A good design agency should always be seen and not heard, says Jason Arber, who takes a look at what happens when an agency breaks those rules and tries to make itself the centre of attention instead.
If you've not seen Agency.com's viral video pitch for sandwich maker Subway, head on over to YouTube and check it out. New York-based Agency.com is one of the leading full service interactive agencies in the world, and was recently invited to pitch for the Subway account and produce a five-minute video about itself.
Instead, the team decided to create what AdRants.com described as a "hipster orgasm" and uploaded it to YouTube. The video was of the Agency.com new business team in the process of pitching for the work, and included footage of them conducting ad hoc surveys in the street, getting jobs at Subway and doing talking heads interviews with key creatives within Agency.com.
This is an interesting idea, and certainly has some mileage as a way of distinguishing one agency from another in the pitch roster. However, the Agency.com team made two crucial mistakes: they managed to make themselves look like idiots; and then they released it on the web so everyone could see.
No such thing as bad publicity
The immediate response to the viral video was overwhelmingly negative, and it was ridiculed and parodied as soon as it emerged. Agency.com may, of course, take the attitude that all publicity is good publicity, but with comments such as "It's filled with mindless business blather, self-important ad speak, fist bumps, fashionably un-tucked shirts and way too many utterances of the word 'dude'" (AdRants.com) and "It feels really staged and makes people who work at online agencies look like a bunch of chumps" (Crackunit.com), I'm not sure that's the kind of press any company wants.
Agency.com appears to be surveying the carnage with a bemused smile. Initially, the company tried to big-up the video with virtual high-fives by creating fake YouTube accounts to pour praise on it, but this was soon sussed out by the community and now Agency.com is trying a different tactic: sheepishly admitting it created an excruciatingly bad, egotistical video and rolling with it, basking in the warm glow of being an industry laughing stock. Certainly the team can point to the net chatter as some kind of measure of the video's success, making it the modern equivalent of the All Your Base Are Belong To Us video that became a bizarre cult in 2001. One of the phrases from the Subway video, "When we roll, we roll big", has become a virtual catchphrase, spawning T-shirts, parodies and other examples of the video, which have emerged into the public consciousness.
Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of the Agency.com video is that it became about them and not Subway. You could have swapped out all references to Subway and replaced them with almost any other potential client, which leaves Subway in a strange position. Agency.com has strong-armed the pitch process to its advantage, potentially embarrassing Subway by throwing the video on YouTube. Subway execs must be sweating and wringing their hands, wondering whether they want to employ such a bunch of egotistical idiots to manage their brand. I'll be watching what unfolds with interest.