Johnny Vulkan is founding partner of Anomaly Communications, LLC, where he is responsible for innovation for the agency's initiatives and intellectual property, as well as leading digital strategy. Previously, he led new product development projects at Fahrenheit 212, where he helped evolve markets and products for P&G, General Mills and Starbucks. Before that, he spent three years as Chief Operating Officer of TBWA/Chiat/Day in New York, where he cofounded the company’s Disruption Group and became a Group Creative Director, working with clients like MasterFoods, Absolut Vodka and the agency at large.
There are many sources who don't know exactly how to define Anomaly and what it does, as you are trying to go off the beaten path. So what exactly is Anomaly, and what led you to create it?
The clue is in the name, and we’re defined as much by what we are not as by what we are. We’re not an ad agency, but we conceived of and produced the most popular, shared, and viewed ad in the Super Bowl, two years in a row. [They were “Budweiser “Brotherhood” last year and “Puppy Love” this year.] We’re not a design agency, but we designed the number one selling lip balm in the U.S. We’re not a media company, but we’ve won Effectiveness Awards for media [from Effie Worldwide]. We’re not a digital agency, but we do digital work across all of our clients. We’re not a broadcast television company, but we’ve won Emmy awards for the cooking show we developed and produce.
We created the company because we saw a distinct opportunity. Most creative businesses are designed to answer questions defined by their channel. If you ask an ad agency a question, the solution they have incentive to give is through advertising, even if a better answer lies in product pricing, distribution or product design. We wanted to build a creative business free from those pressures. We get paid simply to deliver answers that help build our clients’ businesses, and that invariably starts with making sure we’re asking and then answering the right question.
How do your marketing strategies and concepts differ from other marketing companies out there, and what can other companies learn from them?
We’re not trying to sell any one type of solution, so we often get to start higher up the marketing funnel—usually at the business problem and helping to define that with our clients. With a well-defined question we can work with our clients to generate different potential types of answer. The process is highly collaborative and it’s clear from the outset that we have no secondary agenda. We have a diverse pool of talent that encompasses the major marketing disciplines—including product design, advertising, social media , branded content, and media strategy—meaning we can pursue several trains of thought before settling on and implementing a solution.Once you’ve created a truly media-agnostic structure, you’re liberated to create more original and effective answers—but it starts with philosophy and structure, and those are often hard for more established companies to change.
What's different about a startup company, and what are the advantages and disadvantages you have over a more established company in terms of innovation and management?
You're free from having to support a legacy and existing structure. You can question every aspect of how things are currently done in an industry and then decide what to keep and what can and should be changed. That can look radical these days as technology continues to open many unexpected and exciting doors. It's liberating. We couldn't have created Anomaly from inside an existing structure with its own cultural and structural rules that span everything from reporting hierarchies or process to how you get paid.
The challenge for any startup is to stay fresh. We turn 10 this year and have offices in five countries with hundreds of employees. Our values haven’t changed in that time—we’re still passionate about evolving our model and staying at the leading edge of the industries we touch. The mediums we operate in have changed and are still changing and we’ll continue to invest in talent so we can change with them.
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