Ad agencies are always looking for ways to show that their creativity extends beyond the confines of client work. Whether it’s a food cart full of Donald Trump “baloney” sandwiches or a Cindy Gallop chat bot, there’s no shortage of agency “passion projects” that are sometimes nothing more than thinly veiled attempts at self-promotion.
Which is why it’s easy to write off Space150’s long-running “versions” project, an endeavor that essentially involves the agency entirely rebranding itself every 150 days, as just another agency gimmick. But founder of Space150 Billy Jurewicz swears that the Minneapolis-based agency’s continual rebranding is far more than an ongoing publicity stunt.
“It’s something that’s baked into our culture so much that we have no choice,” he said. “It’s really cool to look back at how far we’ve come.”
Space150’s versions date back to 2000, the year Jurewicz founded the digital agency. To keep up with the fast-paced technological advancements of the time, particularly in light of the dot-com bubble and its subsequent crash, Jurewicz decided to rebrand his agency every 150 days — an idea he said was akin to the numerous software upgrades that were constantly cropping up.
“The whole notion of Space150’s identity when I started the company was very nimble and flexible. The changing world of technology at the time was upgrading at lightning speed. How rapidly things were moving was just mind blowing to me,” he said. “To stay on pace with that, we had a very visual model that was changing its versions very quickly. It was mimicking the software world at the time, which was rolling out all these different kind of upgraded versions all the time. So if you apply that to a branding model, that's where the idea came from.”
At first, Jurewicz would outsource the versions to designers, most of which he said worked at Minneapolis’s renowned Duffy Design. Once the designers had come up with their logos and designs, these new versions would be placed on Space150’s business cards, website, letterhead and even door signage.
“The very first early ones were nothing more than sitting down and briefing the designers, and just having them come back a couple weeks later and showing me what they had. Then I would just run with it. It was very seamless and easy,” he said.
By version 10, Jurewicz said that he decided to slow things down; rather than going to version 11, he opted to scale things back by instead releasing a version 10.1 - a move that he said was not met with praise.
“It was kind of a blip in our process,” he said. “There was such a revolt when we went from 10 to 10.1. Some of the people in the community were like, ‘oh man, you’re not going to go to 11? What’s going on?’ We used to have these big parties every time we did a version. We did this whole celebration. It was on our calendar. The minute we went to 10.1, it was just a massive letdown.”
It was then that Jurewicz realized that the versions had become a part of the agency’s fabric, not something he could easily scale back or cut out. At that point, he decided that they were here to stay, and began looking internally for Space150 staffers to work on the next version.
Destroying convention to create demand
17 years in, Space150 is now in the midst of its 41st version as it prepares for number 42. According to Jurewicz, having the opportunity to work on a version is seen as an honor within the agency, something that is rewarded to staffers who deserve it. Teams of 3-4 are typically chosen to work on a version, with each one costing anywhere between $10,000 to $15,000 and taking roughly three months to create. Once complete, the agency usually celebrates the launch of the new version with some sort of outing, whether it’s a party at a lake or a trip to a go-kart track.
Despite the fact that Space150’s branding is always changing, Jurewicz said that core mission of the agency - destroy convention to create demand - does not. Rather, he said the versions are meant to serve as a reflection of the time, almost like mini time capsules. For instance, he said that version 22 channeled Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can” campaign.
“We don’t change the mission or change the name of the company. I think that’s really important in a sense, that you’re not constantly changing your mind or slipping your model, because that would be very confusing and directionless as a company,” he said.
Jurewicz said that Space150’s current version is based in paradox, a theme that he believes is appropriate considering the political turmoil happening in the US and around the world. In terms of the actual design elements, he said that the visuals were inspired by brutalism, a style of art that he describes as “really brutal design that’s almost beautiful.”
Although only a handful of staffers get the chance to work on each version, Jurewicz said that the unveiling of a new version is something that all of the agency’s employees look forward to since many view it as a clean slate of sorts.
“It definitely feels like you cleaned house,” he said. “It’s like a new season. That feeling of having something new is just refreshing. It definitely gives you the exhilaration of change, which is awesome.”
Despite Jurewicz’s passion for Space150’s versions, he admits that he felt that it was “so stupid, it just might work” when he first thought of the concept, a feeling he still carries with him today. Even so, he credits being independent with why he is able to continue a quirky, 17-year-long agency tradition that he believes many holding companies would find “insane.”
With nearly 200 staffers spread across offices in Minneapolis, New York and Venice Beach, Jurewicz believes that a holding company would likely either ask him to cut the versions or let go of some of the agency’s employees, a decision he would find to be “heartbreaking.”
“We don’t have to make those decisions, which is probably one of many decisions we don’t have to make as an independent agency, and it’s probably why we’re still independent,” he said. “I definitely built Space150 on a non-corporate environment. If I’m going to come to work everyday, it’s somewhere I want to have a good time.”
Independent Influence is supported by Choozle, an independent digital advertising platform.