2012-06-08

Need A Slick Ad For Your Good Business? Call m ss ng p eces

The company behind amazing campaigns for Levi’s, GE, and the Climate Reality Project wants to sell you things, sure, but they’re also intent on making only meaningful work.

Got a socially conscious company or cause in need of some branding? Then you might want to call upon m ss ng p eces (that’s Missing Pieces, with some letters and capitals, er, missing), a self-proclaimed "creative company inspired by the limitless potential of the web," renowned for their work with folks like Levi’s, the TED Talks, and the Climate Reality Project. Founded at the dawn of YouTube by Ari Kuschnir and Scott Thrift—two film school grads disillusioned with the limitations of traditional production—mss ng p eces dreams up whimsical, tactile videos full of stop-motion animation, Rube Goldberg-esque machines, and interactive storytelling that break through the glossy sheen of most everything else found online.

It’s fitting, then, that the company came to life thanks to something you can hold in your hand. "Scott showed me this really simple idea that he had called Something," says Kuschnir. "It’s literally just something, this beautiful heavy object that says 'Something’ on it. It was the thing that brought us together to start m ss ng p eces"—the name itself is derived from another of Thrift’s artworks—"and it became kind of a metaphor for wanting to make something meaningful happen."

The company kicked things off in 2005 by producing a video podcast for Coolhunting.com. Serendipitously arriving at the same time as the first video iPod, the series would end up on Time’s list of the year’s best, and launch the company as a new breed of artists who were thinking seriously about the Internet. "As filmmakers, not videographers (which is one of my least favorite terms, followed by B-roll) we understood intrinsically how to tell compelling stories and distill them in unique ways," says Kuschnir. "It just felt so good to be in that space, experimenting with what became a new format."

Their work caught the eye of Jason Wishnow, TED’s director of film and video, who brought m ss ng p eces in to capture the atmosphere around that organization’s annual Talks. "We were the only outside people allowed to interview and film people, and you can imagine the caliber of conversation that went on," says Kuschnir. Inevitably, the TED ethos seeped into the informal operating principles of m ss ng p eces. "I think TED has played a huge part in popularizing the idea that you can be a company and still be socially responsible," says Kate Oppenheim, MP’s director of strategy, who joined in 2010. "You know, ‘doing well while doing good.’" The m ss ng p eces team likes to joke that they’re a "locally sourced company" working within a close-knit Brooklyn community, committed to utilizing as many nearby resources as possible. "It’s not like we said, ‘Okay, let’s make this our mission to have everything made in New York,’" Oppenheim says, "but when we realized it’s possible, putting money back into our community is only going to be good for us."

In 2011, m ss ng p eces was tasked by Alex Bogusky (creator of those anti-smoking Truth Campaign ads) and Al Gore to assist on the Climate Reality Project’s "24 Hours of Reality" broadcast, a day-long live global event last September. They created promotional spots (like the one above) as well as three short films that aired hourly throughout the broadcast, and ultimately reached as many as 5.9 million people. They found mass-market success again early this year with their choose-your-own-adventure video for "Met Before," a song by the band Chairlift, and since saving the music business is probably an even bigger challenge than saving the environment, the hope is to carry that "wide-form" technology into the world of branded documentary content.

Most recently, in a return to their tangible roots, m ss ng p eces went into production on The Present, a clock that takes an entire year to make a full cycle. The project began on Kickstarter, and is now being manufactured—almost entirely in New York, of course. Created by Thrift, it looks a bit like the spinning rainbow "wheel of death" familiar to Mac users waiting for their machines to catch up; the vision is to help our hyper-driven society slow down and better appreciate the passage of time.

And as their relationship with the Climate Reality Project continues—the m ss ng p eces team visited Antarctica with the organization this February—their eco-conscious spots for Levi’s "waterless" jeans and GE’s new L.E.D. light bulbs have helped solidify the company’s reputation as the go-to digital content firm for the do-good set. "It wasn’t part of the original game plan," says Kuschnir. "We’re just good people. We care about the world. We’re conscious and aware about what’s right and what’s wrong, or what’s good and what’s bad, and we have some kind of inherent desire to make meaningful work. Work that impacts, and in some way does good."

This piece is part of Change Generation, our series on young, change-making entrepreneurs. Read the rest here.

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