The Puppet Agency: The Mystery Revealed

Who is the puppet master?

That’s a question that’s been on more than a few minds in the Web, network and advertising-agency realms over the past couple of weeks.

The buzz began July 11 when The Puppet Agency promotional kits -- including a pair of puppets representing account coordinator Junior and client Jillian Tetherington -- arrived on the desks of 60 vice president- and director-level marketers representing 30 program networks.

Recipients were invited to “see the inner workings of the world’s best advertising agency” at a Web site. There, they found a trio of episodic video postings about life at fictional shop DMBDO. The tongue-in-cheek shorts about inflated agency stereotypes began to tell the story that at DMBDO, the client’s best interests, or instructions, were ignored or went unheeded, as the shop initiated a creative approach that enlisted Tom Selleck and his moustache, neither of which were involved in the show the agency was retained to promote.

Evidently, a lot of executives could relate: There were 400 hits on the Web site within the first two days. Subsequently, stories and blogs within the likes of Adweek, AdRants and Media Bistro picked up the TPA tale.

By the time the second promotional kit with puppets representing account executive Babs and creative director Little Seagal were mailed and three new video installments went online July 18, the site had attracted 5,000 unique visitors. By the following day, the total had jumped to 6,500, and YouTube video streams reached 10,300.

A final set of puppets will be sent, the video story line completed (there will also be “lost” episodes) and the creators revealed July 26. For those who want to wait until then to find out who has been pulling the strings, stop here. For those who can’t, the answer is Blue Sky Agency.

The Atlanta-based shop -- which has counted some 40 network clients over its 13 years, including CNN, National Geographic Channel, BBC America, Gospel Music Channel, Fox Cable Networks and Scripps Networks -- felt that this targeted campaign would introduce or remind networks about the kind of creative thinking Blue Sky can bring to the party.

Blue Sky president Rob Farinella said, “We didn’t want to send another candy dish or an iPod” -- a point referenced in the videos. “A lot of agencies talk about listening to the client and coming up with the big idea. We want to prove it.”

Farinella added that the Web installments underlined how some agencies become puppets that don’t recognize problems and deliver “ridiculous ideas that waste time because they didn’t check with the client. Frankly, it’s surprising how many network clients put up with that kind of behavior.”

So with TPA saga calling card drawing to a close, do Blue Sky executives wait for the phone to ring, or reach out themselves?

“You’ll see a little of both,” he said. “A lot of people have been talking or writing about this. I think the shared experience is a reflection of what we do. The most important thing is to enter a dialogue. And we think with this promotion, there’s common ground to start on.”