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Company History

On Independence Day in 1999, my 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. 

I had spent the previous 15 years working in an industry that went out of its way to make simple matters complicated. So, we positioned ourselves as a new back-to-basics, bullshit-free ad agency. Then, after a few weeks of trying to sell our idea to the media and prospective clients, it became alarmingly clear that the proposition was looking like a non starter.

Everything I'd learnt was out the window. Digital was going to change everything! Even the basic marketing processes of research, strategy and communication had been pronounced dead.

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Oh well, our founding client was the largest high-speed Internet provider in the USA and they were paying us a very healthy monthly retainer. Things will settle down. They didn't. And it soon became clear that the messianic digital entrepreneurs at Excite@Home had no time for figuring out who we would target, or how we would position the brand. In 12 months, I never received a written brief, or got a clear sense of Excite's business / marketing objectives. 

"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

Finally, at Excite's annual all-hands meeting, I asked the CEO for some direction. I kid you not, he declared he was "brand agnostic." We resigned the account and shortly thereafter the dot com bubble started collapsing.

Excite@Home, laboring under $1bn of debt, filed for bankruptcy in 2001.

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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'd been asked to meet with a mysterious company that had been laboring for 30 years at building a marquee name in the world of semiconductors. Applied Materials were hungry for recognition (and very keen to take advantage of the free fall in media prices).

We pitched against several beleaguered ad agency giants, and won the business in a shoot-out with my former employer, McCann Worldgroup. 

So here we are in 2024, and I feel like we've come full circle.

Our world has been digitally transformed. 

Why on earth should we invest in producing big ideas and crafting brand building campaigns that are distinctive, memorable, enjoyable?

Mark Whitty

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