Agencies

Quirky is in, stuffy is out: Why some ad agencies are choosing unconventional names

Party Land, Ice Cream Social, Flower Shop, and Quality Meats aren’t retailers; they’re ad agencies founded by expats from major marketing shops.
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Ice Cream Social

6 min read

What’s in an agency name? Usually, three guys’ last names, alphabet soup, or a word with all the vowels removed. Sometimes, a whimsical backstory.

Party Land, founded in 2018, was named after a party store in Santa Monica. Ice Cream Social, meanwhile, got its name from the vintage Good Humor truck that used to double as its office. Flower Shop’s office was once, you guessed it, a flower shop. And Quality Meats, though not based behind a deli counter, is meant to evoke the idea of a trusty butcher.

“I never really identified with brands or agencies that sounded like law firms,” said Matt Heath, co-founder and CCO of comedy-focused agency Party Land, who previously worked at agencies including TBWA\Chiat\Day, 72andSunny, and CAA. “I just want to have fun for a living, and starting an agency called Party Land felt like there was going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy there.”

The new wave of indie agency founders tend to have that mindset in common: Coming off years of experience working long hours at legacy agencies for major brands, seasoned ad execs are thinking outside the box, both when it comes to naming and how they do business.

Hive mind

For social media agency Ice Cream Social, the name truly was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Co-founders Victoria Roedel and Mike Weiss came up with it in 2016 when they were working at the agency Laundry Service because they liked that novelty ice creams evoke a sense of nostalgia, Roedel said. But they didn’t officially start the agency until the summer of 2020, when they bought a vintage Good Humor truck as a “marketing prop,” she said.

Originally, they used it to hand out ice cream in Detroit while working on the agency business with their laptops propped up on top of the freezers. “There were days when I had to limit myself to only three [ice creams] a day,” Roedel said. “I have an addiction to cotton-candy bars.”

Now, the truck “continues to serve as kind of like a mascot for our agency,” the inspiration for its branding, and a business of its own, traveling to events like music festivals and private parties to serve ice cream, Roedel said.

Ice cream truck

Ice Cream Social

When Gordy Sang and Brian Siedband started their creative agency, Quality Meats, after being laid off from Leo Burnett in 2019, they set out to do things a little differently than they were used to in holding company land.

“The idea was kind of like going to the butcher that you can trust to give you the best cut of meat, but eliminate all the fat, eliminate all the unnecessary parts, just to get to the good stuff as quickly as possible,” Siedband told Marketing Brew. “Our whole attitude and mindset is about building that trust with our clients and with the people we work with of blunt, candid honesty…It’s also disarming and more charming.”

It’s not always charming to everyone—“My dad still doesn’t understand it,” Sang noted—but he said that by and large, others in the industry tend to be intrigued by the name, if not slightly perplexed. Once, he said, a QSR client confused the agency with their meat vendor.

Flower Shop co-founders Mary Lou Bunn and Al Merry, who worked together at TBWA\Chiat\Day, chose their company’s name in part because their office space in New York’s Lower East Side used to be the iconic Green Fingers Market, a flower store run by artist Satoshi Kawamoto, and also because it conveyed a sense of care in their work, Bunn said.

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“We never wanted to go too far into the puns of nurturing and growing, but there’s something nice about beautiful ideas and beautiful work,” Merry said. “We’re focused more on [the ‘shop’ part of the name]. It’s a place of work.”

The physical location wasn’t always fit for work, though, Bunn said. When they decided to rent it out, the place was dirty, with softened wood floors from the plants and a bathroom that was “mortifying,” she said. But “we fell in love with the space” anyway, Merry said.

New-business pitch

Starting an agency, of course, isn’t all ice cream and flowers, and indie shops are often competing for business with bigger holding company agencies with hundreds of employees and vast resources to woo potential clients. Having a quirky name could grab people’s attention, but it won’t open brand wallets on its own.

What it can do, though, is attract a specific kind of client. Heath said that ideally, Party Land’s name serves as “a beacon for brands that want to do what we do” and a deterrent to others “that are more conservative and fearful.”

When the Quality Meats team talks with brands, they look to “find like-minded clients who want to cut through a little bit of the song and dance,” Sang said. With about 20 full-time employees, they’re also fairly selective about the brands they work with. The roster has included Samsung, Huggies, and DoorDash. Coincidentally, the agency’s first client was The Wieners Circle, an iconic Chicago hot-dog stand.

“It comes down to…Why do they want to work with us? And trying to make sure that the reasons are right,” Sang said. “It’s just about the right fit in terms of what they want and why they want it.”

Flower Shop embraces a similar approach when it comes to pitching brands on its services, emphasizing the fact that the team is, like a set of pruning shears, “fast and nimble,” Merry said. The shop, which has worked with brands including Fanatics, The Atlantic, and Nike, is also selective: “We’re not going to say yes to everything,” Bunn said.

Heath and Haley Hunter, co-founder and COO of Party Land, used to work out of a clementine-colored 1974 GMC motorhome when they got their start, which Heath said clients loved. They’d park the RV at a beach, roll out astroturf and furniture, and vibe.

GMC motorhome

Party Land

“It really solidified a lot of the relationships,” he said. The agency has done work for brands like Jansport, Liquid Death, and Dave’s Hot Chicken, and has, according to Hunter, a 93% repeat rate with clients.

Eventually, they sold the motorhome when it became hard to maintain and the agency grew into a real office, but Hunter said she still has its California license plates that read “PRTYLND.”

License plate

Party Land

The Ice Cream Social truck, meanwhile, still gets plenty of media attention on its own. Running it also gives the agency an edge beyond catching the attention of potential clients, Roedel said: It provides real experience running a business and allows her and her coworkers to experiment with social campaigns with the agency’s own brand before trying anything for clients, which have included Taco Bell, PepsiCo, and jewelry brand Cartography.

“The proof is in the pudding,” she said. Or maybe in the ice cream.

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Marketing Brew informs marketing pros of the latest on brand strategy, social media, and ad tech via our weekday newsletter, virtual events, marketing conferences, and digital guides.