Tilting at Windmills

Naked isn’t the first agency to try to develop a new way to create advertising. Here’s how such attempts by one innovative shop, Chiat\Day, ultimately flamed out.

Chiat\Day’s Virtual Office

Big Idea: No walls, no desks, and no hierarchies in a Frank Gehry-designed Los Angeles wonderland, all in pursuit of the notion that chaos breeds the best creative work.


What happened? Workers revolted at the lack of personal space and privacy, and constantly fought for elbow room and resources (computers and phones, which had to be checked in and out each day, were soon not returned). The result was lost productivity and diminished effectiveness. Launched in 1994, the virtual office was officially killed in 1998, but had been dead long before that.

Chiat\Day’s Agency of the Future

Big Idea: In 1992, advertising legend Jay Chiat saw his industry as an anachronism and decided to figure out what was next. After two years of brainstorming, his team came to believe that advertising itself should be jettisoned in favor of strategic consulting that helped clients understand their “total role in society,” centering on ethics.

What happened? When staffers suggested that Chiat\Day be the first company to live up to these values–its workers were fried from top-down experiments such as the virtual office, among other things–Chiat effectively killed the project. The agency’s board soon after sold Chiat\Day to Omnicom’s TBWA.


St. Luke’s Ad Agency to End All Ad Agencies

Big Idea: The London office of Chiat\Day rose up in response to the TBWA sale and spun off into its own agency, designed to live by the values that the Agency of the Future tried to create. Everyone from assistants to creative directors owned equal shares of the company.

What happened? The kibbutz-style utopia imploded in 1999 when egos and a debate over international expansion unraveled its management team, and a vote forced Andy Law, its cofounder, to resign–embarrassingly, the same month his book, Creative Company: How St. Luke’s Became “the Ad Agency to End All Ad Agencies,” was published.


About the author

Danielle Sacks is an award-winning journalist and a former senior writer at Fast Company magazine. She's chronicled some of the most provocative people in business, with seven cover stories that included profiles on J.Crew's Jenna Lyons, Malcolm Gladwell, and Chelsea Clinton


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