THIS COMPANY WILL SAVE YOUR BRAND
Fahrenheit 212 is a consultancy, a product lab, and an ad agency. And if you’re a huge corporation in creative trouble, this tiny firm can help.
From the outside, the epicenter of innovation doesn’t look particularly innovative. Especially on a humid Tuesday morning when the skies over downtown Manhattan are far from blue and the Broadway traffic creeps by at an unenlightened, submedieval pace. It doesn’t help that the epicenter of innovation, the home of Fahrenheit 212 — part ad agency, part consulting firm, part product-design laboratory — is above a discount sneaker shop in a hundred-year-old office building.
Inside, things seem to make more sense. It feels the way a company like this is supposed to feel: hip, or energetic, something like that. All-white decor, state-of-the-art AV toys, Amy Winehouse’s take on the merits of rehab seemingly looped on the office sound system. But something’s different. There’s something Wonka-ish about the place. Maybe there is no company like this, no company so obsessive. You meet one of the creative directors, and he has a logo he designed for Gucci (a client) tattooed on his arm. The CEO, Geoff Vuleta, offers you a cup of coffee. You decline, and he launches into an impassioned narrative about the worldwide coffee market, the preferences of the Japanese and female demographics, and how Fahrenheit 212 is sitting on a top-secret line of products that will forever change your relationship with coffee. You begin to have the tiniest understanding why monsters like Samsung, Warner Music, Hershey, and NBC have tapped little Fahrenheit 212 to defibrillate their brands. At Fahrenheit, which until last year was a part of the global advertising giant Saatchi & Saatchi, everything is an idea waiting to happen.
Here is how Fahrenheit 212 works: They don’t pitch clients; they wait for clients to come to them. When one does, all eighteen employees get on board with the project: creative directors (including one who worked in robotics for NASA and designed rides for Disney), finance experts, designers, business directors (including one with a psychology/philosophy masters from Oxford), a strategic analyst with degrees in sociology and international affairs, and an office manager who was an off-Broadway actor. The company then spends about five months spinning ideas, trying to turn the status quo on its head. Then they actually make whatever new products they dream up, presenting them to the client in ready-to-sell form. Often, what’s presented is the last thing a client expects but precisely what it needs.
For example: Diageo hired Fahrenheit 212 to jump-start its moribund Smirnoff Ice brand. The firm’s response was to recommend abandoning the brand it was hired to fix; eventually the crew emerged from its lab with a selection of fully designed ready-to-drink Smirnoff flavors, including raw tea and a product that combines spring water and alcohol.
Versions of the Smirnoff concoctions are already on sale, which is good news for Fahrenheit’s bottom line. Up to two thirds of the firm’s total fee is contingent upon success. In other words, for it to make serious money, its ideas not only have to be mar-ket ready, they have to be successful once they get there. Vuleta does not worry about this. And he’s right not to: Hang out with his crew for a while and you find yourself getting excited about the weirdest stuff. Upon offering you a bottle of water, Vuleta waxes about the innovations they’re working on for a client in the bottled-water business, ideas that are maddeningly simple and also kind of brilliant. These Fahrenheit people, you are beginning to understand, are different. For one thing, they are the kind of people who apply for jobs at a company that recruits applicants by asking them to submit short films that capture their skills and personality.
They even tried to art-direct this story. So we asked how they might tweak Esquire, and they offered a radical take on the entire periodical-reading experience. They weren’t being presumptuous about any of this. They just can’t help themselves. (They created the company self-portrait above.)
In addition to the tattoo guy and the NASA guy, Fahrenheit 212 is hyperlinked to an equally eclectic stable of outside experts. Like George, a 3-D-rendering artist in Bulgaria who furiously churns out beautiful broadcast-quality presentation designs for a price that does not portend good things for the future of American 3-D-rendering shops. And Abdul-Munem Mohammed Daoud Al-Shakarchi, an Iraqi expat microbial chemist who has some revolutionary thoughts about deodorant.
Here’s how that one went down: a phone call from Al-Shakarchi’s agent claiming that his client had invented the world’s first truly all-natural deodorant. Vuleta took a meeting, then took home a sample of the unscented prototype, which used carrier oils instead of aluminum. After three or four days of using the product, Vuleta swore he felt different after applying it, as if his mood had changed. Which got him thinking about the relationship between sweat and emotion. Which led to the sort of eureka moment that he generally does not believe in. “In the middle of the night, I rang up a friend who was a scientist at Proctor & Gamble and asked if she thought that, because emotion makes people sweat, it would be possible to marry essential mood-enhancing oils to our base natural product to interact with body temperature, and she said yes,” he recalls. This led to an aromatherapy study and, eventually, a patent for the world’s first all-natural pro-perspirant — meaning it treats sweat as an active ingredient — that can give you energy, make you horny, or help you relax.
It’s not a miracle cure or the discovery of a new species. But it’s unlike any deodorant, ever — a significant improvement on a mundane, unimprovable product. Which makes you wonder what Fahrenheit 212 might do with something bigger, like the music business. (They’ve been hired by Warner to help rethink the industry’s tired, failing business model.) Or bigger, even. Would it hurt to ask Fahrenheit to spend a few days lifting the hood on the oil industry? Or to do a “big, fast, and doable” (as Vuleta would say) brainstorm with the Sunnis and the Shiites?
Who knows? Maybe they already are, but like the top-secret bottled-water project and the coffee project and the music-industry-saving project, they’re not allowed to talk about it.
By James Othmer