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 2.0is 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.