Downtime: Santia Nance’s hoop dreams

October 17, 2017

Richmond Biz Sense

By Jonathan Spiers

When Santia Nance finished college in 2010, she found her life outside of work spinning in circles.

So, naturally, she picked up a hula hoop.

After googling “hooping” and taking a local class, the VCU grad, now a media planner at local ad giant The Martin Agency, found a pastime and passion she’s pursued ever since.

Recently promoted to media planning supervisor, Nance’s workdays are spent in the thick of Richmond’s biggest creative shop, strategizing media placements for ad campaigns for clients such as Land O’Lakes and pudding maker Kozy Shack.

But while her job is in the heart of the creative think tank, Nance said her own creativity comes out when she’s hooping.

“It’s like yoga in a way: it makes you feel at peace, it makes you feel yourself,” she said. “It makes you feel happy, because it’s so nostalgic, and you’re focused on something else versus thinking about other things. You’re just in your zone.”

Active with local hoop group RVA Hoop House, Nance can be spotted spinning hoops around town in group sessions and events such as Inlight Richmond, when she’s encircled with LED-illuminated hoops. She’s performed in theater showcases and in a burlesque show at Gallery5, often under her stage name, Santobella Spark. She’s even picked up fire hooping, spinning a circle of flames to the point that they make a whooshing sound.

“When you’re fire-hooping, you hear it. The rush is to hear it,” she said. “It’s hot!”

A Hampton native, Nance first picked up on hooping in high school, motivated in part by an unlikely source: Hilary Duff as Lizzie McGuire.

“For some reason I was obsessed with the Disney Channel in high school. (Duff) did this thing where she was a rhythmic gymnastics person or something, and she threw the hula hoop in the air, did a cartwheel and then caught it. I was like, ‘I’m going to do that!’”

After graduating from VCU with a degree in creative advertising, Nance revisited the activity when she found herself idle outside of a part-time job with Radio Disney.

“I was real bored. I didn’t have a job really. I was like, ‘What do I do?’” Nance said.

“In 2010, I just made it up in my head that this has to be a thing, so I googled it. That’s when I found my hoop mama, Stacey Firefly,” she said. “She’s one of the originators in Richmond who was hula hooping.”

Nance signed up for one of her now-mentor’s classes at Dogtown Dance Theatre, and she’s been hooping ever since.

“It was Oct. 13, 2010 – my hoopiversary. That’s a real thing,” she said, laughing.

Watch Santia Nance Hooping Outside The Martin Agency

When she’s not spinning her hoops or dancing in circles of flames, Nance said she’s found joy in her work at The Martin Agency since joining the firm in 2013, specifically planning digital media placements for campaigns.

“We have to figure out where the best place is to put the advertising,” she said. “Not necessarily just thinking about is it on TV or a magazine or a website; it’s usually which website, which TV show, which time, what makes the most sense and what’s the cheapest and what’s going to actually get people to do what you want them to do. A lot goes into that thinking.”

Focused on strategy at work, Nance said she releases her creative side out of the office in her performances, which she choreographs herself.

“I try really hard to come up with something unique for each event,” she said.

And when she’s not performing onstage as Santobella Spark, Nance said she helps “spread the hoop love” in group hooping sessions and community outreach events, helping first-timers pick it up and pinpoint difficulties.

Laughing, she said: “People call me the hoop whisperer.”

Watch Santia Nance Hoop With Fire

Posted By: The Martin Agency

Why is He-Man Fighting For The Power of GEICO? Thank 80s Nostalgia And Old School Animation

October 11, 2017

Clio Entertainment

By Christine Champagne

The idea that the GEICO commercial “He-Man vs. Skeletor” could introduce a new generation of fans to He-Man and the Masters of the Universe—an animated television series that first aired in syndication for two years in the mid-1980s and can now be seen on Netflix—delights Neel Williams and Justin Harris, VPs/creative directors from The Martin Agency, who created the spot.

“If just one child sees the spot, then decides to watch a He-Man episode as a result, well, we should probably just retire and become grape farmers or something. Our creative promise will have been fulfilled,” says Williams, who, like his creative partner, watched He-Man cartoons when he was a kid.

“I even had the action figures—He-Man, Man-At-Arms and a random character called Stinkor that actually smelled bad,” Williams recalls.

If you aren’t as versed in the He-Man universe, a quick primer: Although long rumored to have been an aborted Conan the Barbarian toyline (original toy maker Mattel refuted the claim and even won a lawsuit against Conan’s rights holders), He-Man was a muscular barbarian billed as the most powerful man in the universe, and he fought a rogue’s gallery of ghoulish baddies including main villain Skeletor. The toy line debuted in 1982, with the TV series following the next year.

Beyond tapping into their own nostalgia for the He-Man crew of heroes and villains, Williams and Harris were confident that other adults would get a kick out of seeing a new He-Man and Skeletor showdown, and they felt like adding an animated spot to GEICO’s “Great Answers” campaign, which until the release of this one, featured only live-action spots, would give it stylistic breadth.

In each of the commercials rolled out as part of the campaign since it launched last year, characters in sticky situations, including a thief on trial in one and a mole sitting in a car with mobsters in another, get out of trouble by bringing up how switching to GEICO can save you money on car insurance at just the right moment.

Before “He-Man vs. Skeletor” could go into production, The Martin Agency had to get Mattel to agree to license the characters for use in the spot. It turned out to be less treacherous than anticipated.

“You never know with licensed properties like this, but they were supportive from the very beginning. GEICO has great reach and a reputation for injecting ads into pop culture, both of which should be appealing to partner brands,” Williams says, stressing, “We try hard to respect the brand parameters we’re given so that everyone comes away feeling good about the end result.” Mattel also approved the use of live-action versions of He-Man and Skeletor in two ads created by Mother for the U.K.’s this past year—and while they aimed for the same nostalgia button, they lacked the added element of the kitschy animation that defined the show and, in many ways, defined He-Man for a generation.

You hardly ever see 2D animation these days, and The Martin Agency needed to find an animator who could lovingly recreate the look of the original cartoon while making the humor pop, and the advertising agency hired animation director/producer J.J. Sedelmaier of J.J. Sedelmaier Productions, a go-to source for humorous animation for not just advertisers but also television shows including Saturday Night Live (Sedelmaier co-created The Ambiguously Gay Duo with Robert Smigel), The Daily Show and The Colbert Report among others.

The GEICO gig was right in his wheelhouse, Sedelmaier says. “One of the studio’s cap feathers is working with established character icons for advertising. In the past, we’ve done spots using [characters from] Speed RacerThe JetsonsSchoolhouse RockUnderdogRen & Stimpy, etc. So the idea of being able to add the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe crew to our list had all sorts of dandy potential.”

When it was produced in the 1980s by the Filmation animation studio, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was drawn on paper, the drawings were photocopied onto acetate celluloid, painted with cel-vinyl, photographed onto 35mm motion picture film and transferred onto videotape, Sedelmaier explains.

But he and his team at J.J. Sedelmaier Productions, including head animator Andy Friz, created the “He-Man vs. Skeletor” commercial in an entirely digital domain. “It’s drawn on a computer-based tablet, colored digitally, composed digitally and downloaded/uploaded as a digital file. It’s so much easier now and allows for more control over the work,” Sedelmaier says, adding, “I can’t imagine going back to the old process.”

While working digitally is less time consuming, care and finesse went into making the commercial look like it might have been pulled out of a time machine that went back into the 1980s in search of a lost He-Man and the Masters of the Universe episode. It was important to do that because many people watching this GEICO commercial will remember the characters from when they were kids.

"The bond you have with things you remember from childhood is pretty strong, and one’s personal nostalgia is like a narcotic. If you can recreate that for the viewer, you bond with them immediately,” Sedelmaier says. “But you have to be careful because these are people’s favorite memories. It’s got to be entertaining—humor always helps. But you can’t disparage the characters.”

Sedelmaier did add a fun modern touch to the commercial—Skeletor performs a celebratory “Yesssss!” arm jerk after he dupes He-Man and his crew.

Asked if making an animated spot is more difficult than working in the live-action realm, Harris answers, “Yes and no. Yes from the standpoint that you end up having to wear more hats with animation. In addition to creating the idea/script, we might help a little to plot out blocking and action and also help direct [voice] talent in the booth. But that was all under the watchful eye of J.J., so maybe it wasn’t quite so hard since he’d help steer us in the right direction if we veered off course too much.”

Expanding on the no portion of his reply, Harris muses, “And then I’d say it’s also not as difficult—from our standpoint, not J.J.’s—since there’s less moving parts in the form of casting, location scouting, permits, crew. Our agency producer, Brian Fox, also worked tirelessly to help bring this thing to life. It’s getting to work with such talented people on all sides that can make things so much easier.”

Sedelmaier says creatives and producers working in the advertising industry these days have a good sense of how to do animation. “It used to be that you had to indoctrinate your agency cohorts, and especially the client, into the animation process,” says Sedelmaier, who formed J.J. Sedelmaier Productions with his wife Patrice Sedelmaier in 1990. “But as of the past 10 years, creatives are very savvy. They’ve grown up knowing the process because animation is no longer a mysterious sort of craft.”

“That being said, each project does have its own aspects that need to be prepared for, and everyone has to be on board when it comes to schedules and budgets. One thing that’s terrific about a project like the GEICO one is you know that the agency has the support of the client, and they’re out to do stellar work—always. This means, I can look forward to more emphasis being on the work rather than other distracting logistics,” Sedelmaier says. “The priorities are sound.”

Posted By: The Martin Agency

The Martin Agency Hires Karen Costello to Lead Mondelez Account as Executive Creative Director

October 11, 2017


The Martin Agency hired Karen Costello as executive creative director, tasking her with leading the agency’s Mondelez account, which includes brands such as Oreo, Chips Ahoy! and Ritz.

“Karen is one of the top creative leaders in the industry. But she is hardly one to brag. So I will for her. She’s already making a huge difference in the place,” said The Martin Agency chief creative officer Joe Alexander in a statement.

“I was drawn to Martin because of their reputation for being great people who do great work,” added Costello. “Great work is obviously important to me, but I’m a relationship person. In the end, it’s all about the people.”

Costello arrives at The Martin Agency from Deutsch L.A., where she served as executive creative director and helped grow the office from a team of 13 to over 400 while working with clients including Target, Georgia-Pacific, HTC, Expedia and Zillow. Over the years, Costello has won all sorts of industry awards and was named in Adweek’s Creative 100 list in 2016.

Costello’s arrival marks the latest in a series of leadership hires at The Martin Agency. Earlier this month, the agency welcomed back Chris Schumakeras executive vice president, managing director, growth and CMO. Last week, Michael Chapman succeeded 31-year agency veteran Earl Cox as chief strategy officer.

Posted By: The Martin Agency

The Martin Agency Fills Its Chief Strategy Officer Role From Within

September 25, 2017


By Erik Oster

The Martin Agency has appointed a new chief strategy officer from within its own ranks, promoting Michael Chapman to the role.

Chapman, who will also get the executive vice president title, had served as senior vice president, managing director, strategic planning for the agency since 2014. He replaces Earl Cox, who recently retired after 31 years with the agency and two decades in the chief strategy officer role.

“Earl is a friend and mentor who has always believed in the importance of business, data and creativity coming together,” Chapman said in a statement. “I adopted that mindset from him and work to bring that thinking to every opportunity.”

Chapman joined The Martin Agency as a strategic planner on the UPS account in 2000 and also worked with Yoplait. After leaving for a two year stint as a senior planner at McCann London in 2005, he returned to the agency as senior vice president, group planning director in 2007 and led strategy for brands including Cruzan Rum, Norwegian Cruise Line and Fuze before being promoted to managing director, strategic planning in 2014.

“Michael has been groomed for this executive leadership role his entire career,” Martin Agency CEO Matt Williams said in a statement. “He’s an extraordinary coach, a great partner to our clients, and he’s not shy about lending his opinion, even if it’s contrary to conventional wisdom. There’s nobody better to lead our strategic capability in these changing and exciting times.”

Posted By: The Martin Agency

The Ad Agency Behind “Virginia Is For Lovers” Says “Virginia Is For Everyone”

September 25, 2017

Fast Company

By Jeff Beer

Back in 1969, a Richmond, Virginia-based advertising agency called Martin and Woltz created an ad campaign for the Virginia State Travel Service (now the Virginia Tourism Corporation) that would go on to become one of the most recognized tourism slogans of all time, and what Advertising Age called one of the most iconic ad campaigns in the past 50 years. “Virginia is for lovers.”

It’s a tagline that evokes the exact opposite emotions of seeing the images from Charlottesville over the weekend, and the president’s reaction since. And outside The Martin Agency (formerly Martin and Woltz), agency creatives put a new twist on the classic tagline, adding #standforlove and swapping it on social media with “Virginia is for everyone.”

What started as a sign outside the agency’s front door has been picked up by the Virginia Tourism Corporation on Instagram, aiming to promote a more positive image of the state as soon as possible.

“We know that Charlottesville and the state of Virginia are places we know and love, and we know they’re diverse, inclusive, and welcoming,” says The Martin Agency CEO Matt Williams. “We also know the violence we saw last weekend isn’t what that city or the state is about. ‘Virginia is for lovers’ has always been true, and it’s never been a more relevant message to send.”

The agency, particularly known for its work for long-time client Geico, and this year’s award-winning “The World’s Biggest Asshole” PSA for Donate Life, boasts a diverse group of 400 employees, most from out of state. Williams sent out a companywide memo to remind and reassure them that the terrible events happening just 70 miles away did not represent Virginia.

“We’ve got a 52-year history in Virginia, and we love this state,” says Williams. “When things like this weekend happen, it shakes everyone, and it was important for our people to know that we understand they’re affected by these things, and that we stand with them. We stand with being inclusive and diverse, and it was important they hear that from me.”

Asked if he thinks the events in Charlottesville will affect the Virginia brand, Williams says he hopes that despite all the global coverage, better voices will prevail.

“When something terrible like this happens, one of the reactions is often people who may have otherwise remained quiet about their own convictions around inclusivity and diversity find their voice,” says Williams. “We’ve seen it happen and it’s inspiring. This is not okay. This kind of violence is unacceptable. And these voices are getting louder denouncing it.”

Posted By: The Martin Agency

It Began With a Gecko. Mayhem (and Flo and Peyton) Ensued.

September 25, 2017

The New York Times


By Joanne Kaufman

Decades ago, commercials for insurance companies followed certain formulas.

There were the ads featuring happy families, with a voice-over offering reassurance that all would remain well for those who chose the right coverage. There were ads with images of fires, floods, tornadoes and burglaries, stark reminders of how suddenly and seriously things could go awry. There were cautionary tales of parents who died unexpectedly and uninsured, leaving their children in the lurch. (A young John Travolta was the star of one such heart-tugger.) Then there were the testimonials from satisfied customers, and monologues from insurance agents about their devotion to duty.

A few ads may have used humor, but they were the outliers. Insurance, the vast majority of the ads seemed to say, was a solemn business.

These days, however, you would be hard pressed to find an insurance company commercial that isn’t going for laughs. Consider the Geico gecko, Progressive’s Flo, Allstate’s Mayhem, the didactic Professor Burke of Farmers Insurance and Peyton Manning’s vocal stylings for Nationwide.

By most accounts, the game changer was the gecko. The redoubtable reptilian mascot, which made its debut in 1999, was conceived by the Martin Agency to both reinforce Geico’s name and help the public figure out how to pronounce it. (The name stands for Government Employees Insurance Company.)

Since then, Geico’s ad campaigns have featured the cave men, Maxwell the pig and rhetorical questions like: “Could switching to Geico really save you 15 percent or more on car insurance? Does a 10-pound bag of flour make a really big biscuit?”

“Insurance doesn’t make you happy very often, so we thought that the advertising should have a smile to it,” said Joe Alexander, the chief creative officer of the Martin Agency, which has had the Geico account for 23 years.

Before Geico signed on with Martin, it had a 2 percent market share and was the eighth-largest car insurance company in the United States, according to Dean Jarrett, the agency’s chief communications officer. It is now No. 2, behind State Farm.

Rivals in the category took note.

“Geico came out and said that people don’t care that much about insurance; insurance is a burden category, so let’s lighten the burden,” said Britt Nolan, the chief creative officer at Leo Burnett U.S.A. and a member of the team that created the Mayhem character for Allstate. “Let’s make it simple and cheap, and let’s make the brand feel likable and fun.

“I think they showed everyone else that there was another instrument available to be played,” Mr. Nolan added. “And now all these other brands are trying to find their own unique voice in comedy.”

Humor is also a way for insurance companies to connect with younger people.

“‘Good neighbors.’ ‘We’re on your side.’ That’s how insurance companies used to communicate, but it was for an older consumer,” said Mr. Alexander of the Martin Agency. “Today, we’re trying to reach a much younger, more cynical audience.”

Whatever the target audience, the humor has to be handled with care, said David Fowler, the executive creative director at Ogilvy & Mather, whose accounts include Nationwide.

“It’s a rich area with endless possibilities, and you have to be vigilant about going beyond the edge,” he said. “The online world will quickly tell you where the edge is.”

In any case, the punch line shouldn’t overwhelm the pitch. “We can’t forget that we sell, or else,” Mr. Fowler said, quoting David Ogilvy, the founder of his agency. “That’s rule one. In Geico’s case, most of the ad is crazy, but at the end there’s the message: 15 minutes saves 15 percent.”

Context is everything. “I think you have to divide the ads into categories, into property insurance and life insurance,” said Rachel Howald, the chief creative officer of the ad agency Invisible Man. “When you’re talking about a stolen TV, that’s not do or die, so there’s more latitude to have fun with it. But when you’re talking about the fate of individuals, there’s a reticence on the part of clients and insurance companies to make light of it.”

Insurance companies also have to draw a line between their ads (funny) and their intentions (earnest).

“We use humor to forge a bond with our customers,” said Cat Kolodij, the leader of marketing strategy at Progressive. “But we never make light of a situation when there’s an accident. We’re very clear that the humor doesn’t extend to our customer service group or our claims department.”

As Mr. Fowler of Ogilvy put it: “You can’t forget this is a serious product, and at the point of purchase you have to ground it in trust. The ad has to come back to earth at the moment of truth. Otherwise, you’re just goofy, and no one wants to buy insurance from a goofball.”

Posted By: The Martin Agency