Mark Pytlik is the CEO and cofounder of Stinkdigital, which specializes in interactive creative, concepting, and design of a variety of different work – from live-action films and animations to microsites, web apps, mobile phone applications, and installations. In 2009, his company produced the Film Grand Prix in Cannes for Philips’ “Carousel” (agency: Tribal DDB, Amsterdam). Mark’s also got a background in music journalism: he wrote the 2001 Björk biography “Wow & Flutter,” and his reviews of music by bands such as Radiohead or Animal Collective – written for The Pitchfork Review and other media – can be found all over the web. In the interview that follows, Michael Weinzettl invited the multitalented Canadian-born digital expert to talk about his many-faceted career and his choice of digital work for Archive.
Hi Mark, you’re the managing CEO of Stinkdigital. Can you tell us a bit about the company you founded five years ago which now has offices in cities such as São Paulo and Paris, and also in Berlin?
In early 2007, I moved to London to join Stink with the task of expanding its already amazing content production offering into interactive. While we sensed there were new creative opportunities in interactive, there wasn’t any sort of precedent for the production agency model at the time, so when we hired a small full-time staff of five people and formally opened the doors on Stinkdigital London in 2009, it really did feel like we were taking a bit of a gamble. Amazingly enough, the first brief that came in was for the project that became Philips’ “Carousel.” Carousel went on to win the Grand Prix in Cannes that year, and that pretty resoundingly put us on the map. Five years later, our interactive offering consists of just under 100 people worldwide, with strong footprints in London, New York, Paris, and Berlin.
Now, we’re taking the next logical step in our company’s evolution by integrating Stinkdigital into a newly refreshed Stink. Over the last five years, Stink and Stinkdigital have done a lot of incredible things (content, feature films, interactive, and product development) under various different guises, but we’ve always been one family, so it’ll feel great to finally be able to speak about all the work we do as one single and very powerful entity.
Could you describe some of the projects Stinkdigital has worked on that you might be particularly proud of? And please give us a little insight into some of the challenges you/your teams may have encountered while working on them?
One that stands out for me is Old Spice Internetervention. For that, we worked with W + K Portland to create nine fake websites for nine fake products, each of which was specifically engineered to appeal to men of questionable taste. A few examples: Fake leather sheets, solid gold Bluetooth headsets, etc. Each of the sites was essentially a huge bait and switch; any time the user expressed interest in a fake product, they’d get hit with a full-screen video of the Old Spice guy schooling them for having such questionable judgement. It was pretty exhilarating to watch this campaign spread; one of our nine sites managed to accumulate 1.5 million hits in one day alone.
Another that comes to mind is Google DevArt. For this one, we worked with Google in conjunction with the Barbican to create a platform for creative coders around the world.
How did you get into the field of interactive creative in the first place?
What attracted you to it?
My path to this career was pretty unconventional. I started out in music journalism and made a go of that as a full-time career for about five years before deciding that it wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. From there, I made the switch over to advertising journalism and quickly got enamoured by all the interactive work, which was just starting to become a genre of its own at that time. I was that kid who had a computer and a modem from an embarrassingly early age, so I found things that people were doing with design and code especially interesting. I suppose the combination of writing and that degree of technological interest and fluency made for good entry points into interactive creative. Since starting Stinkdigital, I reckon I’ve probably seen thousands of project briefs; at some point early on, you develop a sense for what has the potential to be interesting and unique.
I read in an interview with you that there has been quite a remarkable shift from building “amazing desktop experiences” toward mobile. Can you tell us a bit about that, what it means, and what it entails for your work?
The explosion of mobile and tablet over the last seven years has pretty much demolished the notion of the desktop computer as being the primary vehicle for interactive work. That’s had a pretty significant impact on the production side of things. More often than not, when we work on a project today, we think in terms of suites of devices. The question has changed from: “What device are we creating for?” to “How can we create or adapt something so that it appeals equally across the full spectrum of devices?”
How do you yourself manage the constant onslaught of emails, text messages, and social media postings that we are all faced with in our everyday lives?
I don’t know that I manage this particularly well; I’m not sure if anyone really does. I try to be aware of low-level noise and to modulate it. One big change I made was turning email push notifications off – that seemed to make a difference. I also try and stay aware of what my attention span is doing; if I feel it splintering to the extent that it becomes difficult to concentrate on one task, that’s usually a sign that the screens need to go away for a while. An addled mind isn’t good for anything.
What has your experience of working with ad agencies been like? Do you prefer to work with clients direct, without an ad agency in between?
I couldn’t generalize across agencies and direct clients; we’ve had a range of positive and negative experiences with both. The thing we gravitate to in a client is a certain kind of excitement and a shared sensibility. As long as we have that with whomever we work with, we’re good.
Lürzer’s Archive is first and foremost a print publication, so we would, of course, like to hear your take on the future of print. Is there any from your perspective?
As a former journalist, I love print. It has an authority that digital journalism rarely has. I also sense that it’s becoming increasingly fetishized in natively digital circles as well, which is no bad thing. Vinyl was similarly fetishized by a certain generation of music collectors about a decade ago, and I think that period of fetishization and novelty paved the way for it to eventually become a booming commodity again (sales of vinyl have doubled in the last year). I don’t think print is anywhere near as dead as that, but I do see it going through a similar sort of regeneration over the next decade.
Also, do you think there will ever be a way of making money for content off the web when there is free content all over it?
Absolutely – I don’t think this is in question. Netflix and Hulu and iTunes and HBO have proven that people are happy to pay for premium content. I don’t think we’ve explored all the possible models for monetization yet, but it’s interesting to see everyone from Kickstarter to Vimeo all involved in some way. I find micropayments especially interesting – once payment becomes frictionless enough, I could imagine it becoming a bigger part of how content is monetized.
When you employ new team members, what are the most important things you look for?
Some magical combination of character, potential ceiling, and portfolio – in that order.
Stinkdigital has won lots of awards and I assume you’ve also been on the jury of some of them. How important are these kind of awards for you and for the digital arena in general?
They were massively important in the beginning when we were looking to build a brand and make a name for ourselves but, now that we’ve had some success, they’re probably less so. It’s always nice to win, but the logic of what wins what at different festivals is so spotty and imprecise that it’s important not to put too much stake in all of it.
And what do you think about presenting interactive work to ad juries? Those five-minute films which routinely claim that the response to the campaign presented was “overwhelming,” “went through the roof,” etc. Are they the best way of putting digital/interactive works forward to an awards jury?
I don’t love the case study film as a genre; it’s a particularly terrible way to showcase things like design or user experience. All the lofty clichés actually come in quite handy, though, when you’re a jury member and have thousands to get through. If something doesn’t cite useful data, or resorts to talking about impressions, then chances are that it probably wasn’t very successful.
Finally, can you tell us a bit about the criteria you applied when selecting the digital work featured in this issue of Archive magazine?
They were all sites that I’ve found exceptional or interesting in some way. Some of them are projects I wish we’d done; others are just sites that I constantly come back to for inspiration.