Tech Insurgents 2012: Ryder Ripps, Jonathan Vingiano and Jules LaPlace

Cofounders and CTO of OKFocus

(Photo: OKFocus)

The Merry Pranksters

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From Old Spice’s viral “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign to the contentious Skittles spot that made One Million Moms cry bestiality, bizarre or aggressive advertising has become commonplace in our internet-addled society. To nab the attention of customers toggling between screens, advertisers frequently toe the line between inappropriate and outrageous, but few are as unabashedly controversial as the Queens-based OKFocus. Named to AdAge’s Creativity 50 in July, OKFocus is a rebel brand’s dream, equal parts design snob and attention-seeking internet troll. And as advertising moves online, OKFocus clients like Google (GOOGL) and the Museum of Contemporary Art have taken note.

Helmed by Ryder Ripps, Jonathan Vingiano and Jules Laplace, the boutique digital firm has implemented its fair share of next-gen, buzzy web products, including a live online dance party for Smirnoff and a game for Google Plus’s video-chat system that, using facial recognition technology, allows users to draw on the screen without using the mouse or keyboard.

The boundary-pushing agency is perhaps most notorious for its foray into pranksterism with WhoDat.Biz, a domain lookup site that purported to be the first company born of rapper Kanye West’s new startup, Donda Media. Users were shocked: did the stylish rapper just put out an ugly update of It took several hours before tech blogs realized that OKFocus was behind the viral prank. In one fell swoop, OKFocus called attention to the internet’s false preconceptions about Mr. West’s startup and demonstrated how dangerous the hive-mind can be when it latches onto bogus news, serving up a valuable lesson for brands and consumers alike.

What differentiates the agency’s aesthetic from others is its devotion to levity, to the idea that design can and should be fun. By mixing this philosophy with cutting-edge web technology, OKFocus creates products that stick in the minds of users long after they’ve moved onto the next big thing. As Mr. Vingiano put it in an interview with The Creator’s Project, “There’s something about this lack of humor in modern web design that is just so appalling.”

When OKFocus realized, for example, that New Yorkers frequently complain about unreliable L train service, they devised Is the L Train Fucked?, a single-serving website that flashes “yes” or “no” depending on the train’s status. By capitalizing on zeitgeist-y controversy and translating it in a humorous way, the trio behind OKFocus have established themselves as expert buzz-builders, unafraid of deploying a good stunt. As TV advertisers rush to out-weird themselves, OKFocus’s trolling instincts seem like the natural evolution of an industry obsessed with going viral.

Next: Dan Loeb, Third Point LLC: the Poison Pen

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Tech Insurgents 2012: Ryder Ripps, Jonathan Vingiano and Jules LaPlace