John Boiler and Glen Cole left a big established agency known for its Nike account and started their own modest shop. As they grew, the firm got work from a big client: the famous shoe brand.
And their work on one of Nike's toughest problems getting people to try its Nike Plus computerized shoe that sends training data to the runner's iPod got remarkable results.
"The only way to understand this technology is to use it," said Matt Jarvis, a partner at Los Angeles agency 72andSunny. "So we provoked people with the TV spots to engage with it. Participation from our campaign exceeded all other efforts to promote Nike Plus."
Boiler was a TV commercial director and Cole was a writer at Wieden & Kennedy, which was known as Nike Inc.'s main ad agency. In 2002, the pair left Wieden and freelanced for two years before they founded 72andSunny in partnership with Robert Nakata, another Wieden expatriate.
Although it was an L.A. agency, its early clients came through its office in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The first customer was Bugaboo, an upscale European baby stroller. They also worked on Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox video game console through the Dutch office.
Then in 2007, Nike signed them to handle a campaign for its soccer shoes in conjunction with the UEFA European Championship.
Cole, who had handled Nike's European business when he worked at Wieden, proposed a short film and TV commercials with famous soccer stars telling their first-person stories of how they progressed from neighborhood teams to compete at the highest levels of the sport.
The final film which was shown via Internet and a series of commercials were both directed by Madonna's ex-husband Guy Ritchie. They were a big hit with fans. Executives at Nike called it one of the most successful campaigns in their company's history, Boiler said.
Next, 72andSunny got the assignment for Nike Plus, a joint venture between the shoe company and Apple Inc. aimed at joggers.
Nike Plus is a computer chip embedded in the heel of an athletic shoe that communicates with the customer's iPod. During a run, the chip can interrupt the music playing through the iPod headphones to give distance updates or encouragement. Runners can load their training data from the iPod into their computer and get training advice through Nike's social network.
But even after years of explaining the technology, Nike couldn't convince consumers to try it, said Jarvis, a fourth partner who joined 72andSunny in 2008.
72andSunny solved the problem by producing an online running contest with an irresistible angle: men versus women. They competed to see who ran the greatest distance. Television spots billed it as the ultimate battle between the sexes, and the agency recruited popular European athletes of both genders to promote it.
The campaign resulted in 500,000 users signing up for Nike Plus accounts to track their miles on the Internet.
Wieden & Kennedy remains the main global agency for Nike. But by winning major Nike campaigns, the 72andSunny partners scored big.
"72andSunny was born out of frustration and excitement," Boiler explained, "frustration at the slow pace of the advertising industry to react to changes in the media landscape, and excitement at all the new ways to connect with consumers."
The agency's approach is to focus on the merchandise rather than creating a flashy message that calls attention to itself and the agency.
Jason Argent, vice president of marketing at 2K Sports, a video game studio in San Francisco, appreciates the product-centric approach. Argent signed the firm to promote its top-selling basketball title, "NBA 2K."
"72andSunny's focus is on getting results for us, not on their own self-promotion and winning awards," he said. "It sounds simple, but it's surprisingly rare."
2K Sports was so impressed with the "NBA 2K" campaign that it made 72andSunny its lead creative agency.
For the video game, the agency created a Web site where gamers could play against each other online, with the goal of getting drafted by fantasy pro teams.
While the emphasis on products appeals to the companies who buy 72andSunny's services, it doesn't allow the agency to develop a particular style that could raise its profile in the industry.
"The biggest challenge the agency faces is greater awareness in the marketing community," said Russel Wohlwerth, a principal with Ark Advisors consulting firm in Playa del Rey. "A signature piece of work an account they could readily be identified with would be of tremendous value to them."
But Boiler is unapologetic for his eclectic approach to advertising.
"We are rabidly opposed to having a house style," he said. "If there's a style, let's call it intelligence. There's no recognizable creative crutch that we use repeatedly. The style needs to emerge from the marketing problem and that's unique to each client."
In describing his plans for the agency's future, Boiler uses a common Internet word scalability.
In the last year, 72andSunny has nearly doubled its payroll, and he expects the growth rate will increase as the agency picks up more business. The agency could open offices in other cities and countries, but will remain based here.
"We're certainly not afraid of scale," said Boiler. "But we love Los Angeles. If you look at our work, it's about leveraging pop culture to create a moment and this is arguably the center of American pop culture."
"Los Angeles needs more of this kind of agency," said Wohlwerth. "With offices in Los Angeles and Amsterdam, a roster of sexy clients, great creative work and competencies ranging from design to digital, they have all the earmarks of today's hot agency."
As for the agency's name, most people assume it refers to L.A.'s weather, but Boiler insists it expresses the optimism, openness and high standards of the firm.
"The weather here in Southern California is nice, but we also have an office in Amsterdam where it's pretty much never 72 and sunny," he said. "72andSunny is a statement of how we work."
CORE BUSINESS: Designing ad campaigns that cross between TV and Internet
EMPLOYEES IN 2009: 52 (up from 30 in 2008)
GOAL: To integrate digital elements into large advertising campaigns
THE MONEY: Bootstrap startup, no outside investment; clients pay for production costs
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