The Digital Age and Advertising: An Interview with the STUDIO

AdForum talks with the STUDIO’s Mary Nittolo and Mike Ocasio about the need for the constant proliferation of content - one of the challenges the advertisement industry faces today.

By Sarah Cullen

In recent years, digital and social media content has grown at a rapid rate. Its rise in popularity has had an abundant effect on video production companies and their business models. The STUDIO has taken appropriate measures to triumphantly tackle the industry's progression. We would like to thank Mary Nittolo, CCO/President, and Mike Ocasio, Creative Director, of the STUDIO for taking the time to discuss their work process.

AdForum: The STUDIO produced a lot of excellent micro-content in 2016, congratulations. How do you ensure the STUDIO consistently produces quality work?

Mike: ​Micro-content needs to demand your attention in the first 2 seconds. It’s a place brands really get to expand on who they are and let their hair down. That’s an opportunity we don’t take for granted. As far as ensuring quality, our company is structured for it.

Mary: ​Four years ago, I was asked to speak at an animation festival in Stuttgart, Germany. My presentation was called ​“​STUDIO as Space​”​, and I spoke about the concept of a STUDIO as a place and an ethos as it has existed for centuries. Right before I started the STUDIO, I was in Italy and saw a magnificent painting by an “artist unknown”. It was a large portrait of a woman in a white dress. I thought, Sargent must have seen this before he painted “Study in White.” The beautiful play of white and shadow on the dress was very modern. But I eventually realized that the face and hands were absolutely byzantine, and yet, the painting was perfect. This is a studio—different artists collaborating and learning together so that the work comes together like magic. This has guided the vision of the company. Artists are on staff-- they know each other’s strengths and weaknesses- We have spirited meetings about our ideas. We crowd source projects and collaborate like crazy. There’s very healthy competition, and ​everyone​ is trying to “plus” each other’s concepts, but in the end, everyone knows who should paint the dress.....

 

AdForum: The STUDIO creates content for the wide variety of brands. What is it that makes the STUDIO so adaptable?

Mike:​ Mary has collaborated with so many brands and agencies throughout the 28+ years of the company that strategy and honoring a brand’s aesthetic is second nature. We also have amazing research skills and a strong ideation process rooted in both strategy and an exhaustive knowledge of the visual arts, various techniques, and effects. This ensures that we get inside the brand and the message we are tasked with while being on the same page aesthetically with our clients from the get-go.

 

AdForum: With such a diverse workforce, how would you best describe the culture in the STUDIO?

Mary: ​Fearless—there is almost nothing my team cannot do. We are Collaborative, Spirited, Ego-Free (relatively speaking), and Scrappy. And what we mean by “scrappy” is that our company size allows us to be nimble in every way on a job. Because our team is multi-disciplined and our processes and production pipeline are constantly being refined, we can combine speed to market with great quality and​ competitive price (the three things our industry has told us can’t coexist). 

 

AdForum: As well as the shift in the types of content being sought after, production companies have also seen a significant decrease in budget sizes in recent years. How has the STUDIO managed to overcome this obstacle?

Mike:​ It’s ironic that everyone is talking about content and storytelling, but no one wants to pay for it. I don’t think it’s because artistry is devalued, but rather because brands need to be on so many platforms -- the price of making so much stuff is that it all gets done for less and less money. I hope brands will realize that it isn’t about quantity but rather about making things that are remembered.

Circling back to the question, we often propose expanded content to clients on their projects. It broadens the scope of work and merits a bump-up in the budget. The brand is happy because it shows we are being strategic and are paying attention, and in the end, they get a lot more than they expected.

Mary: ​The world cannot tolerate less beauty and meaning and artists are the conscience of their times. It’s an obligation to take care of them, to stay relevant and resourceful. Throughout history, merchants have always needed imagery to protect and grow their brands, and artists have always given them the tools to appear powerful, compassionate, redemptive -- whatever was needed to be projected to ensure their empires. This is our job and how we survive.

 

AdForum: In the midst of these changes in the production industry, where do you see the STUDIO in the future?

Mary: ​I love working with agencies, and that won’t change. I received my education in this business from my clients — I’ve been privileged to work with the best. More and more though, we’re working directly with brands.

As far as the future, this is an extraordinary time for artists. We've blurred the lines between fine and commercial art, and in many cases what is considered commercial today squares more solidly with image-making that will survive. The fine arts world is floundering due to a lack of skill and lazy conceptual thinking -- a celebration of the ordinary in a way that's disappointing. I want to continue being at the intersection of art and commerce. Art is a muscle you exercise, and micro-content gives us the opportunity to exercise more.