'Humanaut' agency launches for the stars in Chattanooga

photo Humanaut is an ad agency founded by Andrew Clark, left, and David Littlejohn, right.

Forget Silicon Valley and Brooklyn. David Littlejohn and Andrew Clark want Chattanooga to be the next creative juggernaut.

On Wednesday, the duo launched Humanaut as Chattanooga's new "brand invention agency." Humanaut - a portmanteau of "human" and "astronaut" - aims to gauge how people relate to brands and technology.

Along with an undisclosed financial investment from Alex Bogusky - Adweek's "Creative Director of the Decade" in 2010 - Humanaut hopes that its presence will reshape Chattanooga into a mecca for freelancers, artists, designers and renegade creators to thrive.

Their website, humanaut.is, promotes Chattanooga as the city to be with panoramic shots of "Scenic City" and minimalist typeface.

"For a long time, Chattanooga's been this place where individual, creative people can move," said Littlejohn, Humanaut's chief creative director. "But there haven't been a lot of agencies that are attracting creative people and bringing them here."

Littlejohn, 31, grew up in Chattanooga, but moved away for 10 years to work for ad agencies in Chicago, New York and Boulder, Co. He says bouncing around between these pricey urban locales as a young creative professional fostered a desire for simpler places to live and think.

Now that he's come home, he hopes the creative masses will follow.

"We want really talented people from big cities to come to this environment where there's not a lot of hoopla or craziness," Littlejohn said. "That's going to become very attractive to people over the next few years, especially as they pay very expensive rent in these very big cities."

Specifically, Humanaut hopes to reach out to local designer hotbeds like Auburn, SCAD and schools in Atlanta for blossoming talent. But they won't contain themselves to the Southeast if they don't have to.

"We like to joke that we're two flights away from anywhere in the world," Littlejohn said.

Clark, 33, had been pursuing a Ph.D in literature before he quit to be an entrepreneur. He joined lifelong friend Littlejohn for two years as part of "Pale Dot Voyage," consulting start-ups for the company which became Humanaut.

Since then, the duo accumulated quite the eclectic portfolio: There's "Felt," the iPad app which turns tablet-drawn messages into real-life greeting cards. There's "Swoop," the app designed to help fans at sports venues swap their tickets for better seats.

And then there was the Super Bowl advertisement for "SodaStream," a home soda-making system. CBS canned the ad, perceiving it to be a threat to cola-competitors Coke and Pepsi.

"Staying under the radar will never be our strategy," Littlejohn said. "Anytime you're working with a brand, you're trying to get them as much attention as you can."

It's this sort of attention that appears to be a fork in the road for Chattanooga.

"Chattanooga's known as a best-kept-secret," Clark said. "We feel like Chattanooga's in a position to take that leap and not be a secret anymore."

Contact staff writer Jeff LaFave at jlafave@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.