Rosen, who is 40, is sitting amid a scene of abundant expansion and disarray. One of his friends told him once that he looks like the new Bond, except much rounder and much balder. He says he’ll take it. Cables are everywhere, and there’s blue tape on the floor where the cubicles are going to go. They’ve just expanded, again, and they haven’t even had time to install the high-end espresso machine. On the table in front of him are stacked magazines and a copy of Fredric Jameson’s Marxism and Form, surely a plant to impress visitors. “No, that’s someone’s,” says Rosen. “We have, like, five Ph.D.’s around here.” Around him, his 39 hands all seem bustling and happy and unaware of the class struggle. They should be, what with their bubbly salaries, an agency-provided summer house on the Jersey shore, and a winter ski house up at Stowe.
Amalgamated worked with Deep Focus, another small agency, on their highest-profile campaign to date, for Court TV’s Parco, P.I. It started last summer with a billboard on Houston Street, one that read in block letters:
Do I have your attention now?
I know all about her, you dirty, sneaky, immoral, unfaithful, poorly-endowed slimeball. Everything’s caught on tape.
Your (soon-to-be-ex) Wife, Emily.
P.S. I paid for this billboard from OUR joint bank account.
Gawker and many New Yorkers and whoever else cared to check soon stumbled on a blog by “That Girl Emily,” which gathered a million hits in a few days. At Deep Focus, a copywriter spent weeks playing Emily, logging entries and answering e-mails. She crafted a love story that started months before the billboard went up and ended with “14 Days of Wrath,” an elaborately staged retribution that included a BMW spray-painted I HOPE IT WAS WORTH IT getting towed around New York, and an actress tossing “Steven” ’s belongings out of an SUV near Bryant Park. The events were filmed and slipped onto YouTube and posted under titles like “Angry Wife Rampage!” That one gathered 284,275 views.
Deep Focus was started in 2002 by Ian Schafer, a 32-year-old veteran of the first Internet boom who’d worked at Miramax for three years. He now has more than 70 employees, and just moved from Dumbo to the West Village. He’s run the online work for The Sopranos and Nike’s rollout of the LeBron sneaker, and his campaign for Entourage featured an “interview” with agent Ari Gold in which visitors were granted a personalized tongue-lashing. Schafer keeps a family tree of the conglomerate agencies on the wall in his office, so he knows who’s calling to offer to buy him. He and the other shops get calls like that a few times a month.
Perhaps the most successful campaign to come out of the New York agencies was created by Droga5 for the hip-hop clothing line Ecko Unltd. In the spring of 2006, Droga’s first client, Mark Ecko, hired the agency to create a short in which mock commandos in backpacks tag Air Force One with the company’s STILL FREE graffiti logo. It’s a little masterwork of the faux underground, shot in infrared with a cheap camera, and so convincing that the Pentagon had to issue multiple denials that the event had happened. (It looked amateurish, but that video cost nearly $400,000—$150,000 went to repaint an old 747, and the director’s day rate was $25,000.) Droga “seeded” it in May 2006, sending it to counterculture Websites, and he claims that, with media coverage, the video generated more than 115 million impressions. By comparison, a Super Bowl ad draws 93 million viewers, half of whom are mindlessly staring into a bowl of Cheetos, and that 30 seconds can cost well over $2 million.
Jason Deland, a partner at Anomaly, yet another new small shop in Soho, collects quotes about the current disarray in advertising. One of his favorites is from A. G. Lafley, the CEO of Procter & Gamble, year after year one of the biggest buyers of advertising in the United States: “We need a new model. It does not exist. No one else has one yet. But we need to get going now.” (Bob Garfield, who writes a column for Advertising Age and co-hosts NPR’s “On the Media,” calls this “the chaos scenario.”) DeLand’s other quotes veer deep into the fog of adspeak, but their message is the same: The ad world is a forest on fire, and these shops are a bit like those mushrooms that pop up after the inferno.
The telltale numbers run in the papers almost every day, or on Google, if that’s where you get your news. Television is in retreat. For those who do continue to endure TV, digital video recorders are killing ads. NBC, admitting its model was in distress, announced in October that it would cut its news and programming budget by $750 million and 700 jobs. Budweiser, Pepsi, and other big marketers, anxiously watching that audience drain away, have started what are essentially their own television channels online, providing their own programs for their own customers. Newspaper ad revenues and circulation are similarly riding an alpine slide.