POV: Interview with Josh Horowitz and Layne Braunstein of Fake Love

Tell us about Fake Love and what differentiates it from other agencies.

Fake Love is an award-winning Experiential Agency in New York & Los Angeles that focuses on immersive commercial and artistic visual storytelling. We concept, design, make, code and produce anything you can imagine. The company has worked on campaigns for clients such as Google, M∙A∙C Cosmetics, Vice, Samsung, Nike, Heineken, Def Jam, Volvo, Marc Jacobs, Shen Wei Dance Arts, British Airways, Microsoft, U.S. Air Force, Coke, Universal, and Spin Magazine.

We spend about 60 to 70 percent of our time focusing on brand work and the other 30 to 40 percent of our time on art projects, either collaborating with other artists or working on internal R&D. For the most part, it seems our art projects and internal R&D is what drives the work we do for agencies and brands. Everyone in our company has a fine arts and interactive background.

A lot of people who are doing what they’re calling “experiential design” seem to come from copywriting backgrounds or a standard design background. All members of the Fake Love team, however, have solid experiences in actually executing the work. That surprises a lot of people, particularly when we’re pitching a job.

So we’re more than a creative-directing team that comes from the art world. The two of us alone have more than 20 years of experience in both interactive and visual effects production. It just seemed to make sense for us to merge our paths, and now we’re doing what we love. Yeah, experiential design seems to be the hottest media buy right now because it’s still somewhat of an uncharted territory, but we’re really doing this because it’s what we’ve always done.

How do you define “visual emotion”? Why is this such an important part of your agency’s mission?

It’s tough to give it just one definition. We both have different ideas of what it is, but even our own definitions and understanding of visual emotion continuously evolves.

Horowitz: For me, it’s the feeling you get when you've walked up to an incredibly arresting image or design and you get pulled in. It’s the emotion that inspires you to engage in an experience, whether it’s interacting with an installation or participating in an event.

So rather than having step-by-step instructions and a call to action, we just think that it's much grander to create some kind of epic installation where you just look at it and you immediately think, "Oh, my God. What is this? I need to go check this out." It’s about striking a chord with the user or the person who's going to engage in the experience. For us, that’s where the value of creating something that’s completely aesthetically stunning lies.

Braunstein: I feel like it hit me really hard last year when we were doing the Creators Project – a project where one of three things would happen when a person walked in front of each installation: your shadow would disintegrate into ravens, you’d be eaten by ravens in Hitchcock style or you’d flap your arms and turn into a raven.

In one particular instance, a father put his three-year-old son on his shoulders, and the little kid started flapping his arms and got wings. If I had to walk into a room and explain what experiential design is, I would just show that moment. For me, that encompassed everything we were striving for because it created a real response and connection among people.

We used to shoot our case studies with the installation as the primary focus, but as we’ve matured as a company, we’re realizing there’s so much more than just the piece itself. About 70 percent of our recent case studies have been about capturing the people because it’s starting to be a bigger deal to us.

Fake Love creates campaigns that blur the line between creative and technology. Why do you think this is the way forward for advertising?

To answer that fully, we’re going to back up and say that the way forward for advertising as we see it is the creation of an interactive engagement that's of value and entertainment. The creation of these types of entertaining experiences goes back to visual emotion. To elicit that, you’ll have to be an artist to a certain degree. We’re about creating something that the audience wants to engage with because when someone is being asked to spend time with a brand, it needs to be a valuable experience for the user. If it's not entertaining, they're not going to waste time.

It’s also simply the natural progression. This just seems to be the next step in advertising because people are becoming bored with everything else. As avid gamers, it wasn’t much of a surprise to us that this was next. It seems like most people now, especially the younger generations, don’t really just sit and watch TV. They’re interacting with the TV’s, using voice and gesture control, game consoles and TV apps, etc. So for advertising, there needs to be another level of engagement besides just sticking something on a billboard.

The challenge right now, too, is that sometimes things are taken a little too far in regards to "experiential design." At the end of the day, crazy technologies and insane visuals are not what's going to grab someone's attention. Our most successful projects to date are actually the simplest ones to visually execute; there’s a balance that needs to be achieved.

Why is experiential marketing the most immersive, engaging type of advertising currently being done?

Peoples’ attention spans seem to be getting shorter, especially as technology evolves. Our culture is more interactive than it’s ever been. For the most part, people feel the need to share everything and anything they think is cool. With so many different platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare, it’s almost as if everybody's a curator at this point. Anyone can say, "This is awesome. I want to show everybody else that I like this and love this."

That's been incredibly valuable in the advertising industry because if friends recommend something to you rather than an advertisement, you're more likely to use their suggestions. Because they are your friends, you trust them, and you probably have similar interests. It’s word-of-mouth advertising, but it also poses potential problems because the door swings two ways.

So, when we're creating experiences, what we're really thinking about is: What’s the value? Why is it entertaining? Why is it engaging?

What have been some of your favorite projects produced by Fake Love? Tell us about the thought and strategy behind these campaigns?*

Some of our favorite projects by far are the ones we’ve worked on with Shen Wei, the choreographer who did the Beijing Olympics. They’ve been the most creatively challenging, and working with someone as talented and well known as Shen Wei has been amazing. We created breathtaking generative animation that interacted and complimented the dancers and their environment. Our pieces with Shen Wei have traveled to almost every major art museum in the world and had a run at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City.


Coke Project Re:Brief is another one. That was interesting because it involved connecting the digital world to the physical world by enabling people to communicate back and forth and share videos, stories and, of course, give someone a free Coke. We got to travel all over the world to build the machines. Seeing how people in different parts of the world interact with technology was a fascinating and valuable experience for us. We actually conducted field tests and then refined it so that the machines made the most sense for each region. Re:Brief earned a Grand Prix Cannes Lions last year, which was an incredible honor.


Another project that we were particularly proud of was the touch screen Instagram towers we built for AmEx at Fashion Week. Fashion bloggers, illustrators and photographers gave attendees a behind-the-scenes look at various shows, the catwalk and even the after parties. It was like getting a backstage pass, and the great thing is it all happened in real time. People could engage with it directly no matter where they were. This is an example of something that seems simple in concept but had a large visual impact.


Many agencies are not set up to produce truly interactive campaigns. What type of structure and vision do you need to do be able to do this?

Any one who walks into a creative shop who is not in the business probably thinks, "Oh, my. This is crazy and unorganized." If you walk into our shop, there's everything from traditional artist materials such as paints, inks and pencils, to open source microcontrollers, to 3D printers to all other kinds of tools scattered around the office. I admit it does look like chaos when you first approach it, especially to an outsider, but behind that we have a very tight structure and protocol that helps us be efficient and constructive.

So as much as it's a lot of fun creativity and exciting chaos, there's definitely a structure. You must have a producer who cares about and understands creativity but is going to make sure that at the end of the day, you stick to the timeline and budget.

Another important and critical element is that you need people who have actively worked in the industry, not those with experience here and there or this one project five years ago. It’s like you can’t set up a bank and fill it with people who don't have any history in the banking industry. It seems a lot of companies or agencies are starting to create an experimental department but are filling it with people who don’t have a background in experiential design — though they are incredibly creative.

This is what we went to art school for, and we’re both in the electronic media department, which is like the latter day New York University Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP).

What trends in marketing/advertising do you find most interesting/exciting?

Horowitz: Having everything customized to the user's experience is a really interesting trend. When you're asking somebody to go up and engage in an interactive experience, it needs to be memorable and connect with each individual on a personal level.

With our project “Become an Airman” for the U.S. Air Force, users were able to use radio-frequency identification (RFID) to automatically create a profile and step into the shoes of a soldier to get a glimpse of what a military career could be like. Participants could then share their experiences across various social media platforms. We did a similar thing for Bacardi. That project was shot in 360 degrees, and it populated the entire commercial with events from the person’s Facebook timeline.

Braunstein: Also, like we said, I am an avid gamer and have worked on many console games before Fake Love; so the fact that gaming is playing a bigger role in advertising is exciting. For example, a lot of the experiences that we do on some level are gamified versions of an ad. So if you're doing something for a brand and you're doing something that's interactive, essentially you’ve got a game. Our holiday windows project for Marc Jacobs used essential game mechanics and theory.

One reason you love what you do:

Horowitz: I went to school for advanced visual applications and was doing a lot of interactive projections at the time, but I could not get a job doing that anywhere when I graduated ten years ago. So I started my career doing animation and design, and then eventually I transitioned into producing and directing. I also worked on post-production and compositing for commercials. That's how I basically found my way into advertising.

But then we started doing events for Microsoft and Spin and working with these massive bands such as the Smashing Pumpkins and the Flaming Lips. There’d be this entire event going on that we put installations together for and seeing people interacting with it, having a good time and just purely enjoying an experience to the point where you can actually see what it’s bringing to their life — that goes back to the value of evoking a real emotion and excitement. Those events brought me back to doing what I was originally interested in from the beginning, which is watching people engage with something in real time and actually having a feeling from it.

Braunstein: I feel like for most of my career I was working on the individual pieces of what I ultimately wanted to be doing. I’ve never been fully happy doing only interactive design or only post-production visual effects. I was in limbo for a few years and didn’t know what was going to be 100 percent fulfilling. When Josh and I started Fake Love, we fused everything together and all of a sudden it was like “Yes, this is what we want to do,” and it just made sense. We’re a startup, and we have some struggles, but at the end of the day, we’re having fun and our team is constantly smiling.

I think that’s what it’s all about. Everyone here loves working. They come to Fake Love knowing they’re not going to get Wall Street salaries and a company car quite yet, but they’re here because they can do what they love doing.

Favorite ad:

Horowitz: That changes daily, but overall, I like ads that I can't actually tell are ads. But there have definitely been some really interesting ones. I enjoyed the Museum of Me. I really loved the personalization of that piece.

Braunstein: My favorite ads of all time are still the Apple “Think Different” ads. Those images were groundbreaking on so many levels. It really changed Apple’s appearance from just a computer brand to something that all the greatest creatives in the world used. Picasso and Einstein for Apple? You can’t beat that. You can’t walk into any art program and not find every student working on an Apple.

Must-read book:

Horowitz: I have a great book I'm reading right now, called “Super Sad True Love Story” by Gary Shteyngart, which is terrifying and really pertinent right now, especially with all this NSA stuff going on. It’s almost like a modern-day “1984,” at least in my opinion. It's just about how people are so consumed by technology and how reliant they are on all their different gadgets and devices. It becomes almost the most important thing in their life, which is pretty scary.

Braunstein: I would say “The Martian Chronicles” by Ray Bradbury is a must-read. I just re-read it for the first time since I was a kid, and it’s still moving. It touches on everything about the human race I love and hate, and Ray Bradbury really seems to understand the human condition. Especially having just come back from the E3 Expo, everything seems to have come full circle because people were talking about how we’re going to Mars and doing all these things. Anything by Neil Gaiman is a treasure as well.

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