Agency of The Year: The Marketing Arm

By Patricia Odell | Chief Marketer Magazine

September/October 2012

It takes a confIdent agency to realIze that not every good Idea grows wIthIn Its own walls. In a unique move, Dallas-based agency The Marketing Arm is planning to show that confidence later this year with a new creative incubator it hopes will address the changing needs of both the marketplace and its clients.

That when the agency will debut Flockstar, a crowd-sourcing platform that will serve two functions. The first will be to solicit campaign ideas from thousands of creatives, professionals and even consumers who will participate by answering briefs posted by The Marketing Arm on behalf of its clients. Second, the platform will provide a substantial database whose data can be segmented into demographic and lifestyle groups from which insights and shopper marketing information can be gleaned.

“It’s going to rattle the cages of the industry,” says Ray Clark, founder and CEO. “[With Flockstar] we’re saying we have great creative inside our company, but we’re not opposed to providing better, faster, cheaper solutions through crowd sourcing when appropriate, and then having our creatives curate those ideas. The strategy is to cast the widest net to find the best idea.”

Flockstar, now in test phase, connects through a portal where participants register and compete to win prizes, money, points or project work. As an example, 10 participants may be selected to work on a brand based on their creative ideas.

“People sign up to be part of the flock,” says The Marketing Arm’s president Dan Belmont. “That’s the principal behind the ‘Crash the Super Bowl’ promotion for Doritos—the idea that we can tap the audience that is passionate about these brands.”

Counseling clients

The Marketing Arm was founded in 1993 and acquired by Omnicom in 1999; since then, there have been a number of notable milestones. In 2006, it acquired the mobile company Ipsh! and shortly thereafter launched a digital content group to produce video. Last year, it made a major acquisition in the leading social-media marketing agency Fanscape. The Marketing Arm builds campaign ideas across nine platforms: TV, film, music, gaming, celebrities, causes, multicultural, sports and motorsports.

From just three specialties in 2000, the agency has grown to offer 20 core competencies, giving it the agility to pivot by offering clients additional services. As a testament to that expanded offering, last year 80% of additional business came from existing clients.

The upcoming launch of Flockstar could help with those clients’ No. 1 problem: cutting through the clutter.

“It’s the age-old problem that has just become more difficult. ‘How do I stand out among the noise and get people to understand my product?’ Belmont says. “It’s gotten a lot harder, given the breadth of what’s available to the consumer today.”

And while The Marketing Arm handles a wide variety of both clients and programs aimed at various targets, what sets it apart is its specialty in generating big ideas, like “Crash the Super Bowl,” that have universal appeal.

“You’ve got to connect in a meaningful way to 20 million people or more; that’s the big idea or assignment that is presented to us,” says Andrew Robinson, senior vice president of consumer engagement. “We have to find a mass audience to make a difference, to have universal appeal.”

Internally, four criteria are applied to a “big idea” to determine whether it will perform to expectations. Is the idea true to the brand’s purpose? Does it have universal appeal? Will it flow on a big stage or touch an emotional platform? And does it have the ability to drive mass, sustainable PR on a limited budget?

Art, not science

The Marketing Arm’s creative efforts have won recognition. This year, it was a PRO Awards finalist in 13 categories. For its work with such clients as Nintendo, GameStop, State Farm and Doritos.
One of those campaigns, “Super Mario 3D Land Launch,” for Nintendo, was a 2012 PRO Awards finalist in the Best Event Marketing (5 venues or fewer) category. It illustrates The Marketing Arm’s spunk. The goal was to highlight the 3D gaming experience on Nintendo’s 3DS. On November 12, 2011, “Super Mario” took over a plaza in New York City’s Times Square. Visitors became part of the video game through an oversize Nintendo 3DS game system.

Attendees wore Mario Tanooki ears and tails, slid down pipes, dodged ink-spitting piranha plants, hopped over Goombas and bounced on trampolines—just like Mario. An acrobatic group of Marios performed, and Jon Bon Jovi provided photo-ops and PR. So did the ABC Jumbotron, which displayed “Super Mario 3D Land” content and messaging. The event was captured in time-lapse videos, which were distributed to media outlets and posted on Nintendo’s YouTube channel, where they were viewed by more than 50,000 people.

On the horizon

Clark sees the increasing emphasis on cost cutting as foresees one issue as a growing problem among promotional agencies, their clients and the third-party procurement services that make campaigns possible: an increasing emphasis on cutting costs.

“There will continue to be tremendous pressure on margin,” he says. “As clients put pressure on margins, I don’t think they realize that the quality of what can be delivered may suffer. At some point there is a tipping point. If you can’t pay for the top talent and have dynamic resources because you’re trying to save money, the end delivery may not be what you wanted.”

Proposing campaigns and competing for business has also become more complicated for agencies such as TMA, according to Clark.

“The request-for-proposal process has become near ridiculous,” he says Clark. “Clients are holding 12-agency pitches, then narrowing to four, then getting it down to two and then negotiating between those two to see which one they can get the best deal with. Agencies are spending tens of thousands of dollars and four to six months of work and seeing very concerning results. Some [clients] run the process just to get a better deal with an incumbent. It’s really out of hand.”