Home / Tech / Meet the agency behind two of this year's controversial ads for Peloton and Zola

Meet the agency behind two of this year's controversial ads for Peloton and Zola

This image made from undated video provided by Zola shows a scene of its advertisement. The Hallmark Channel says it will reinstate same-sex marriage commercials that it had pulled from the network. Hallmark Cards CEO Mike Perry said in a statement Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019, that pulling the commercials

  • Two ads have sparked controversial headlines this month: Peloton’s holiday campaign and a same-sex marriage ad from wedding brand Zola that was pulled and then reinstated by the Hallmark Channel.
  • Both ads were created by Mekanism, an independent agency based in San Francisco.
  • Mekanism started in 2000 as a spinoff of a production company launched by director Tommy Means. It later made its name creating viral videos and social media campaigns and has aggressively sought industry awards in recent years.
  • Mekanism said it makes $40 million to $50 million in annual revenue, has recorded average growth rates of around 20% in recent years, and employs about 175 people across four US offices.
  • A spokesperson said the agency has responded to the scrutiny by “moving forward.”
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It’s rare to see two completely unrelated ad campaigns — much less two efforts by the same agency — stir up contentious debate on social media in a month.

Mekanism, a San Francisco agency, was behind both ads: Peloton’s widely-mocked holiday campaign and an ad for wedding website Zola featuring a same-sex couple that the Hallmark Channel stopped airing due to pressure from a conservative activist group, then reversed its decision after criticism from celebrities and politicians.

Mekanism wouldn’t comment on the ads. Peloton told Business Insider that Mekanism remains its primary agency. A Zola spokesperson said, “We had nothing but a wonderful collaboration with Mekanism and look forward to continuing to work with them.”

A tiny production company matures into a bigger industry player

Though its clients include Ben & Jerry’s, Under Armour, and MillerCoors, Mekanism isn’t a traditional big-name ad agency. Asked how Mekanism has responded to the unexpected attention, the spokesperson said, “We keep moving forward.”

A source at the agency said Mekanism prohibited staff from talking to the press amid the intense media scrutiny of recent weeks.

At least one employee recently found humor in the situation.

 

Tommy Means founded Mekanism out of Complete Pandemonium, a production company he launched in the late 1990s. Years before the iPhone and the rise of digital, Means saw the industry’s future online.

Creative and production had been separate disciplines, but in recent years, more creative agencies have begun launching their own production divisions to grow their revenue, as production can be more lucrative. 

Mekanism built a reputation on social and viral videos

Mekanism started as a production company executing social media and web-heavy campaigns developed by other agencies like McCann, BBH, and Venables Bell & Partners. As its growth sped up, it began to work more directly with clients including Frito-Lay, PepsiCo, Nike, MillerCoors and, eventually, Peloton and Zola.

In many ways, Mekanism was an earlier version of VaynerMedia. Both companies focused on social media and influencer marketing and positioned themselves as digitally focused independents battling the big holding companies. Mekanism, however, lacks the sometimes-polarizing personality of chief hype man Gary Vaynerchuk.

Mekanism made its name via some of the web’s earliest sponsored viral videos, most prominently a 2005 series called “The True Adventures of Chad” that promoted Sega’s Super Monkey Ball Deluxe title via the story of a gaming fanatic who lives in a literal bubble. The campaign won awards at several industry events, including Cannes Lions and The One Show.

The agency expanded to New York, Chicago, and Seattle, and launching a media-buying practice in 2018. The spokesperson said Mekanism is “fully committed to the independent agency model.”

Mekanism looks to score top awards while staying independent

Mekanism’s spokesperson said it has grown an average of around 20% over the past five years, and that its revenues this year will be $40 million to $50 million. It employs about 175 people.

Though Mekanism’s profile is not as high as that of other independent agencies like Wieden and Kennedy, it has more aggressively sought industry plaudits in recent years. For example, “The New Normal,” an ad for cannabis distributor MedMen helmed by film and music video director Spike Jonze, recently won gold at the Clio Awards and ranked among Adweek’s top 25 ads of 2019.

The agency hasn’t discussed its relationship with Peloton, but has been more forthcoming on Zola.

This week, Mekanism’s Twitter account shared a client tweet calling all marriages “equal celebrations of love,” and CEO Jason Harris posted a related message on his Instagram account, writing, “Our little ad made big waves.”

SEE ALSO: Peloton’s pitch deck shows how the company promised to avoid the ‘cheesy ads’ that led to its current PR disaster

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