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Startup agency’s ads score their own kind of Olympic gold

Olympic athletes spend years preparing for one moment that can determine their future. Stick the landing, and you’re golden.

Olympic athletes spend years preparing for one moment that can determine their future. Stick the landing, and you’re golden. Miss it, and dreams die.

That was the scenario facing Barrie D’Rozario Murphy, a Minneapolis ad agency whose first high-profile national work made its debut during the Olympic telecasts that ended last week. 

And they stuck it. The agency’s animated spots for United Airlines’ new international business and first-class service earned high praise from the judges, with New York Times advertising writer Stuart Elliott calling them “lovely … a pleasure … some of the best Olympic commercials.” (Take a look at the “Sea Orchestra” video above.)

Those were sweet words for the agency, which opened shop two years ago, landed the United account six months later and has been preparing United’s Olympic ads for nearly 18 months.

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Agency partners Bob Barrie and Stuart D’Rozario sent shock waves through the industry when they landed United only months after leaving Minneapolis-based Fallon. On some level, it shouldn’t have been a surprise: Barrie and D’Rozario had led United’s award-winning “It’s Time to Fly” campaign at Fallon. (Below is the agency’s “Two Worlds” video for United.)

But many industry watchers nonetheless were surprised when United left Fallon, which had held the account for a decade, to throw in with a startup. The long gestation period for the Olympic ads only ratcheted up the pressure for them to be successful.

No resting on laurels
Unlike an Olympic star, who can dine forever off his gold-medal performance, a modern ad agency can’t rest on its laurels. Next month, BD’M will launch new creative work for Best Buy’s home appliance business.

And at the Democratic National Convention in Denver last week, the agency was active in several different media on behalf of client Applied Materials, a California-based nano-manufacturing company that puts the silicon coating on computer chips. With about $10 billion in annual sales, it’s one of the biggest companies you’ve never heard of – and BD’M is setting out to change that, focusing on Applied Materials’ move into solar panels.

In Denver, BD’M projected ads onto the sides of buildings downtown and ran a full-page ad in the Rocky Mountain edition of the Wall Street Journal. Headed “An Open Letter from the Sun,” the irreverent piece urged America to move forward on solar energy. Billboards reinforced the effort, offering a text message from the sun (text SUN to 42107, if you’re interested).

BD’M partner and co-president David Murphy left his post as president of Saatchi & Saatchi’s Los Angeles office in early 2007 to join the fledgling agency, a decision he likens to “running away and joining the circus.”

“I left an agency of 300 people to join two guys with wires hanging from the ceiling and no clients,” Murphy said. “But Stuart is a very persistent guy.”

Murphy said he’s excited about the potential of mobile marketing, which he views as still in its early stages. The potential of mobile is not so much “beaming ads at people,” Murphy said, but the ability to turn every offline ad into a two-way interaction by adding a text call to action rather than a Web URL.

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Marketers have never had so many tools at their disposal, Murphy said, and new applications have never gone mainstream so quickly: “If you want to make a 21-year-old laugh, refer to the Web as ‘new media.’ ”

But NBC’s ratings for the Olympics show that the old media, used smartly, still have some life in them. More than two out of three Americans watched at least part of NBC’s broadcasts from Beijing.

“In some cases, a TV ad may be the best solution,” Murphy said. “It’s like the first time you got the Crayola box of 64 crayons. When you suddenly have all these options, you try mixing all the wild colors together. But sometimes, red and black and brown make the best picture.

“Choose the medium that’s right at the time.”