new hires: Mojo added Tasha Cronin, head of production, who joined from Droga5; Vice alum Hannah Benabdallah as head of communications; and Autumn Maison, who took on the role of “dean,” which the agency defines as someone “who fosters a safe and motivational school for creative individuals.” Mojo also hired Nika Rastakhiz from Anomaly LA to serve as co-head of strategy with Ryan McDaid.
While growing rapidly, the agency kept its diversity numbers up—53% of employees are BIPOC and 57% are women. The shop is also retaining talent, with only two employees leaving in the past two years.
Creativity that works
Despite the business side taking off, Mojo didn’t miss a step creatively.
As a result, more than 150,000 people coded the video in just the first week. Thousands of people were capturing and sharing the experience across social platforms with a massive global reach and no paid media budget. In the first two weeks, DojaCode garnered $10 million in earned coverage. The work won two Gold Lions this past Cannes festival.
The agency pivoted the Truth Initiative's strategy against vaping to focus on its effects on mental health. Rather than a traditional PSA, the agency created a fake vape company called Depression Stick. The campaign included teasers across social and broadcast media that asked things like “Why be happy when you can be sad?” Out-of-home activations included billboards that proclaimed “Depression Stick Coming Soon!” The agency also launched a series of films featuring a “marketing executive” from Depression Stick attempting to trick real influencers, lobbyists, ad agencies and gas station clerks into selling Depression Stick—which, unsurprisingly, didn’t work.
All of the work directed people to DepressionStick.com, where visitors were able to learn about the harmful impact of vaping on mental health. More than a half-million people visited the website in the first 24 hours after launch. In just three weeks, the campaign garnered 213 million video views, 2 million social engagements, 1.3 million visitors to the website, 813,000 website engagements and a 63% website engagement rate. That's four times the level of site engagement of the Truth Initiative's earlier work.
To help combat the idea that Match is “old and outdated,” according to the agency’s submission, Mojo reintroduced the site through its “Adults Date Better” campaign, which was a rebrand and repositioning. “We did away with cutesy pink tropes and jumping over fences adventure dates,” the agency wrote. “Instead we went subtle, quiet and sexy in a way competitors had yet to consider."
The campaign films showcase relatable adults with voiceovers discussing the sexiness of emotional maturity and life experience when dating. Due to the campaign, Match saw a lift with its core audience (30+ singles) in direct response and acquisition metrics, as well as in upper-funnel metrics including resonance, brand engagement, sentiment, word-of-mouth and media coverage.
Growing pains and moving forward
Mojo prides itself on making it a rule to “not work for free,” gravitating toward brands the agency likes and bringing only one idea to pitches. The shop even recently turned down an opportunity that could have “financially skyrocketed” its business but its staff would have suffered, according to the agency’s submission. But even with its rules in place, the agency is not immune to the current pitch environment. Mojo is in the midst of a legal battle, according to the agency’s submission, with a “multi-billion-dollar company" it declined to identify in a battle to defend its “creative integrity.”
“The two biggest clients we ever won, we won this year—both of them were twice or three times as big as our biggest client—and we turned them down right after, because I was like, ‘That person is not right.’ The mutual respect isn’t there,” Said said during one of his Cannes conversations which the agency posted on LinkedIn. “I’m a fan of my clients. We talk like we are fans of each other and that’s how it should be.”
Said admitted that growing pains have been part of the independent shop’s journey. “All of this is a wild ride,” he said. “It used to just be me in my kitchen, just firing off stupid LinkedIn things. Now that we've had all this success in the last year, it's become harder and harder, personally too. I got into this place where I'm writing something [and I wonder] do I send it to Hannah [Benabdallah, head of communications at Mojo] first? Or do I just write it?”
“While that initial goal has remained—to make work that changes the way people think—the vision has expanded,” Said wrote in the agency’s submission. “In the coming year, you’ll begin to see us create our own IP at Mojo. Whether that be Mojo-owned brands, media or just boundary-pushing work that clients were too timid to buy."
Which is a far cry from where the shop was not long ago. "It’s been two years since I almost shut Mojo’s doors," said Said. "And holy shit, I’m so grateful I didn’t.”