Anomaly, the maverick marketing services group set up by former TBWA chief Carl Johnson (left), is seeking financial assistance after its business strategy stumbled – according to sources familiar with the situation.
A cash injection is likely to take the form of partnership with another organisation – if negotiations work out. Whether this partnership would involve a private equity specialist or investment by an international marketing services holding company is unclear at this stage.
Anomaly has a volatile track-record in winning large accounts, which include Converse, Nike and Virgin America. It held Diesel for only 9 months before losing it to WPP-backed Santo, and has recently ceded a large chunk of its Sony Europe business to Grey, also owned by WPP. However, its financial problems are not thought to relate to advertising but a specific division, Anomaly IP.
IP is an incubator which seeds early-stage businesses, in which Anomaly itself takes a stake and a share of the eventual profit, if any. Projects include Avec Eric, a joint-venture with Eric Ripert, head chef and co-owner of the Michelin triple-starred Le Bernadin restaurant; eos – a line of women’s shaving and skincare products; Shop Text, a mobile commerce platform; and By Lauren Luke – a co-venture with the eponymous English beauty-products doyenne, also known online as panacea81.
Johnson, a former planner, set up Anomaly in 2004 with a number of like-minded individuals from backgrounds such as TBWA, Wieden & Kennedy and Nike. It was founded in New York, but now has a London office as well. Like Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Anomaly has sought to define itself as an antidote to traditional “legacy” agencies which – it claims – only cater for the services they have experience in providing, rather than for what clients actually require. When Anomaly beat stiff competition to win Virgin’s start-up US domestic air-service in 2006, it produced not only an advertising strategy, but designs for the interiors of Virgin’s new fleet of Airbus A320s, the flight attendants’ uniforms and the content for a pay-per-view entertainment system.
If it is to find a financial partner, Anomaly may have to strike a difficult bargain with its founding principles. A recent $600m bid by Dentsu for digital group AKQA – later withdrawn – exposed tensions between the majority owners, GA Capital, and its two founders. Ahmed Ajaz and Tom Bedecarré were opposed to the Japanese bid and reported to prefer an IPO as a means of buying out the private equity investor. Siding with a traditional agency holding company, on the other hand, might lead to charges that Anomaly had betrayed its principles.