Ad agencies are expert in planning and purchasing paid media. But it’s far harder for the shops to get press coverage in their own right. Not that agencies don’t try, mind you, with methods including public relations, social media, and even viral videos.
Maybe they’re trying too hard. After all, Carmichael Lynch cut through the cultural clutter without trying at all, with the Carmichael Collective, a non-client showcase that’s a cross between “creativity for creativity’s sake” and an “after-school project,” according to Dave Damman, chief creative officer at the 200-person Minneapolis-based shop (which declined to give annual billings).
The Collective is a company-wide artistic expression effort, Damman explains, “within and outside the creative department, folks in media, planning, and, believe it or not, accounting.” Among its notable creations is the Censorship Towel, which when worn looks like a pixilated blur over a naked body. And some in St. Paul may have noticed the Urban Plant Tags placed in front of everyday objects like street lights, bus benches, and fire hydrants. The tags are similar to the ones found in bedding plants from garden centers. Instead of advising “full sun” however, there are puckish instructions like “full shade, blooms at sunset, replace bulbs annually” for a street light, or instructions for strategically placing a no-parking sign.
The idea of the Collective is to take “an everyday occurrence and put a new spin on it,” says Damman. “It’s observational—opening your eyes and seeing in a different way.”
If potential clients see Carmichael Lynch in a different way, that’s great, say both Damman and agency President Doug Spong. But each insists that’s not the intent. Instead, the Collective was born out of brainstorming how to mark the agency’s 50-year anniversary. And instead of limiting it to 50 projects, or time-stamping it to a specific year, it’s meant to be an ongoing opportunity to be “unfiltered, without any restraints,”
Actually, the big breakthrough may not come from potential clients, but existing ones, such as Subaru, among others. If clients browse the Collective’s portfolio and ask why their own work isn’t as compelling, they may allow—or insist that—the after-school project ethos apply to their work, too.