The Marketing Arm isn’t the agency you thought it was

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The Marketing Arm crashed the Super Bowl in 2006. Now the shop is crashing Madison Avenue.

The Dallas-based agency is hiring its first-ever chief creative officer, the latest evidence that the agency once seen as a promotion shop is now a formidable contender. The Marketing Arm’s elevation of Harris Wilkinson to the title comes hard on the heels of the shop being named creative lead for Fairway Independent Mortgage in March and being tapped agency-of-record for Advanced Auto Parts following a spot last fall that showcased Bruce Willis reprising his role as ‘Die Hard’s John McClane.

That builds on a momentum achieved in 2019 when the agency became State Farm’s brand creative lead, a title formerly held by fellow Omnicom agency DDB Chicago.

The Marketing Arm has also been appointed Pernod Ricard USA’s lead shopper agency and handles creative for Frito Lay brands Smartfood and Sun Chips.

It’s a big change in perception for a 27-year-old agency known primarily for promotional work and partnering with other shops. The Marketing Arm was first founded as an agency representing athletes before flipping to the brand side. In 2006, the shop and Doritos made advertising history with its “Crash the Super Bowl” contest that encouraged consumers to submit self-created 30-second ads for the cheesy chips brand. That led to an annual promotion that ran for a decade and put the agency on the map. 

“We’ve long been known for being steeped in things like celebrity and entertainment, talent, our experiential practice, promotions and the shopper commerce space,” Trina Roffino, president of the Marketing Arm told Ad Age. “What a lot of people don’t know is how much we’ve evolved over the years. We’re at about 17 offices globally and still delivering expertise in all of those areas, but now even more so, serving our top clients as brand strategists with the strategic creative in that AOR position.”

The Marketing Arm declined to discuss financials, but said it posted growth last year in both revenue and profit. New revenue streams were in the tens of millions, it said.

Wilkinson, previously senior VP for creative, joined The Marketing Arm in 2016. Prior to that, Wilkinson was creative director at TBWA/Chiat/Day Los Angeles, but his career spans advertising, film, and television. Wilkinson has served as a writer and producer, working with studios and networks including Universal, New Line, Fox, NBC, and A&E.

The tipping point for The Marketing Arm was snagging the AOR assignment for State Farm. “It was a momentum moment for us,” Wilkinson says. “There had been other pieces that have come in and certainly others have followed, but you could really see the work start to shift. When you talk about how we’re perceived, I think that actually a lot of marketers would say, ‘You can market the brand so well and maybe you market yourself a little less.’ It’s not an ego-driven company. I think that’s part of the culture of TMA.”

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