10 Minutes With Los York Cofounders Dexton Deboree and Seth Epstein

Zach Brooke
Marketing News
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Key Takeaways
 

What? Billed as a "new kind of agency," Los York was founded in 2014 by industry veterans Dexton “Dex” Deboree and Seth Epstein​.

So what? In its first two years of existence, Los York has won 19 prestigious creative awards for its work, largely in recognition of its showstopping Last Shot campaign.

Now what? Be willing to push boundaries and think outside the TV set.  ​

Nov. 16, 2016

In its brief history, content agency Los York has only known success 

Formed in 2014 by agency veterans Dexton “Dex” Deboree and Seth Epstein, Los York struck gold with its immersive game “The Last Shot” at the 2015 NBA All-Star Game. Using more than 10 million individual LED pixels on 889 panels laid across three walls and a floor, the project allowed users to reenact Michael Jordan’s career highlights by placing themselves in the shoes of “His Airness” himself.

The campaign led to 19 creative awards over the next year, including Cannes Lions, D&ADs and Clios. Deboree and Epstein spoke with Marketing News about their creative process, “holy shit” moments and the challenges that come with setting sky-high expectations.

Q: Your tagline is “We are a new kind of creative agency.” How so?

Epstein: The answer is simple and complex. The nature of advertising is changing, which requires a new kind of agency that has changed with the world. The traditional model, which is advertising, digital agency, social agency, makes 100% sense—it’s perfect as it is. What we see is that there’s another layer that was missing, and that layer is what we call the “content agency.” When we say “new kind of creative agency,” it’s referring to our perspective on the world related to how advertising has changed to mean much more.

Deboree: Traditional advertising has been made up of thinkers, and they traditionally hire doers to make stuff. We are by our very nature, in our DNA, thinkers and doers, so we’ve collapsed a few disciplines and layers into one thing. That is part of what has changed, and is continuing to change in the advertising landscape … this idea that the layers of fat have created this process that is too slow, too costly and too far away from the central creative that’s taking place.

 

Los York's "Force of Nature" campaign for Nike centered around an scenic run through New York.

By creating an agency that is built with no layers that exist within it … we’ve completely removed that fat—that friction and distraction of communication—and that clear line of creative. That’s really what we’ve been delivering to clients, and that’s what we have found to be working extraordinarily well.

Q: Looking at your website, I was struck by the phrase, “culture-defining content.” What do you mean by that?

Deboree: The best of advertising, or any piece of visual communication—whether it be a film, or a TV show or an ad—if it truly has an impact on a large amount of people, then it tends to shift culture. It can create trends in hairstyles and what people wear on their feet, it affects what people say and the activities that they partake in. If you really look at any ground-breaking advertisement, or any visual form of communication, the best of them have contributed to a shift in cultural behavior from that point forward. That’s what we’re interested in being a part of.

Q: Can you give me the backstory behind conceptualizing the “Last Shot” campaign?

Epstein: [The Michael] Jordan [brand] was struggling with a number of the agencies that were on its roster. They were struggling to come up with something that truly worked and reached the peak that it was aiming for. Being that it was in New York, and being that it was the 30th anniversary of the brand, there was a lot at stake, and there was a lot of anticipation and expectation around it, so just doing something that was kind of cool or kind of innovative wasn’t going to be enough.

 

 The Last Shot

 

But it also had to achieve a very functional purpose, which at that point was trialing the 30 shoe. They partnered us up with AKQA, their digital agency at the time, to brainstorm together to come up with not only that “holy shit” idea, but also that idea that we could actually turn around and pull off.

Q: When you completed the campaign design and the setup, did you know you had something special going into All-Star Weekend?

Epstein: The moment that we knew we had something special was the first day, once all the screens [went] up and we did a first run. It was this moment where people were like, “Are you kidding me?” And that expression, which was so cool, carried over through the whole All-Star Weekend. Every time somebody would walk around the corner and would see it for the first time, they would get this big grin and they would be like, “No way!”

We knew it was a fairly audacious task, but we … knew that it would historically be cool for people who are into Michael Jordan and understood the games. All the crowds were period-specific, so if a game was from the early ‘80s, we dressed the entire crowd in the early ‘80s. We propped the entire crowd to be period-accurate for each of the plays that people could choose to relive.

Deboree: All along the way we were constantly being forced to compromise because of time and money, and because technology hadn’t been built, and all of these hurdles that tried to derail experiential projects. We were just unwilling to compromise on any of those aspects, even if it hurt us financially or time-wise, because we knew that the moment that we started compromising on those details, it would’ve undermined the experience and it never would’ve been what it was. There was a moment where they wanted to kill the period aspect because the cost of production was high, and wardrobe was a chunk of money. There were a dozen of those examples throughout the way, and we were clear and stayed true to, “Even if everyone involved gets pissed at us, we’re not moving off of our commitment to this thing.”

Q: Is there pressure to one-up the “Last Shot”?

Epstein: There’s a little bit of that pressure to one-up it. We’ve chosen to look at it more as, “How do we look to one-up ourselves, not necessarily that specific experience?” which has more to do with how you really define content today versus how you do a more bad-ass experience.

That’s showing up for us in a number of ways: in the way that we’re truly proving out the content strategy model in advertising, doing full campaigns from a content mindset that end up being blown out across all platforms from a central idea and getting into how brands can be even more involved and more integrated in pieces of entertainment. We’re working on a long-form documentary right now with a brand.

 

Image Credit: Los York, Content solutios include traditional print-based artwork (left), as well as fully immersive gaming experience. (Right) Image from the "Last Shot" campaign.

Q: Los York has been named the first content agency of record for Motorola. Are there clear expectations of what they want, or are you largely defining the role for yourselves?

Epstein: We need to constantly adapt to the environment at hand, because we collaborate with their advertising agencies, social agency, digital agency, PR and internal departments. Inherently, [defining] what we do and what problem we solve is a bigger problem for all brands. Usually it starts [with] very specific projects, and then brands start to see that instead of going to six different vendors, none of which understand the brand, [Los York] can do extraordinary work that’s aligned with the brand. It is new territory, it does require an adaptive approach, but the experience we’ve had with the Jordan brand allows us to come in and give them a lot of really valuable insight.

: They called us up and said, “Everyone we asked said you were the guys I should talk to, so we want to talk to you.” They were essentially asking for a content agency, but they weren’t asking for a content agency. They gave us all these rules in terms of the [request for proposal], and we tossed that out the window and said, “Actually, we are the experts in this space. We know what you need. … We’re going to tell you how we’re going to give it back to you and how we’re going to solve it because it’s not the way that you think it is.” We did that, and literally, there was no other consideration for them from that point forward. They realized that we did do things differently. We had a methodology behind it, and it was not what they were used to or what they knew they even needed to ask for. There’s a great deal of trust. Their job is to continue to explain and share their problem and their vision for where they want to take it, and it’s our job to come up with the right solution.

Q: What do you think that content campaigns of tomorrow, or content campaigns today need to do to more consistently deliver those “holy shit” moments that you talk about?

Epstein: The founding premise of the approach is really to go, “Okay, the center of the universe used to be TV. What if the center of the universe wasn’t TV? What if we could deliver really amazing content or advertising or marketing?” That sets up a new way of thinking. That’s just one building block. Advertising and marketing have changed … and a big part of our DNA is the willingness for people to push boundaries and to do things not in the only-TV-campaign point of view.

Deboree: Today and tomorrow, there are two fundamental elements that have always been at play, but because they have changed, and they’re not the same formula that they used to be, that’s where everyone’s gotten confused. At the end of the day, it’s still the two same fundamental things. [The first is] understanding your audience. That’s one thing that many brands get wrong because they’re trying to guess where their consumers are, they’re trying to guess how they behave and they’re trying to guess how they communicate with each other. The second element is understanding your brand. Don’t try to be something that you’re not. Don’t try to speak to a consumer base that is not going to resonate with your core message or your core offering. Stick to that resonance point of what your brand is and what it stands for, and reach those people that are perfectly adept at connecting with it. Then you have this one-to-one connection going on between brand, consumer and whatever message point you’re sharing with them. 


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Author Bio:

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Zach Brooke
Zach Brooke is a staff writer for the American Marketing Association. He can be reached at zbrooke@ama.org.
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