A conversation with Eric Ayzenberg is a fast-paced tour of innovative thinking and data-based strategy about branding in the digital age; he’s a visionary pragmatist who moves easily around fine art, market analytics, social psychology, and cutting-edge technologies.
~ Mark Breitenberg
“We got broken into.” So begins Eric Ayzenberg’s story about how his leading-edge advertising agency—originally called Paragon Advertising and Design—ended up in Pasadena in 1991.
By Mark Breitenberg
Their original office on Melrose was ransacked overnight: “They really cleaned us out; computers, desks, back-up drives—everything.” Eric said. After trying desperately to re-create the reports from printouts, they fell so far behind that one client had no choice but to fire them.
The search for new digs began. Eric knew Pasadena from his time at ArtCenter, where he studied advertising. Dan Wolfe, one of his teachers, was building out a space on Walnut just west of Raymond. Dan offered him the third floor and promised to build it to Eric’s specs. That was over 25 years ago. Since then the building has been transformed into a dramatic, multi-level, open work space for over 240 employees adding, just last month, a spacious art gallery that will celebrate California artists working in a variety of media.
The Ayzenberg Group was formed in 1993 with the radical idea to create an agency that would leverage still emergent web and internet platforms. They were ahead of their time then and continue today to work at the edge of new technologies like virtual reality and artificial intelligence. In 2011, they launched ION (the Influencer Orchestration Network) to connect marketers and brands with digital influencers and measure the results. Today, the Ayzenberg Group is one of the largest and most influential independent agencies on the west coast, serving global clients such as Disney, Microsoft, Sony, and Warner Bros., and creating original strategies for telling meaningful, impactful stories in our media-cluttered world.
Eric’s official titles are “Chief Strategist” and “Chief Creative Officer.” But the title that he thinks best captures the agency’s approach is “Chief Brand Soulmate.” When asked how the advertising landscape has changed during his 20+ years, Eric responds, “The difference is that we believe in the next 10 years, brand advertising will be communicated through powerful stories and influencer marketing constructs, so advertising as we know it will disappear.” “We don’t call ourselves an advertising agency,” he adds, “We’re a communication arts orchestrator.”
Influencer marketing is of course a well-established and predictable brand strategy by now, relying typically on tier one influencers with millions of followers. But the Ayzenberg Group feels they are one step ahead. They often work with the lower tiers of influencers, even those with as few as 50K followers. Eric calls this an “artisanal” approach that is more honest and authentic than looking for cues from the mega-stars. In such an over-saturated, hyped-up brand marketplace, people are looking for something real. “It’s like e-Harmony,” he says, “There has to be a match.” Or, as his adopted title suggests, a “brand soulmate.”
Eric’s favorite anecdote to demonstrate this idea goes like this: say you want to buy a flat screen TV. You do all the research, maybe think about the reputation of each brand. But then you go to a party and a friend you think is a techie, or an expert on electronic products, tells you what TV to get. “All your research goes bye-bye because you trust him,” Eric concludes.
The sp[a]ce gallery
The idea for opening an art gallery was seeded 3 years ago. “We needed some kind of interesting gallery in Pasadena,” Eric recognized. He had also patronized the artist salons led by Mark Todd and Esther Watson held in the former Samy’s Camera store, where the gallery is now. The gallery complements and enriches the edgy creative ethos that permeates the commercial side of the house. At the opening in May, guests were delighted by 3,000 square feet of gallery space with high ceilings, a mezzanine and lots of natural light. The inaugural show at sp[a]ce is curated by Todd and features “the amazing talent that’s coming out of ArtCenter and CalArts,” Eric said.
The Ayzenberg Group is an Innovate Pasadena sponsor and enthusiastic supporter of local innovation on all fronts. Why is Innovate Pasadena’s mission so meaningful to him? “It goes back to ’93,” he began, “when we were here and I felt like I was on an island, alone. I would’ve loved having a few folks around here who were in the same boat as me. So when I learned about Innovate Pasadena and its mission to bring entrepreneurs together,” he continued,” it just clicked. There was a pent-up demand.”
The sp[a]ce gallery is open to the public form 11am-5pm Saturdays and Sundays.
Mark Breitenberg is a writer, design educator and international design advocate.
> This article is published in cooperation with Innovate Pasadena.
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