4 Creatives Are Renting a Billboard in Oakland. It Is Too an Agency. Shut Up.
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
WNW Members Sam Dolphin, Jon Kubik, Mea Cole Tefka, and Rohit Thawani were looking to reintroduce some risk and fun to advertising. So they rented a billboard in Oakland, and are using it as a canvas to connect to the community. The diversity of “briefs” this single-billboard agency, titled Haha Ok Corp, has taken on highlights their willingness to follow their creativity and clients wherever they may lead. “Our last board was called the ‘Idea Swap billboard’ where essentially we sat at a picnic table under the billboard on Sundays and invited people in Oakland to trade their stuff for our creative endeavors.”
Below, I talk to the four members of Haha Ok Corp and learn about their proudest moments, the interesting things they’ve accepted as payment, and what this endeavor has taught them about the advertising industry. If you’ve got a billboard idea in mind, hit up Haha OK and maybe your idea will soar.
How does one procure a billboard in Oakland?
In our case we ended up cold calling Clear Channel. One of their sales people picked us up in his Ford Explorer and drove us around Oakland until we found their best (cheapest) billboard. It ended up being on a little park which made doing stunts that much easier.
What was the initial goal behind starting a single billboard ad agency?
Advertising has been taking less risks in the last couple of years. In a lot of ways, creativity has turned into a math formula, and we wanted to get back to the fun-unknown-experimentation world that initially inspired us to get in this business. So, we rented a billboard and treated it as canvas to have a conversation with the local community. A weird, awkward, one-on-one conversation.
How has Haha Ok Corp incorporated the community’s involvement?
Our last board was called the “Idea Swap billboard” where essentially we sat at a picnic table under the the billboard on Sundays and invited people in Oakland to trade their stuff for our creative endeavors. Our buddy Nick Stokes illustrated the board and it had a few suggestions for things we would trade for, like fancy bowling balls or a camper van with airbrushed dolphins. It was cool to see people with small businesses interpreting it their own way and bringing us things they thought were funny or cool or dumb.
What kind of stuff have you accepted as payment so far?
A company called Kinslips traded us their sublingual (beneath-the-tongue) marijuana strips for ideas for their brand. We helped name a child. We created scorpion birthday t-shirts in exchange for cake. Vacation Tanning oil traded us a bottle of Dom Perignon for some brand redesign and headlines. Our friends at PMH traded us scented candles for brain farts. And Miguel, from the melon truck, now sells us melons for $5 instead of the normal $6. Clearly he was impressed with our work.
What’s your proudest Haha Ok Corp moment?
Probably a toss up between seeing a giant hairless guinea pig staring down at us from the billboard — or hanging out for the idea swaps and getting to meet people who had been waiting all week to come shoot the shit or to trade us for work.
Have your experiences operating this billboard offered any insights into advertising in general?
We wanted to bring more silliness and collaboration into what we do. Plus, not every idea needs to be the biggest thing ever. You can have a lot of fun and be creative in different ways, and it’s awesome to meet people outside the bubble.
Any advice from Haha Ok Corp for fellow creatives?
Get some friends together and just make stuff. Also, while there’s no money in billboards, you can get free marijuana and $5 melons out of it.
What’s on the horizon for your billboard?
Our third billboard just went up, it’s called Graffiti By Numberz. Essentially, the board kept getting tagged with kinda lo-fi graffiti, so to give local vandals a helping hand, we put up a giant paint-by-numbers style board drawn by our buddy Matt Orser, which will give them a place to practice.
The future is pretty up in the air. We’re currently in talks with a few friends and clients to do events under the billboard. And if things go well for Haha Ok, we might even branch out to two billboards. Who knows.
And if any of you super talented WNW peeps have a billboard you’ve always wanted to make, hit us up!