The Wonder-factory: Down the Rabbit Hole

Link and students outside the “hidden door” to The Wonderfactory
David Link and students outside the “hidden door” to The Wonderfactory

“We want our brand to hit you in the face when you get off the elevator,” said David Link, Co-Founder and Creative Director of The Wonderfactory. This Manhattan-based advertising, design, and app development company creates interactive experiences for Fortune 500 brands in the publishing and media industries.

Upon exiting the elevator into a small hallway, NYU’s Summer Publishing Institute (SPI) students faced a floor-to-ceiling bookcase and a hanging golden tassel. No door was in sight. We then tugged on the tassel and a rooster’s full-throated cry signaled our arrival. Voilà! A secret door opened in the bookcase and we were invited into the inner sanctum. While there were five other SPI industry visits to media companies taking place that afternoon (Details, MSNBC, Marie Claire, Travel + Leisure, and Every Day with Rachael Ray), we figured no one had quite the entrée we did. As SPI student Alexis Aceves said: “The Wonderfactory is the Willy Wonka of advertising.”

As we settled down in the company’s conference room, that became even more apparent. We stared in awe at the multi-colored fantasy forest scenes painted on each wall. Link explained that he had commissioned a 16-year-old Ukrainian artist to do the work after viewing her blog. “I had to communicate with her sister [about the details] as the artist herself only spoke fragmented English,” recalled Link.

Link and his co-founder Joe McCambley started the business nine years ago. Like most startups, it was not an immediate success. Link noted that initially they had “no clients, sat in an office half the size of (our current) conference room, and thought ‘okay, what do we do now’?”

Fortunately, the Wonderfactory found its niche by working with media companies and publishers. “We quickly became a big player in that space,” Link said.

Their first client was The Huffington Post, at the time, an up-and-coming aggregated news source. Since then, a number of big names have passed through the Factory’s hidden door, including Barnes & Noble, WebMD, Martha Stewart Living, Google, Hearst Magazines, National Geographic, and Time Inc.

Link walked us through a few of his major campaigns, including The Wonderfactory’s work creating a 75th anniversary app for Time Inc.’s LIFE magazine. This proved to be an exercise in uncovering history. The app enables users to search through LIFE’s impressive database of images, many of which had never been available to the public before. “Time Inc. had 20 million photos in the bottom of their basement, and the public has only seen 15% of them,” Link said. As a neat twist, whenever a user desires more information about a photo, all they have to do is turn their tablet on its side to learn about the shoot and to view the cover of the original issue in which the photo appeared.

Barnes & Noble’s Nook was one of The Wonderfactory’s first major forays into interactive storytelling. The company was involved with the prototyping of the Nook early on, including the proposed development of a profile page for each book character; the page would provide a bio and explain the relationship of the character to others. While the feature never made the final cut (and maybe it should have!), it underlined The Wonderfactory’s philosophy of “taking characters out of a book and bringing them into your life.”

Innovative ideas like this can only be formulated when brilliant minds are allowed to play, and nowhere is this philosophy more evident than in the office itself. In addition to the fabulous entry, on a full tour of the office space we viewed firsthand the wacky, quirky, and fantastical décor.

A Mary Poppins-inspired space is indicative of Wonderfactory whimsy.
A Mary Poppins-inspired space is indicative of Wonderfactory whimsy.

The inner office was spacious and filled with natural lighting, desks, monitors, and plenty of space for additional workers called in to help on specific projects to supplement the core staff of 12 plus about 10 freelancers. Just past the main area is the kitchen and bright yellow entertainment area. The ceiling of this space is covered with lights nestled inside umbrellas. Link explained that this area was “inspired by Mary Poppins.” Another conference space, inspired by the restaurant where Link and McCambley first thought up the idea for The Wonderfactory, looks like a lush Asian-inspired eatery.

And then there is the “hidden” room. Link pushed open a door marked “closet.” He shoved aside a motley assortment of Salvation Army coats and beckoned us into a small conference space. “We call it the Secret Ideas Closet,” Link explained.

This ended our tour through the fantastic Wonderfactory, and the SPI students formed a line to take the elevator down to the first floor. Upon emerging into the bright sunlight, we felt a bit like Alice must have when she exited the rabbit hole from Wonderland.

by Kasey Beduhn

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