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The recent relaunch of an ad agency website has attracted quite a bit of attention.

My feelings about social media marketing are well-established. But despite the fact that I and others question whether social media can ever deliver as much substance as it has hype is irrelevant. Talk of "ad agency 2.0" is rampant and some agencies are betting that social media is worth focusing on.

One of those agencies is Boston-based independent agency Modernista, which counts Hummer, Cadillac and TIAA-CREF as clients.

The agency just launched a new "website" in an effort to demonstrate its social media prowess. How does it do this? Its "website" really isn't a "website":

"Upon punching in the URL, a small navigation bar appears, redirecting visitors to a host of the best-in-class Web 2.0 services. Click on the agency's 'about' section, and you're taken to its Wikipedia entry; 'work' displays a TV reel via YouTube, print examples via Flickr and web executions on Del.icio.us. Agency news is delivered through Google News, and a 'contact' section lets users get in touch via AIM or Skype.'

"'The thing about the web these days is there's all these great tools out there, you're just not going to be able to come up with a better way to share photos than Flickr or a better way to build community than Facebook,' so it's wise to tap into what's already out there rather than build from scratch, said David-Michel Davies, executive director of the Webby Awards, which each year honors excellence on the Internet. 'They're putting their best foot forward in saying we get Web 2.0,' Mr. Davies said."

While some have praised Modernista's new "website," I see it as nothing more than a tacky, half-assed gimmick. Far from demonstrating "transparency and authenticity," it screams "trying way too hard to be cool."

There's a huge difference between proving that you "get it" and proving that you're completely clueless. Modernista, in my opinion, proves the latter.

Putting aside the fact that I believe most of the social media hoopla is pure delusion, the principles of good website design haven't been destroyed by Web 2.0.

The first three times I loaded Modernista.com, I was greeted by the Hampster Dance, Yourethemannowdog.com and Peanut Butter Jelly Time. All complete with annoying music/sounds.

Needless to say, my initial reaction was not one of enthusiasm. Unfortunately, it didn't get any better. Using the clumsy, confusing and slow navigation overlay that didn't work well in my browser, I was sent to multiple websites to piece together just what Modernista is and does:

  • For general information, I was redirected to the agency's useless Wikipedia entry and Facebook page.
  • For its "portfolio," third-party internet services are used. For print work, I was redirected to Flickr. For TV work, I was redirected to YouTube. And for web work, I was redirected to a del.icio.us page with links.
Poor experience aside, the biggest problem was that, as a prospective client, none of the content provided by Modernista was of sufficient depth to evaluate the agency.

The information supplied is about as shallow as it gets - little context, no case studies. Through a scattered, distributed portfolio, I was essentially shown what Modernista has delivered to clients but was not told what it has really accomplished for its clients.

In short, Modernista's "website" fails to do for the agency what its clients ask Modernista to do for them - communicate a message effectively.

Many believe that social media has created a new platform for marketing and communicating but even if that is truly the case, social media has not eliminated the principles behind effective marketing and communication.

At the end of the day, Modernista's "website" markets nothing and communicates nothing. Because of this, the message that Modernista ends up sending is "we don't really get it."

Modernista essentially chose to focus on "creatively" saying nothing of value instead of choosing to focus on "effectively" saying something of value.

Some have apparently been easily seduced by Modernista's trendy, unconventional approach but there's a huge difference between taking an unconventional approach because it can potentially achieve a better result and taking an unconventional approach just to demonstrate - without purpose - that you can be unconventional.

Given that Modernista seems to be doing the latter, I would not be surprised if the audience that truly counts - Modernista's prospective clients - think twice about the agency's approach.

The navigation system on the Modernista "website" states

Do not be alarmed.

You are viewing Modernista! through the eyes of the Web.
The menu on the left is our homepage. Everything behind it is beyond our control.

Somehow I suspect that similar text could potentially be offered to Modernista's clients in the future:

Do not be alarmed.

You are viewing your advertising ROI through the eyes of an antiquated philosophy.

The numbers in the attached spreadsheet show the ROI 2.0 your bottom line does not reflect. Everything except this is beyond our control.

As I've stated before, BS is BS no matter how it's packaged. In the case of Modernista, what little packaging has been provided falls remarkably short.
Drama 2.0

Published 2 April, 2008 by Drama 2.0

237 more posts from this author

Comments (10)

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Sam B

Yuck. Possibly the worst website I've seen in a while, and I'm a regular reader of Something Awful's 'Awful Link of the Day' section. I was greeted with the Virgle April Fool's and the menu just didn't work - bits of it didn't appear and the whole thing just looked broken.

The Wikipedia page now carries a big warning notice at the top including the words "Wikipedia has no affiliation with Modernista and has requested that Modernista cease this use of our website." And the discussion page reveals an inevitable edit/delete war over the article. Anyone who knew anything about how Wikipedia works could have told them something like that would happen.

Even the Sun-God himself, Jimbo Wales, has been scathing on the talk page:

"I believe that what they are doing is disrespectful to our community, and at cross-purposes with what we are trying to accomplish with Wikipedia. To be clear: Wikipedia does not exist to serve as the homepage of their website. I tried to work with them quietly, but they have simply refused my requests. (Or, to be more accurate, they have ignored my requests.)

It seems clear to me that they are likely to lose a lot of business: who would hire an ad agency in a "web 2.0" capacity with so little understanding of how communities work?"

Great for image. Oh, and they don't understand copyright either.

over 8 years ago

Lawrence Ladomery

Lawrence Ladomery, Founder at automatico

Web agencies are, at times, like fashion designers who express concepts and their virtuoso ideas at their yearly shows. The designs that make it to the shop floors are usable.

Modernista are making the point that a website - thought of as a collection of information and functions relating to a specific company or theme - don't necessarily need to exist in a single domain and expressed through a branded interface.

This is the message they are communicating about themselves but their work is much more 'traditional'. So there is not need to worry - the principles of good web design and marketing have not been lost at Modernista.

I work for a high profile organisation that has yet to get web 1.0 right and yet we are interested in social media to reach new / different audiences. We will be setting up a YouTube channel and are thinking of ways our (as in yours too, given we're a public organisation) content can be easily re-purposed and re-proposed on external sites. When we go through the agency selection process for our next re-design we will be asking this question too - how can we leverage social media to reach a wider audience?

over 8 years ago


Lance Jensen

Two things:

Yesterday, you might recall, was April First. Think hard about that date and it might shed some light on the Hampster.

As for the rest of it, I think Rene Magritte said it best: Cici n'est pas une pipe.

Riddle me that one, Batman.

over 8 years ago

Drama 2.0

Drama 2.0, Chief Connoisseur at The Drama 2.0 Show

Two things Lance:

When I went through the painful process of loading your "website" it was April 2 here in Hong Kong. I'll forgive your assumption that everybody looking at your "website" is in your timezone, however, and suggest that you think hard about the pointlessness of your "April Fool's" exercise and the impression it most likely gave prospective clients who had to listen to Sean Connery repeat "You're the man now dog!" over and over.

As for the rest of it, I think Wikipedia's notice says it best.

Looks like the joke's on you, Robin.

over 8 years ago



Dear god the Wizard of Oz himself commented on this forum, be still my heart, hey how about giving me a job? I'd love a chance to make some car ads.

over 8 years ago

Lawrence Ladomery

Lawrence Ladomery, Founder at automatico

Has April Fool's been usability tested?

over 8 years ago


Chi-chi Ekweozor


It has now ;o)

We do social media. Perhaps not as blatantly. And yes, there is an incredible amount of interest at the moment.

@Drama 2.0:

Drama by name, Drama by nature...

Good read nonetheless.

over 8 years ago


Todd Levy

Don't like Modernista?

Perhaps you'd prefer Britnista!


over 8 years ago


John Shearson

It's interesting how little you understand this space. The web is about transparency and authenticity, not aesthetic. The "message" is that the consumer is in control. And that's what all brands should understand now. The consumer controls them.

And I also found it extremely interesting that I found this article through the news portion of Modernista's website. Again, proving their commitment to authenticity and transparency.

I imagine you must not have liked the Coke/Mentos phenomenon as well, which at Davos was regarded as the best ad campaign for Coke all last year.

The consumer is in control now. Get used to it. The old ways are dying. Believe it.

over 8 years ago

Drama 2.0

Drama 2.0, Chief Connoisseur at The Drama 2.0 Show

John: authentic and transparent stupidity is still stupidity. Frankly, it's disappointing to see how the words "authenticity" and "transparency" have been bastardized to the point where they have almost no meaning in some circles.

I'm glad that the people at Davos spent some of their valuable time discussing the Coke/Mentos phenomenon. They've done an incredible job at solving the world's problems so a breather to ponder this was well-deserved.

As for consumers being in control, I've never argued that consumers don't have more leverage in certain areas than they may have had a decade ago.

That said, please call me when consumers decide to exercise their control over rising prices. Filling up my S63 at close to $4/gallon would be a real disappointment if I didn't own shares of evil corporations like XOM and VLO. And it's really getting incovenient that food costs more. Doesn't Oroweat recognize that I'm in control and that I don't want to pay more for their delicious Whole Grain & Oat bread?

Also, please call me when consumers stop spending ridiculous sums of money on designer products like jeans and hand bags because a logo is plastered on them. There's really nothing empowering about filling the coffers of brands that are selling products that cost 10+ times less to produce than consumers are paying for them.

Sometimes control is really control. Most of the time, however, it's merely an illusion. Enjoy your illusion.

over 8 years ago

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