Normally, you wouldn’t try to woo marketing directors with a story about one who gets an axe to the face. But at BooneOakley, normal isn’t really our thing.
About a year ago, we realized we were in need of a new website. Problem was, dozens of other agencies had also made this realization in recent months. So instead of just redoing our site, we decided to create something else.
Given that we are a bit of an oddity in the industry—an independently owned shop in the offbeat city of Charlotte, NC—we felt comfortable abandoning the normal agency site model.
Not that we didn’t like our old site. It did what it was supposed to do, and even picked up a few awards along the way. But we felt it was time we had a site that was as blatantly unconventional as we are.
Failure breeds success
A few weeks later, we arrived at an idea that we thought was pretty novel: A chatbot-based website. At the time, we felt like a chat site would be a good representation of who we are. We like doing work that gets people talking. A chat site literally gets people talking. There seemed to be a connection there.
So we began developing a site that you could not only chat with, but add as a buddy on iChat and AOL Instant Messenger. To see what was going on at BooneOakley, you would merely need to peer at BooneOakley’s away message.
Just as we were putting the finishing touches on a huge database of question responses, out marched a chat-site parade. Another agency had beaten us to the punch. And then another. And then another, until there were at least four agency sites out there that were leveraging the same technology we were about to employ.
Each one was different from the next, and each brought something new to the table. But at this point, we felt another chat site was not what the world needed. Fortunately, a potentially bigger idea awaited us.
How about a video?
Putting in all that work and coming up empty only made us hungrier. We regrouped and began looking at other approaches, keeping one thing in mind: The inherent simplicity of a portfolio site. If you ask us, an agency site only needs to show a selection of work, a little bit of personality, and contact info. The key is doing all this in an entertaining way.
With that in mind, we felt there was no reason our website couldn’t simply be a fun little video. A lighthearted case study of our entire agency, if you will. We could pack a bunch of stuff into it, and then use markers along the video scrubber to show where specific content could be found.
The idea was compelling for several reasons. First, we really dug that it would allow us to show our personality and work in a dynamic way. We also liked the fact that a video site would begin playing immediately. (On many sites, you don’t know what to click on first. A video would begin taking you on a tour as soon as you arrived.) Lastly, we loved that a video site would be completely portable. Our website could now float around on YouTube, pop up on blogs, and even live on other websites. It would suddenly be accessible to people who had never heard of us or had any reason to type in our URL.
Our biggest breakthrough had nothing to do with us. It was all YouTube. The video sharing site had granted users the ability to place clickable buttons inside their videos. This would allow us to create a multi-page video site, with the main video linking to several other video “pages”.
With the help of our broadcast director, Craig Jelniker, we began production on a nearly 30-video website. We originally planned to outsource at least some of the editing, illustration, and voice over. But the more we looked at it, the cooler it seemed to keep everything in-house.
The videos themselves were built using scanned pencil drawings, which were tweaked in Photoshop. A couple of sequences were animated in Flash, but most of the animation was done using basic Final Cut motion.
Twenty-seven videos and two computer crashes later, we had a fully functioning site, complete with work sorted by medium and by client. Although showing work in video format does make it difficult to display long copy print ads, it is helpful with nearly every other medium. This includes integrated campaigns, guerilla stunts, and complex outdoor installments. For example, we have a billboard for Charlotte Plastic Surgery that featured an actual backwards-turning clock. On our old site, we showed a still of the billboard and asked people to imagine how it worked. Now, you can just watch the billboard in action.
The story of Billy
If you’re going to claim that you are unusual, you better do it an unusual way. That’s why we opted to tell our story through the story of Billy, a marketing director who hires an agency that is the exact opposite of ours.
Billy’s agency of choice is a large New York firm. But like a lot of large firms, this one is still trying to shed its bureaucratic large firm structure. Unfortunately, the firm produces a campaign for Billy that is akin to what other firms with similar structures would produce. That results in Billy getting fired. And that results in Billy’s wife having him murdered with a battleaxe. The subtle, unwritten message: Hire BooneOakley, or you’ll probably die.
Had we not been in such a zombie state by the time we were wrapping up production, we would’ve probably been more nervous about the launch. An agency website laden with violence, sexual references and not-so-subtle attacks on larger agencies isn’t exactly immune to criticism. But we felt the site was a pretty good reflection of our personality, so if clients didn’t like it, they probably wouldn’t like us.
The new BooneOakley.com went live on Thursday, May 28th around 3 p.m. Announcing its arrival were a couple of Twitter and Facebook posts, as well as an entry on our blog (for all five of our readers). Somehow, the site gained traction on Twitter, and before a week had passed we were at 100,000 views. A week later, 300,000. Visits to the site went from 150 visits per day before the redo to more than 30,000 per day after.
We figured the site would get people talking, but were surprised by how overwhelmingly positive they were. Sure, some people grumbled about SEO, and others compared our site to everything from a Street Fighter annotation game to Modernista’s award-winning site (which we considered an honor). But the majority of people applauded the novelty, irreverence and humor of the approach. We were bombarded with e-mails from around the globe, many from people wanting to work with us or for us. People blogged about us in languages we couldn’t even identify. And, most importantly, thousands of people who had never heard of us now knew one thing: BooneOakley is anything but normal.
About the author, Bill Allen
Bill walked out of Rhode Island School of Design with an MFA in 1994 and quickly fell down the interactive rabbit hole. Since then he's been learning and relearning the interactive world as it is invented and reinvented.
At BooneOakley he is helping the agency become more and more digitally fluent. That means he provides insights, connections, strategies and good ol' elbow grease to pull off technology driven "new media" projects and integrated campaigns.
Formerly he was Associate Creative Director at 22squared and a digital artist for Brighthouse Consultancy. He has worked on a wide selection of brands including Toyota, Buffalo Wild Wings, Bloom Grocery Stores, Georgia Pacific, Publix, Delta Airlines, Florida's Natural, Pepperidge Farm, Celebrity Cruise Lines and Jack Daniels as well as multiple campaigns for the Ad Council.
About the author, Jim Robbins
A fairly recent graduate of VCU Adcenter, Robbins has not yet won many awards. But he has heard of almost all of them, including The One Show, Cannes, The Clios, AICP, The Art Directors Club, The Addys, The Andys, The Webbys, and of course, the Favorite Website Awards. During his short time in the industry, Nike, HBO, ESPN, Mini Cooper and Electronic Arts have emerged as accounts he hopes to work on one day.
A converted journalist, Robbins migrated to advertising after discovering that making stuff up is frowned upon in the news industry. He currently resides in Charlotte, where he shares a house with two other guys. His rent is the cheapest because he technically lives in the attic.