Innovation is the lifeblood of creative agencies, tasked as they are with developing eye-catching content that stands out amid a sea of distractions. For Critical Mass (CM), that creative output extends to the tools and processes its teams use to produce work for clients like Apple, Mars Wrigley, and Diageo. “We’re always tinkering to ensure that we’re moving faster,” says CEO Chris Gokiert.
That approach led CM to create ArtBot, an automated production technology that helps solve a persistent ad industry problem: how to deliver highly personalized digital marketing quickly and at scale without sacrificing quality. ArtBot does just that, spreading brands’ digital messages efficiently and elegantly. “We’re less wasteful, we’re more targeted and effective, and we’re quicker in terms of how we do it,” Gokiert says of the work that ArtBot fosters. “It’s part process and part automation—but always with the brand and the customer at the center.”
This committed focus on both process and product has earned CM a place on Fast Company’s list of the Best Workplaces for Innovation.
MERGING FORM AND FUNCTION
Gokiert describes ArtBot as “an intelligent content automation system” that combines data, media, tech platforms, and top-notch design so brands can deliver high-quality user experiences wherever their customer encounters them.
Alissa Hansen, CM’s chief production officer, and her team launched ArtBot in 2022 to address the shortcomings of a popular ad industry technology called dynamic creative optimization, or DCO. That technology is designed to serve individualized ads based on indicators like what’s in a user’s shopping cart or which websites they’ve visited. While the personalization typically worked well, the CM team felt that brand image often suffered in digital ads produced via DCO. “We didn’t think that was a good excuse,” Gokiert says. “So, we worked with the technology to build a premier experience.”
In addition to boosting the brand experience, the automation built into ArtBot has allowed CM to reduce production time by 5x or more—a major advantage for its customers, which include AT&T and Nike.
CREATING ROOM FOR INSPIRATION
Digital innovation has been a hallmark of CM’s history. Founded in 1996, the company created a pioneering online car configuration experience for its first client, Mercedes Benz USA. From the beginning, Gokiert says, CM has cultivated curious employees with an interest in both data and technology, as well as an affinity for what the firm calls “uncompromising design.” Staffers are encouraged to stretch their skills to meet those high standards, whether that means deploying a new piece of technology, inventing a new process, or having a tough-but-kind conversation with a peer to move a project forward.
Employees also are encouraged to look for ways that benefit society. For instance, after Roe v. Wade was overturned, a group of CM employees pioneered ArtBot for Good, a pro bono program, with a digital media campaign for Euki, a reproductive health app. After a six-week Instagram and Facebook campaign targeting people who may have lost local access to abortion, the app’s monthly users increased by more than 600%.
The key to this kind of success, Gokiert says, is giving people the tools, environment, and support they need, then putting them in front of interesting problems: “That’s where the inspiration comes from, and that’s where the drive is.”