Not Business As Usual
Business beginnings are often excessively mythologized. But we didn't have a grand vision, a five-year plan or a service that was unique.
The idea was simple. We wanted to take the bullshit out of the brand building process and get back to the basic art of producing marketing campaigns that are distinctive, enjoyable and compelling.
What could go wrong?
On Independence Day in 1999, my two partners and I leapt into the dot-com tsunami and set-up shop in a filthy, dangerous and yet barely affordable part of the Mission in San Francisco. Our biggest client was the largest high-speed Internet provider in the USA, and the first 12 months we were in business was dominated by a revolving door of messianic digital entrepreneurs.
"Excite@Home believed they were pioneering 'the new economy'. It turned out they were running around in circles burning cash faster than they could fathom it all out."
Dan Goodin, Wall Street Journal
As we were unable to get any work produced, I asked Excite@Home's CEO for some direction at an all-hands meeting. He declared that he was "brand agnostic". The following day I declined an offer to renew our annual retainer.
Excite@Home eventually filed for bankruptcy with a $1bn of debt - shortly after the CEO declined an offer to buy Google for $750K from two PhD students at Stanford University.
When the dot-com crash finally happened and the plug was pulled, the effect was instantaneous. There was no gentle glide path back to reality. San Francisco's once vibrant advertising community was in ruins.
Fortunately, we were asked to meet with a mysterious company that had been laboring for more than 30 years at building a marquee name in the world of semiconductors. Applied Materials were now hungry for recognition - and very keen to take advantage of the free fall in media prices. We pitched against several giant ad agencies, and won the account in a shoot-out with my former employer, McCann.
Our campaign broke new ground in corporate advertising, and it made Applied Materials famous for the role it plays in actually making the Information Age accessible and affordable to everyone.
At the time I never quite realized how important that first major piece of business would prove, but it was a dream start born out of a willingness to question everything, speak honestly and offer a completely different, bullshit-free perspective.