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March 4, 2024

Major CT marketing agency restructures, rebrands with sharper focus on artificial intelligence

PHOTO | CONTRIBUTED Bryn Tindall is the CEO and founder of the newly rebranded The Rebellion Group.
The Rebellion Group
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Digital marketing agency Rebel Interactive is following up its recent move to an extensive new headquarters in Cheshire with a major restructuring that aims to position the firm as an agency of record — or the sole strategic advertising partner — for major national and international brands.

Under the restructuring, the company, which just marked its 10th anniversary, is forming a new parent entity rebranded as The Rebellion Group.

Sitting under that umbrella are three specialized business units: Rebel, which will continue to handle creative; 535, which is working on new product development and client technical needs; and Virtuoso, a business process consulting service.

Founder and CEO Bryn Tindall said the idea was to migrate the firm’s own brand from one that spoke to disruption and change to a more sophisticated image — what he calls a “sage archetype.”

“I always looked at it like the big kids table and little kids table,” he said. The aim is to “reposition as a business strategy company first and foremost that is also very sophisticated in marketing execution.”

As Rebel Interactive, the company was already providing marketing services to some big names, including Mercedes-Benz, CVS Health and Honeywell. The hope is that the restructuring allows the firm to become strategic partners to Fortune 500 companies in a more comprehensive way, a shift Tindall said is in line with corporate trends.

BJ Kito is the chief strategy officer of Cheshire-based The Rebellion Group.

Tindall said he started to put the pieces in place back in 2021, hiring business consultant BJ Kito to build Rebel’s client services business strategy and grow engagement within the agency’s business advisory consulting practice.

Under the restructuring, Kito heads up Virtuoso as an updated hub for strategic consultancy.

“Essentially, we realized that many of the enterprise businesses that are constantly evolving and are seen as pioneers in the space seek counsel,” Kito said. ”And obviously, a marketing agency traditionally would not be invited to a conversation that an Accenture or Deloitte would, to understand the operations of a business.”

The intent, he said, is not just to execute on a marketing play that a client brings to them, but take a step back and help the client do more strategic thinking before they even formulate a sales and marketing blueprint.

Among its more high-profile accounts, the firm has been tasked with translating the National Geographic and Disney+ show “Wicked Tuna” from the small screen to the supermarket counter, launching a licensed seafood brand.

It’s also supporting the design and development of a financial literacy program in collaboration with the NFL.

AI’s growing influence

Fully harnessing the power of generative artificial intelligence will be central to those efforts. To that end, last year the company brought on data scientist Chris Nocera, who has done years of research into how socio-cognitive, neurological and emotional factors influence customers’ decision-making processes.

His job is to apply the insight and analysis of AI and large language models to traditional data sets from customers or third parties, and to generate proprietary datasets that can help Rebellion Group give its clients an edge in the market.

This, said Kito, “has elevated the ability to truly understand the dynamics and the factors that are impacting a business, and then let us make real recommendations about that.”

James Dowd

The capability with AI also extends to the marketing side, where Kito combines with Chief Creative Officer James Dowd to lead Rebel. Dowd joined the company at the end of 2022.

“I was very happy to come here because I saw an opportunity to do things differently, to shake things up and to try new things where others were too scared to,” he said.

Part of that effort includes the development of a new AI-based ad generation technology called Geniee, which is an effort to microtarget specific audiences. The tool uses a proprietary dataset to generate psychological profiles of customer archetypes, before generating both visuals and copy that can specifically target those customers, down to the timing and placement of ads.

Dowd sees it not as replacing a human copywriter, but using AI as a way to create genuine value for clients by having upfront information on what approaches will work in particular market segments.

It also relieves his staff from the more repetitive and tedious tasks of ad generation, Dowd said.

And while generative AI is being widely leveraged in the marketing industry, Dowd said Rebellion’s in-house offerings differentiate the company from the competition.

“Every AI-powered thing from an agency that I’m seeing is a gimmick,” he said. “It’s not a valuable tool, it’s a look-at-me tool.”

The challenge, he said, is turning AI-generated content into something a client actually finds useful.

Stabilizing operations

The embrace of AI extends even further into new business logistics tools that are being piloted by 535 under Chief Operating Officer Bryan Czajkowski. These will offer clients ways to streamline core functions, including hiring, payroll and human resources, which The Rebellion Group hopes can become standalone software companies.

Another aim of the restructuring is to stabilize Rebellion’s own operations in what continues to be a volatile and fast-changing environment.

“Many agencies in Connecticut and around the world, if they lose an account, they have to get rid of a huge number of their team,” Kito said. “The intent is that, as things shift, if there’s a condensing of demand for a specific type of talent or discipline, that this broader network of new relationships, different types of client work will still need the thinking and counsel and services of those folks.”

Rebellion Group currently employs around 90 people, almost all of them in Connecticut, and the restructuring does not eliminate positions. In fact, the group is currently hiring.

Rebellion Group had revenues of $20 million in 2023, and is projecting between $25 million and $30 million this year.

Dowd said the company’s restructure is already allowing staff more creative freedom.

“We’re not just building tools or creating content to serve one strategy or one brand. We are flexing and moving with the environment,” he said. “We are letting people’s passions, their expertise, bring new thinking to the table.”

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