Back in 2004, Crispin Porter + Bogusky (see FC50 item No.23) became the darling of advertising when it unleashed an interactive chicken that could jig as well as he could play air guitar. The age of online viral marketing had, for good or ill, arrived. But the secret engine behind Burger King's absurdist Subservient Chicken campaign was not Crispin, which got the credit, but the Barbarian Group, a band of scrappy tech geeks who actually built the site.
Five years later, Barbarian has evolved into its own force: Its 10-person digital shop has become a team of 80 programmers, developers, information architects, and motion-graphics artists who combine the experimental zeal of an MIT lab with the fine-arts mastery of a RISD. "We're obsessed with figuring out ways to influence people on the Internet," says Barbarian cofounder Rick Webb.
This year, that obsession materialized into a tool the crew built for CNN.com that lets readers convert video headlines into customized T-shirts. On Election Day, the unlikely campaign boosted not only eyeballs but revenue as well, selling $75,000 worth of tees in 24 hours. For client Getty Images, which has been losing market share to micro stock sites like Shutterstock, Barbarian created a free Web site that allows creatives to personalize their own virtual mood board from Getty's stockpile of tens of thousands of photos, audio tracks, and videos. And the shop's Google-like approach to R&D -- encouraging employees to devote 20% of their office hours to side projects -- has paid off too. That breathtaking 3-D music visualizer Apple unveiled last fall along with iTunes 8? Turns out, it was created for fun by Barbarian cofounder Robert Hodgin -- then purchased by Apple last spring. Another behind-the-scenes showstopper. Just remember to give them credit.