How To Redefine The Ad Agency

Illustration by Zoran Lucic; Fabrizio Costantini/New York Times (Martin Portrait)



Ross Martin
Executive VP, MTV Scratch

Masashi Kawamura
Cofounder, Creative Director, Party

The dialoguers: Ross Martin is the executive VP of MTV Scratch, the network's in-house group that connects brands like Pepsi and Chevrolet to the MTV audience through customized on-air or digital content, retail promotion, and product design. Art and film director Masashi Kawamura is cofounder and a creative director at Party, an upstart whose multimedia campaigns include turning 250 Canon cameras into strobe lights for Androp's "Bright Siren" music video.

MARTIN: We have a lot of things in common; for one, we both resist the A-word--agency. With the breakthrough work that's being done today in our industry, everybody's all up in everybody's grill. With all that confusion and chaos, it's creating opportunities for us to bust out of those old boxes.

KAWAMURA: Yeah, we didn't want to call ourselves an agency. We were in the agency business for such a long time, and we got bored. There are so many different ways to communicate now. Interactive is definitely one of the tools. So we figured there must be a better process in developing creative communications using those technologies. We see it more like an experiment--what if we mix these seemingly unconnected things together? We don't know where it's really heading, but it's been about a year since we started our office, and we've been having a lot of fun.

MARTIN: If work ever feels really, really safe, we know we're doing something wrong. That's not to say we don't protect ourselves and our partners. We measure everything we do as we go, every minute of the day. We tweak, evolve, and iterate. But if you're not risking anything, then you're not doing your job for your client.

KAWAMURA: I definitely second that. It might sound a little bit irresponsible, but coming from the film directing/creative side, when you can see some idea 100% in your head, I always try not to sell that idea to the client--because it only gets smaller from there. It never exceeds the imagination. A great idea to pitch is one that's only 80% there. We love to have that 20% extra space. It's a good space. It's not waiting there for us like a bear trap.

MARTIN: Masashi, you make a commitment in a lot of your work to showing people how you set it up. It's almost like, "Hey, here's what I did. I'm still going to blow your ass away when you see it!" Why are you showing people how you did it before you show them what you did?

KAWAMURA: I used to always think I was making the final product. So if it was a music video, I thought I was making a music video. But now I see it a little bit differently. I feel like I'm trying to create this kind of visual experience, which also surrounds the music video I'm making. The before-and-after is part of what I'm creating. That's why I started the Androp video by showing how the cameras got wired together.

MARTIN: There's this line from T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock": "Do I dare disturb the universe? In a minute there is time for decisions and revisions, which a minute will reverse." So much of what we strive for creatively is disruption that creates an experience that drives you to action. An experience you'll never forget, an experience that you'll need to share with others--the audacity to try and disturb the universe.