The guys who run of the Wexley School for Girls, an advertising agency in Seattle, go out of their way to be wacky. But there is actually a highly effective method in their madness. The agency's first rule of thumb? Just because you’re a fast-food joint doesn’t mean all your ads have to feature a burger and fries. Wexley's breakthrough spot (above), "Winner Take Steve," which was made for Nike, featured a couple of nerdy kids at summer camp--definitely not your typical poster boys for athletic gear. And yet, by virtue of its cognitive dissonance, it spread over the Internet and was shown at more than 20 film festivals. "People are spending more time getting branding messages than ever before," says Cal McAllister, Wexley's co-founder. "To reach them, it just takes a marketing department to think entirely differently."
A one-size-fits-all approach won't do much to grab people’s attention. After all, says Wexley co-founder Ian Cohen, having a small core audience is "a whole lot more valuable than a bunch of people who really don't care about the product." To come up with an effective custom message, Wexley conducts thorough research to find out how its clients’ customers tick. For Microsoft’s "Hey, Genius!" college recruiting campaign, for example, Wexley’s principals corresponded with students through message boards on Tumblr. Then, the agency hired actors posing as recruiters to sit in hot tubs, called "Jobcuzzis" (shown above), in which they greeted prospective hires on campus.
Getting in front of your customers live can pack a powerful punch, especially when they haven’t experienced a product or service before. When Copper Mountain Ski Resort wanted to push its marketing beyond print ads featuring pretty scenery, it called on Wexley. So the agency brought snow to Austin, Texas, literally, by spraying it onto the streets, in a campaign called National Snow Day (above). "The whole campaign is based around the idea that everyone deserves to feel that little thrill of an unexpected day off with zero obligations," says McAllister.
Plastering your company’s name all over your advertising might seem like a good way to gain brand recognition, but maintaining some subtlety is often the more effective approach. In 2007, to promote Microsoft’s recently launched Live Search Maps, Wexley placed giant pushpins on buildings throughout Seattle (shown above). Almost none of them bore Microsoft’s name: the only clue was a Web address displayed in window signs. Onlookers who followed the clue to the site could then try the software for themselves.
Wexley’s office is full of wackiness--including a mini-golf course (shown above) and a mock-Chinese restaurant right in the middle--and that vibe is reflected in the agency’s creative process. Wexley's team applies that offbeat creativity even to the most sober of products. To promote Microsoft’s Hyper-V Server, Wexley deployed costumed actors to crash an industry conference. Tech bloggers quickly picked up photos of the stunt. "We look for something smart but a little ridiculous," McAllister says.--April Joyner