Between being named Ad Age’s and AdWeek’s agency of the year for 2013 and near-doubling of revenue, it’s been a banner year for LA- and Amsterdam-based 72andSunny. Recent work by the agency, which made its name crafting savvy campaigns for challenger brands like Carl’s Jr. and Samsung, shows that even as they make the transition to both being and representing industry top dogs, they’re retaining their quirky, human side.
Founded in 2004 by Weiden+Kennedy alums John Boiler, Glenn Cole, and Robert Nakata, 72andSunny, which made the Inc. list of “25 most audacious companies” is no stranger to accolades, or to (favorable) comparisons to the Portland-based agency where so many of its founders and employees gained expertise in the industry. Founder Cole recently told AdWeek, “I can’t think of a better training ground.”
Creating Cultural Impact on Behalf of Brands
72andSunny, though, seems to be putting its own stamp on the ad business – even going so far as to suggest that it is not in the business of creating ads, but that it instead “creates cultural impact on behalf of brands.” A phrase like that could come off as eye-rollingly hipsterish if 72andSunny’s work weren’t so damn likeable.
A recently launched campaign for Smirnoff Vodka features the tagline “Exclusively for everybody,” and Scott Hattis, a 72andSunny Senior Strategist, feels that it makes a bold statement within the category, naming it one of his favorite campaigns. He says, “Personally, my favorite part of the work is how swiftly it subverts the position of all other vodkas.” With its humor and unpretentious attitude, it certainly does.
In the campaign’s centerpiece YouTube video “The Party,” stars Alison Brie and Adam Scott work together to throw a party – featuring Smirnoff vodka, of course. But the ad gives the typical highbrow conceits a sly twist: Brie reaches for one bottle, saying “We have to get this one. It’s made only from potatoes that look like famous people’s faces.” In response, Scott reaches for Smirnoff. When Brie asks, “What’s this one’s claim to fame?” he answers “It’s just really good vodka.” The video also pokes fun of bottle service and overwrought artisan cocktails (“You KNOW we’re muddling some cardamom!”), but we won’t spoil the jokes any further – just go watch it:
Hattis says that 72andSunny’s goal with this clever sendup of marketing tropes was to show the truth about vodka and how it is consumed, and he believes that the YouTube platform was key to the campaign’s “Exclusively for everyone” message. He says, “We knew we wanted to make a social statement with these films, one that people would experience together even if they were apart.”
Defining Culture to Create Memorable Videos
When asked about the company’s description of itself as creating “cultural impact on behalf of brands,” Hattis said, “One of the first observations I had upon joining 72andSunny here in New York last October was a constant presence of the word ‘culture’ itself. Whether in terms of the impact we hope to have in broader culture on behalf of our clients, or in terms of understanding, creating, and defining our culture internally – it’s a driving principle for the agency.”
The Smirnoff campaign is just one example of 72andSunny’s tendency to work within and against cultural conventions to create memorable video. The agency’s campaign for Call of Duty franchise neatly showcases its cheeky sense of humor, as well as its elegant sense of visual style. One video created to promote the franchise, “CODnapped,” plays on the stereotype of hardcore gamers disappearing for days at a time upon a new release: elite military units rappel into office buildings, blow through roofs, and zoom into fancy-dress parties on motorcycles, snatching men from living rooms, dining tables, and parking garages. Each “victim” gives a knowing smile as his kidnappers slip a hood over his face.
The gruff-voiced narrator explains to the viewer that when you are CODnapped, “you will be brought to an undisclosed location. You will sit in big comfy chairs. You will be given snacks. If you have a nut allergy…we can make it work.” The “victims” of CODnapping grin at one another and the warehouse full of massive monitors, and begin playing Call of Duty. Later, they reunite with loved ones, who are overjoyed to see them – unaware that the kidnapping was a ruse to give the “kidnapping victim” some quality gaming time. At this writing, the official video boasts nearly 2 million views on YouTube.
“CODnapped,” like many of the other videos 72andSunny have produced for the Call of Duty franchise, which have included star turns from Eminem, Robert Downey Jr (in a game trailer directed by Guy Ritchie), former Daily Show correspondent Rob Riggle, and Sam Worthington and Jonah Hill (paired in a Modern Warfare 3 trailer with over 26 million YouTube views), is neatly positioned to appeal to the young, male demographic which waits on tenterhooks for each new Call of Duty release.
The partnership with Eminem, who partnered with Activision and Call of Duty: Ghosts for the music video for his single “Survival,” clearly struck a chord with the audience: the rapper’s video, featuring iconography and screenshots of the game, has topped 64 million YouTube views since its October 2013 release. The game itself sold over 19 million units worldwide, making it the second-most purchased game of 2013.
Using Video to Highlight Society Issues
A related campaign also highlights the agency’s very human side, as well. Recently, 72andSunny and Activision Publishing launched the Call of Duty Endowment (CODE), an initiative to help veterans find work. In addition to donating $4 million in grants to assist veterans seeking employment, the agency and Activision produced a PSA called “The Honest Truth” to highlight the challenges and stereotypes returning veterans face as they seek work upon returning to civilian life.
Given the serious nature of the issue, it was important that the video strike the right tone – or risk making it look as if Activision were attempting to crassly capitalize on an association with veterans. By composing the video entirely from first-person accounts by veterans themselves, 72andSunny and Activision were able to strike the right note, informing viewers about the issue while decoupling the marketing for the Endowment from the marketing for any of the COD games.
What’s Your Problem? Sport Doesn’t Care
This is far from the only example of 72andSunny crafting campaigns that seek to combine doing well with doing good. The agency’s work for Samsung leading up to the 2014 Sochi Paralympic games includes a video called “What’s Your Problem? Sport Doesn’t Care.” Featuring a variety of Paralympic athletes, the video the embodiment of “person-first” rhetoric: these people are magnificent athletes, full stop.
More recently, 72andSunny worked with YouTube on a campaign called “#ProudtoPlay,” highlighting LGBT Pride Month in the lead-up to the World Cup in Brazil. The campaign features openly gay athletes and inspiring words from President Obama and recently deceased former South African President Nelson Mandela. As of this writing, the video has over 4 million views.
As a body of work, this suggests that 72andSunny is more than living up to its goal of working with brands to create genuine cultural impact. Hattis attributes 72andSunny’s success to its understanding of its own culture as an agency, and its ability to share that with clients: “We know who we are and we say it out in the open. Brave and generous. No cynics, no egos, no politics. We know who we want to work with because they feel the same way. They’re creative talents, trusted collaborators, and like-minded folk who embrace the value of cultural conversation in growing their business, just like we do ours.”