Marketers of the Next Generation


You only live once, so why not enjoy it? The founder of thehappycorp global lives hard and plays with the culture queens. Fortunately, a number of brands also make A-list.

Call him a marketing-agency-owning “grup,” but maybe not to his face. Doug Jaeger, the youthful founder of thehappycorp global,
isn’t a fan of labels.

In case the fun, informal, all-lowercase fonts aren’t a clue, Jaeger’s company is far from traditional and uptight. He served his time on Madison Avenue with such grown-up clients as Lucent Technologies, DeBeers, TD Waterhouse, Absolut and as a partner of Digital@JWT and as the youngest creative director at TBWA\Chiat\Day. But his resume also boasts such playful milestones as “1990: Learned to drive stick shift on Atari’s Hard Drivin’ in an N.J. bowling alley” and “1996: invented Virtual Omelette, one of the Web’s first viral experiments.” At 31, Jaeger (pronounced like the herbal liqueur) seems like a textbook case of the lucky Gen Xer who managed to transform “work” into fun.

“We don’t say, ‘We’re a marketing agency,’ ” Jaeger insisted. But basically, it’s a marketing agency wrapped in a social experiment shrouded in an excuse to party, or vice-versa. Or, something like that. By staging monthly NYC happenings that are part flash mob, part art experiment, part Fight Club, thehappycorp is designed to “do good by helping companies market better through the use of community-building techniques,” said Jaeger. Brands ride along as presenters of the fun. The events, which are thrown and publicized by his club/blog/quarterly print magazine arm, LVHRD (that’s “live hard”), utilize “fashion, art, architecture, speed . . . to get people together in a landscape where a competition can occur.”

Take the Master-Disaster Vending Machine Challenge. Last month in a TriBeCa bar, teams from MoMA and publications AM New York, The Onion and Pocket Change were pitted against each other to see which could be the first to devour the entire contents of a fully stocked automat. Word of the event spread through the LVHRD grapevine and blogs, and the event sold out as about 200 local hipsters paid $11-22 to witness the snacking spectacle. And, while it might not sound like marketing per se, Dewar’s Scotch whisky, Fred water and Brooklyn Brewery also were in attendance. Other clients include auto-sharing service Zipcar, DJ source Turntable Lab and the blogs T Ching and Amy’s Babies.

Five years into his previous agency career, Jaeger already was pegged as a digital maverick, but felt pigeonholed. He says he was working on an account for a candy with “lead and arsenic in it” when a colleague pointed out that he didn’t appear to be happy. “Though I’d worked on some clever marketing stuff, I didn’t want to make people feel bad about how much money they earn [in order to persuade them] to buy a bigger diamond,” Jaeger said. “I think there’s this whole American ideal of bigger cars, bigger celebrities, bigger everything. I started thinking about what would make me, and others around me, happy.”

Thus, thehappycorp was born in 2004, and about a year later Jaeger began the LVHRD gatherings to attract creatives—not the ad world’s cream of the crop—but the art, music, acting, design-scene variety who drive New York culture. The club now has roughly 2,500 “hardcore members” and 10,000 people on its e-mail list. Forget the velvet rope. LVHRD is about curating quality: members get texts with addresses of the super-secret parties on event days, not prior.

Rather than pitch hard, sponsor imagery can be grafted into the action; food and beverage brands offer sample s. Video podcasts–both pro and amateur—pick up a sponsor’s presence at events and blogs weave them into the conversation. According to Jaeger, brands have to be entertaining—or, at the very least, entertainment enablers—to stand out in a DVR-driven world that is the antithesis of traditional advertising.

“Brands need to make their messages active content,” he said. “They need to stop having taglines and start talking to people [and] providing content they care about. If you appear as an advertiser, you are not going to get consumers to consume.”