The attention agency: inside Motion Sickness

Some of the most interesting stories start in the most inconspicuous places, hidden from the continuous scrutiny of curious onlookers and developed bit by bit without anyone taking too much notice at first.

One such a place would be a poorly heated Dunedin flat, which, in 2012, served as host to three University of Otago students thoroughly uninterested in slogging away for The Man.   

“I’ve always had a bit of an entrepreneurial streak I guess. I’ve never wanted to work for anyone else,” says Sam Stuchbury, who quickly realised the best way to achieve this was by selling the skills he honed in the university lecture halls—and thus Motion Sickness was born.

Stuchbury didn’t have to travel far to find his first buyer, with the university commissioning the early Motion Sickness crew to produce a few videos. “When we pitched to the Vice Chancellor for the work it was the morning after a fairly big flat party… we lived a life of contrast”

One thing led to another and before long they were delivering video and social media content for Dunedin Tourism.

From these early days, Stuchbury quickly realised that the best way to market on these new digital channels was by creating a quality product that consumers actually want to watch.          

“We have a very low tolerance for cheese,” he says. “Anything that’s too forced or too scripted just won’t do. We don’t make commercials full stop, we make content that people actually choose to consume”

This, he says, has led to Motion Sickness developing a distinctive aesthetic style with social media at its core. But Stuchbury is quick to separate his agency from the slew of recent startups that sell themselves as social media specialists.       

“We don’t refer to ourselves as a social media agency,” he says, with a slightly sterner tone relaying the importance of this differentiation.

“It’s more like we’re an attention agency. Everything we do is to grab people’s attention, and more often than not, that happens online.”

From there, however, the message can be stretched and adapted across any channel necessary.

“We try to just look at what would be best for the client,” he says. “That might be a video content series, a strong image or brand activation. It’s always just about looking at the client’s business and finding what’s missing.”

No compromise on quality

A cursory glance across the social media landscape invariably reveals a dark and grainy collection of videos, many of which have been produced by brands hoping to fit in. There remains a perception in the industry that social video doesn’t have to abide by the high standards that continue to typify television advertising. This, however, is a perception wholly rejected by Stuchbury and the team at Motion Sickness.  

“The aesthetic of the work is a huge focus for us,” he says. “I’m never satisfied with the work we do. I always think it can be better. One of the reasons our stuff stands out on social is because of its top execution. I really don’t think there should be a gap in quality. I think it’s time people stop thinking of social as an afterthought for strategy and content. It can, and should,  lead your marketing”

That said, Stuchbury adds that things shouldn’t just be made beautiful for the sake of it. Regardless of how beautifully something is shot, he argues, it simply won’t be watched unless it resonates with a continuously scrolling audience.  

“People always talk about this or that new feature on Facebook, but it’s still just a channel and you still need to put something meaningful inside it,” he says. “So, the first thing we focus on is finding a strong creative idea, which we can then execute really well.”  

However, even the finest piece of art will never be seen if it remains hidden in a dungeon beneath the museum. Incidentally, this is exactly what happens to the vast majority of creative work published online. It sits dormant in the dark space of the internet, passively waiting for users to stumble upon it serendipitously. The reality, however, is that this rarely happens.

“In all the years we’ve been doing this, we’ve only had one ad organically go viral for Blunt Umbrellas, we seeded the video out and luckily it got picked up. It had 5 million views in a week,” laughs Stuchbury.

“Distribution is a huge part of what we do. In fact, with a lot of clients, we run all their social from creative right through to distribution and community management. And the reason for this is because we want to make sure we’re implementing it properly.”

Stuchbury compares online advertising without distribution to creating a print ad that’s never actually published in a magazine. It’s important, he explains, to understand that Facebook, Google and YouTube are all paid channels and that often you don’t get reach unless you pay for it.

“We won’t work with clients unless they’re spending our recommended media budget because we know it won’t work,” says Stuchbury.  “We’re not willing to put all this creative work in and then not back that up with media spend because we know it won’t get the traction it needs to for the client.”  

“Consumers are smart and we need to clever about how we spend marketing dollars, things have changed. I think it’s time to stop counting a programmatic banner ad, on the very bottom of a desktop website as an impression. It simply has no positive effect on your brand.”

Picky collaborators

This selectiveness also extends to the types of brands Motion Sickness works with. Whereas other young agencies might accept whatever work comes their way, Stuchbury tends to only work with a handful that he believes in.      

“It’s less about scale for us and more about finding brands that we actually want to work with,” he says.  “We’ve always had the view that it’s better to work ten incredible brands rather than work with 50 brands and not do a good job. We want the right number of clients so that we can pay each of them the right amount of attention and grow their business.”

It’s an approach that’s attracted the likes of Burger Burger, Blunt Umbrellas, Jim Bean, and Les Mills International, among others—and, in the process, it’s led to the expansion of the agency to ten staff members.

What’s more is that the agency’s commitment to quality has led to the agency attracting quality talent from some of the biggest shops in the business. Among these is social expert Caitlin Hayns, who recently left Colenso BBDO to join Motion Sickness.  

Exploring foreign waters

In a letter to his father, Charles Darwin wrote that if it weren’t for motion sickness, the whole world would be explorers. Fortunately, this condition isn’t something Stuchbury and his team suffer from, as clearly indicated by their willingness to venture abroad with their clients.

Over the last 12 months, Motion Sickness is helping launch Blunt Umbrellas in four international markets.

Stuchbury says the addition of retail capabilities to social media channels has made it easier than ever before to put local products on an international marketplace.

“It’s been great to see the demand for this premium New Zealand product among international consumers,” Stuchbury says. “We can literally watch the sales tick over in the backend as a result of our social activity.”

What’s more is that Stuchbury anticipates that more and more local brands will be looking to set sail in the future. And he says that Motion Sickness is happy to hop along for the ride.   

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Stuchbury believes a major contributing factor to staff joining the agency lies in the fact that every person joining the team plays an integral role in the success of the agency.   

“Everyone working on an account has direct access to the client,” he says. “The people doing the creative are the same ones managing the relationship, so everything is way more cohesive. We don’t have ‘account managers’ nor a lot of the redtape, it allows us to be way more responsive.”

Another reason why the agency has no difficulty attracting young talent is because it’s so well recognised across social media. With over 20,000 followers across social platforms and EDM, the Motion Sickness brand is something of an influencer in its own right (in fact, the team is sometimes even commissioned to function in this capacity for some brands).     

If the last few years are anything to go by, then Motion Sickness is certainly heading in the right direction—and doing so very quickly. Which also happens to be quite fitting, given the name the brand has chosen.  

Scientists reckon that motion sickness is caused by dissonance between your perceptions and reality, a state that comes to the fore when you’re sitting motionless in a car hurtling down the motorway at 100km/h. And there could perhaps not be a better metaphor to describe an agency, which, while anchored in the consciousness of the wider industry, is tracking speedily in its own upward direction.    

  • This story was developed as part of a content partnership between StopPress and Motion Sickness.

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