Report by Stephen Olsen
When Scott Harris of LA-based agency Mistress Creative takes to the stage at Semi-Permanent at the Embassy Theatre in Wellington later this week, he’ll likely be sharing tales about three of his biggest conquests: creating global experiential campaigns for Hot Wheels, a TV series for Red Bull and the world’s first ever full-length musical for a brand, Unilever.
The musical – simply called Pot Noodle – preceded Mistress, and is one of many successes attributable to the creative team of Aussies Harris and Damien Eley, who have been accumulating awards together for more than a decade, moving from BMF to Ogilvy New York and then Mother London.
The other three partners of Mistress are Americans Christian Jacobsen and Blake E. Marquis, and German Jens Stoelken. Jacobsen helped bring the five together four years ago to co-locate out of the hotbed of Venice Beach, California. As a co-founder, Jacobsen wanted to produce work that was about avoiding “really broad stroke paintings of consumers” (a pet hate) and more attuned to “being contextually relevant and being worth sharing”.
Being part of a tight-five determined not to replicate what they had already been doing at other places has obviously been a good fit for Harris and Eley. Harris calls their earlier work such as Pot Noodle (for Unilever) a signifier of the work they like to do.
“We try to do things that people want to see. With that musical we had people queuing a block to pay ten pounds and watch an hour-long performance about a product. That’s more interesting and satisfying than blanketing peoples’ televisions with messages you they don’t want”.
Mistress is being treated as a brand in its own right, playing off its name to offer high fidelity for short periods but without a ‘marriage contract’ to honour and obey.
Harris: “Mistress works for me because I really enjoy being responsible not only for the work but for the direction of the agency, the culture, and making sure our awesome staff are happy. We also believed there was a model for clients who truly felt that their current agency couldn’t provide them with the progressive thinking their brands need to evolve”.
At 43 Harris has been in advertising since forever. Originally from the northern beaches of Sydney he started in the mail room of Australia’s biggest agency at the time, completed AWARD School three times and studied advertising at a technical college to get his start.
At Mistress he is witnessing a range of sister companies come into existence: Neato, specialising in collegiate marketing. Tarot, a millennial trends an insight company run by millennials. And Bastard – a producer of anything, that Harris describes as the “love child of Mistress”.
Working with production company Fake Love, Mistress recently created a social media campaign and TV spot that features millennials who have strong online presences as a hook for client Hampton Hotels. The hotel chain invited a group of 10 millennial social media magnets to stay for a weekend at various locations. As reported by Digiday, the idea was to have these influencers honestly document their experience via social media channels like Twitter and Instagram, using the hashtag #hamptonality, in order to spread the word to their followers and friends. Mistress then used the content generated to create the 30-second spots.
While this is a definite trend, Harris is a bit despairing of millennials as a source of conventional recruitment for agencies. “We are finding it really difficult to get great talent. It seems every book we see these days has a bunch of terrible ideas for apps. Our last two hires have been a team that had a bunch of patents for crazy inventions in their book, and a rapper”. A sign of the times?
SEMI-PERMANENT runs this Friday and Saturday, 18-19 October at The Embassy in Wellington. Tickets still going. See www.semipermanent.com [LINK = https://www.semipermanent.com/event/wellington-2013 ]