Absolut was the first new business pitch I worked on after being brought to the U.S. by TBWA. My partner and I were particularly struck by how dismal the liquor advertising was here at that time. Not just dull and bland, but so serious! And serious just doesn't mix well with liquor of any description.
We thought the bottle was kinda cool, if perhaps a tad pretentious for a vodka from…Sweden? But it was very clear that it held an enormous amount of pride. And that if we wanted to win the biz, it might be a good plan to not relegate it to the lower right-hand corner of the page - as we had already done in an earlier attempt that poked fun at it being from…Sweden?
Much lore has been written and told about the afternoon we closed our door and covered the wall with the first 18 ads of the longest running advertising campaign ever. Most of it from sources who were either on the other side of our door, or not yet inside the agency’s door.
Everyone wants to be in a story that’s being re-written into history. I find it gratifying that the campaign gave many talented people every right to be.
There is one aspect of the story, though, that became apparent only in the context of more recent years:
ABSOLUT WAS THE FIRST VIRAL CAMPAIGN.
And it became so in analogue. The ads were pinned on walls in offices, cubicles, bedrooms and dorms. They were collected, traded, shared, even coveted.
All very viral behavior - and all before the internet was even the faintest glimmer in Al Gore’s eye.
You can still go on eBay and buy pretty much any Absolut ad that was ever produced. I added screen shots of the ads for the ads I don’t have copies of anymore!
One final bragging right; last year “Fast Company” magazine included the Absolut campaign, or rather the conversation that led us to it, as one of the “Ten Conversations That Changed Our World”.
Geez...as the piece quoted me as saying, " ...we were just trying to wake-up a category that was still sleeping-off a hang-over from the three-martini-lunch".
Sharpies make big, bold statements. The broad strokes.
Permanent. Confident. Simple. Concise. Direct.
Be bold. Cut-to-the-chase. Wield a Sharpie. Write Out Loud!
It quickly became obvious that these videos had captured the essence of the Sharpie brand - and the imagination of it's oddly passionate devotees.
Almost overnight, YouTube was littered with user-generated videos inspired by, or closely mimicking, the examples shown here. Some of them unnervingly good.
The response clearly demonstrated a level of engagement that validated the ultimate intent of this program: To provide a five or ten second "soapbox" for people to take a stand and make a statement - to cut-to-the-chase and "Write Out Loud".
These little verbal fire-crackers were then liberally tossed into where ever the trending conversations were occurring. From paid broadcast interstitials, to interruptive and disruptive digital interference, to social.
Now that's what I call being a part of the conversation.
LG was still a relatively new brand up against well established names in three distinct categories - each with distinctly different dynamics and behaviors.
The appliances category is home to many of the culturally engrained brand names we grew up with. But a bright new brand that’s all about smart ideas for easy living couldn’t wish for duller company.
Because now you don’t have to replace your old utilitarian white box with a new one just like it.
Now, a washing machine can look seriously good. SEXY even. In Deep Candy Apple Red. And Midnight Blue. And do cool new things you’ve never even imagined being done before.
Now, a clothes dryer is something to LUST after.
Now, the homely home appliance has become an object of DESIRE.
Now, you WANT RID of your old washer and dryer.
And LG is ready to help with some inspiring suggestions. Many of which are demonstrated in the “Sabotage” program.
Executed through TV, rich media, in-store displays, a micro site, configuration tools, print ads, and a set of three video games we created to decimate appliances and obliterate entire kitchens.
The entire “Sabotage” program was, of course, a huge smash that completely destroyed the old-school competitors.
There was a time when, beneath almost every kitchen sink in America, you’d find a slightly gooey, half-full bottle of Woolite for those rare occasions you hand-wash your “delicates”. This wasn’t a good place to be for a product from the high-volume laundry category. Especially when most machines now had a “gentle cycle”.
But simply moving the delicates from sink to machine wouldn't increase usage We needed to broaden our definition of delicate and increase the size of the load.
When you think about it, any piece of clothing you really like, or love, or care about, or that holds special meaning, is more than just “delicate”. It's precious, and irreplaceable, and terrifyingly fragile. Even if it’s made from sail cloth and rivets.
And now the safest way to care for the clothes you really care about is with Woolite - in the gentle cycle.
But wait! Instead of using the gentle cycle, why not simplify matters and rename it “The Woolite Cycle”?
And what if we worked with the washing machine manufacturers and the fashion houses and designers and put “The Woolite Cycle” symbol on clothing labels and washing machines...? Then we'd have a business idea!
To dramatize the sometimes odd connections people have with a favorite piece of clothing, I created a series of videos that explored what made it special, what it evokes, how it makes them feel - and how they care for it.
I wanted the spot shown here to be an authentic expression from someone who had more than a casual relationship with good clothes, and clearly knew how to wear them. And how to care for them. The woman in this commercial was an “A-list” model I found in Milan, which is where we shot it...about as far away as we could reasonably get from beneath that American sink.
LG's torrent of models and features were being very well reviewed and received, but that wasn't being credited back to the brand.
LG needed to start behaving like the technology leader it was qualified to be.
As luck would have it, the movie “IronMan” was scheduled for release, with Robert Downey Jr as the technologically brilliant inventor, Tony Stark. We couldn’t have wished for a more perfect product integration opportunity.
The cinema commercial shown here set-up the program I created, which retro-fitted an adjacent story line to the movie and gave exclusive access to Tony Stark's 3-D workshop environment. Increasing levels of access were granted by cracking the codes to the recovered "StarkPhone" (shown in the cinema spot). Anyone who successfully navigated the perils of the workshop and made it into "The Suit", well, hold on to your phone. And your lunch.
The second video is a much simpler assumption of leadership. It was made to run during and around the VH-1 Music Awards to create awareness of LG mobile's partnership with VH-1 to “Save the Music”. A program to restore kid’s access to musical instruments that budget-cuts had taken away.
The other two commercials supported specific phones for specific networks. “Spy Thriller” was made for cinema. The other for broadcast and on-line.
Finally, a word about the subway posters at the bottom of this page. The phone numbers were real - set-up specifically for this program. They connected to a number of pre-recorded greetings and occasionally to a live voice who would award a free phone.
Man, the stuff on those VM’s…
This was the first time Burt’s Bees had run “real” advertising, which, not coincidentally, was shortly after the company was originally acquired.
Burt's Bees was a brand that had been "discovered" by it's many loyalists, each of whom felt it was uniquely theirs. The challenge was how to broaden it's appeal without screwing it up for it's devotees.
The key was to embrace the brand's slightly "off" character as it's uniquely distinguishing truth.
I felt there was a certain irreverence to the brand's attitude, but a palpable reverence for the products integrity. To me, this "irreverent reverence for nature" perfectly defined the Burt's Bees brand character. It was "irreverently natural". And it instantly and naturally informed everything the brand needed to do and say - from site, to advertising, to pr, to pos.
For all these reasons, and more, the "spokes-bees" were perfectly cast as the voice of the brand - lending a gentle and indirect tone through their comments, observations, and quips - their "bee banter" - about the product being featured.
I didn't want to introduce new elements that would interfere with the relationship between the brand and the customer. I wanted each page to feel like the product had spread itself out - a natural extension of the packaging. Nothing else. Just pure and simple. Just Burt's Bees.
These ads shown here were printed with vegetable inks on recycled post-consumer stock and then inserted into the magazines.
The Affordable Health Care Act was looming and about to change everything.
Healthcare insurance companies would have to compete on the online marketplaces, where it would be clear that their offerings were largely commoditized - and that their brands would play a much larger role than ever before.
Humana needed to stake out a well-defined, ownable and distinctive territory on an unchartered new landscape.
The “Peoplecare” platform I created did precisely that. It aligned Humana’s core truths with the market’s new realities, and repositioned the brand for the new era of affordable health care.
It also immediately organized and informed how everything should work. From re-validating and re-framing many of Humana’s internal initiatives and processes, to how it should embrace technology, to how the brand communications should look and feel, to the relationship you have with your doctor.
Everything the brand would do from now on would in some way be "Closing the gap between People and Care".
As a consultant, I didn’t get to oversee or collaborate on the final production of the work. I don’t believe the icons were ever fully realized as the vital element of the platform that they are…or were.
Regardless, I was proud to have taken part, in some small way, in what may be the single most important change our generations will see.
And I'm still in love with the reductive beauty and new language of those “icon/photograph” posters, darn it…
Uncomfortably aware of the collision course that our global energy demand and our planet's natural resources were following, I took the opportunity to take a closer look.
As a father and a resident of planet earth (for the most part), I was heartened by the collateral good that was being realized for emerging and struggling economies. And by the significant investment being made in pursuit of alternative energy sources.
As an ad guy, I found it hard to ignore the challenge of swaying opinions inside the beltway - and of convincing everyone else, myself included, that maybe we should hate Exxon just a little bit less.
To that end, I changed the focus from oil to “energy technology”, the attitude from “selling it” to “the responsibility to provide it”, and the story from negative past to future positive.
I made TV commercials about gas supply, new domestic resources, and energy efficiency. I created video installations at airports that promoted ExxonMobil initiatives like global malaria eradication through “World Malaria Day”, and introduced the concept of “Energy Technology” (installations at JFK used 20 large screens each programed as part of one continuous moving image the entire length of the people mover - the first time this had ever been done).
More complex programs, like the Math and Science Education initiative, were demonstrated through the context of simpler interests. Like the installation at the Washington National’s Stadium that engaged fans (and other strategically important visitors) in math and science experiences like analyzing their pitch or swing, and the forces that effect their ball’s journey. Y’know, your basic v=x/t, that sort of stuff…
Usually, one of the more interesting aspects of selling a reputable brand-name double-hung is the inherent contradiction of drawing attention to something specifically designed to go unnoticed.
In this case, though, these particular windows have an unusually interesting feature - they have blinds sandwiched between the glass. A really smart and useful design that's good to look at and kinda fun to play with. The kind of thing you just have to demonstrate for every friend and neighbor. Riveting stuff...
Btw, the entire sequence playing out in the back-yard was done in one very well choreographed but still amazingly lucky take.
These print ads always felt like such a nice relief from the usual poke in the eye this category seems intent on inflicting upon us.
This is a small start-up founded by a guy who brilliantly figured out a sneaky way to give supplements to dogs without them knowing a thing about it. This product dissolves in the dog’s water bowl. It’s flavorless and odorless. And absorbed nine times more effectively than a pill.
The brand looks clean, modern, young, and “urban” in a category with more than it's fair share of tweeds and sensible shoes.
There was less than no money, of course. But K-10 needed a simple idea that would both describe the product and define the brand.
I created this program idea based on the retort that often follows an over-the-top sort of activity: “There must be something in the water”.
The idea focused on the water as K-10's point of difference. It required a whacky dog trick as a proxy for efficacy, it allowed the brand to appropriate the viral and topical, and it gave dog owners a way to participate.
In other words, the cheap and rough production became an expression of the idea, not the budget. We produced and shot six videos ourselves for $10,000, four of which are shown here.
The money went mostly to the dogs. We pretty much lived on their vitamins.
So far, the program has worked like a charm to sell-in the products - the full range of K-10 supplements is now available at Petco stores all across the country. Hurry, while supplies last!
SEVEN DEADLY SINS. ONE KILLER CAR. On two occasions, now, I’ve been called on to help save the Jaguar business.
The first time was at BrandBuzz, on behalf of Y&R. The challenge was to re-capture the emotional connection to the evocative and provocative idea of “fast, beautiful cars”, and apply it to the introduction of the new XJ 'R'.
The “Seven Deadly Sins” idea not only achieved that, but also provided an easy way to communicate multiple points from multiple perspectives via multiple channels. The program worked particularly well in the showroom, too, giving salespeople a useful tool and framework to help construct and adjust their approach.
And it worked very well in the agency, keeping the business "in the family" for one more year.
PURE INSTINCT The second time I worked to keep the brand from spinning-out was for Euro, or Havas, or whatever it was called by then. But I think that Jaguar had already left the lot.
Although I say it myself, “Pure Instinct” has to be the most powerfully relevant and multi-applicable idea that Jaguar has seen since the iconic “Leaper” first pounced onto the hood (or rather, the bonnet).
The biz was eventually taken in-house. I noticed they also took my “Instinct” language along with it.
That’s what predators instinctively do, I guess…
These guys were the anti Knicks. They were a team. And that included their fans. They weren't above signing autographs or hanging around to shoot the breeze. They were accessible. The experience of a Nets game felt inclusive - and good.
"Bring It" is an example of one season’s program. It urged the team and the fans to bring everything they had to every game, to celebrate local pride in a local context, and to sell the hell out of every available seat.
We did everything from designing the season’s tickets, to paid media like outdoor and print, to events around the games, to fan-hosted, player-attended season ticket sales events.
When we won the New Jersey Nets biz, the team’s main owner besides Jay Z was Bruce Ratner, who’s day job was developing large areas of Brooklyn - like the MetroTech Center, for example.
His dream was to build a stadium flanked by a series of high rise residential and commercial buildings on the site of the old Atlantic rail yards - and for The New Jersey Nets to take up residence as The Brooklyn Nets.
The architect was Frank Gehry. And his plans were like Ultimate Extreme Gehry - Thrash Steroid Version - 2.0
We got to work on promoting the development to Brooklyn, on promoting Brooklyn to corporations, and on selling the naming rights to the few who could afford it.
Clips from a promotional video and an interview with Frank Gehry, showing a model of the sculptural wonder he was planning to build, are included at the foot of the scrollable gallery.
Oh well, at least we got the Brooklyn Nets...
Even in it’s hey-day, the classic Dymo press-type label maker was endearingly low-tech. Definitely useful. But very narrow-purpose. Which is precisely what made it so much fun.
Nobody could pick one of those gadgets up without immediately trying to figure out another way to use it. And who could have resisted the urge to print out the word “FUCK” at least once, just for the kick of seeing it immortalized in sticky plastic? Obviously not me, for one.
Dymo needed to get back on people’s radar as a now even more useful gadget that still had a sense of fun. And when you think about it, the right balance of each has always been a condition of the brand's very exsistence.
The all new Dymo LabelWriter had been touched by the wand of technology. Now it printed out crisp looking type on clean, coated strips. Now it had options for fonts, point sizes, colors. A digital screen! And it was still really useful for labeling things. And still a lot of fun to mess with. And still we printed out the word “FUCK” (we did, though…right?).
Oh, yeah, and the production budget looked like the label with "Animatic" on it had fallen off.
(The third video extends the same principle to an even fancier kind of label printer for offices that makes address labels, hello-my-name-is stickers, that sort of thing).
I have had the privilege and pleasure of serving as a member of the Creative Review Committee of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (aka "…at DrugFree.Org”, aka “…for Drug-Free Kids”) for over fifteen years now.
I've also had the privilege and pleasure of being able to make quite a few PSA's for the Partnership, all completely pro-bono, through the generosity of the many production companies I've had the privilege to work with, and three different agencies.
The first two spots shown here are from the more recent and realistic perspective, offering help, support, and access to resources (with thanks to The Mill, @Radical Media, and BigFoote Music).
The third is a classic of the finger-wagging “drugs will kill you” days - an update of the original tough-talking “Frying Pan” spot. But this time the problem was heroin - newly de-stigmatized from it's old needle-and-junkie image by being purer and readily snort-able.
This was the commercial that President Clinton used when he introduced the ONDCP, the new position of "Drug Czar" and, of course, that absurdly enormous media budget.
The static ad is about a point I was particularly fond of - that now the issue isn't so much about the time your kids are out, but more about the times your kid's are out in.
At the bottom of the scroll, you'll see that I took on the task of redesigning the logo/corporate identity for the entity’s last iteration - based on the principle of support. I only wish I could have taken on the task of renaming it, too.
This is the work I did at Brandbuzz that won the Green Mountain Coffee Roasters business. The shot of the banners was from the "Today Show" - I dispatched interns to go and get on camera so I could use the footage in the pitch to underscore the "activist" nature of the program.
BETTER THAN IT WASN’T, BUT NOT AS GOOD AS IT IS.
Green Mountain Coffee first started appearing in places usually associated with bad coffee. Really bad coffee. Places like gas stations, convenience stores, company cafeterias.
The initial belief was that if you could get a cup of Green Mountain coffee into someone’s hand, they’d buy it by the pound at the supermarket.
Of course, this didn’t account for the fact that if we expect to taste gas station coffee, our perceptions will do all they can to oblige.
And not everyone wants to buy a pound of gas station coffee.
But rather than trying to convince anyone that Green Mountain coffee tasted better than they thought, why not instead accept all due credit and praise for getting rid of the burned sludge everyone hates?
Now that would be a Public Service! A Cause. A Mission. A Crusade!
Green Mountain was Saving the World from Bad Coffee.
And everyone had a role to play. This was a true grassroots program. The kind of idea that goes beyond merely “working across multiple platforms and channels” and shapes it’s own use of media. The site gave "agents" a way to report bad coffee and mobilize Green Mountain swat sales teams to fix it. Office workers could get free "Activist Kits" of materials to mount campaigns for better office coffee. Heck, it even included my all-time favorite medium - bumper stickers!
In keeping with Green Mountain's strong and long standing commitment to solid CSR practices, Saving the World was fitting language and sentiment. It not only meant saving the world from bad tasting coffee, but also from bad growers, bad trade practices, bad companies, bad roasters.
This was a brave stand against the tyranny of burned sludge everywhere
A crusade to uphold our inalienable American right to a decent cup of coffee when we need one.
Report bad coffee where you find it. Join Green Mountain’s noble cause and Save the World from Bad Coffee.
The last thing this category needed was one more way to visualize how closely the picture resembles reality.
Besides, screens had become central to so much more than just TV's. And LG's flat-panels were pretty much everywhere.
So I wondered, if we combined all the screens that LG made, would that make LG the world's largest manufacturer of flat-panels? Thankfully, it would. And did. The result was that LG didn't need to engage in the "who's-picture's-most-lifelike" contest and could instead take a much higher ground. For the product and the brand.
The second spot, by virtue of it’s virtue, couldn't help but transcend the same old...um...rhetoric…
This was a pro bono account I took on at Brandbuzz.
The problem was that of the few who were aware of the Advertising Club, very few were aware of what it actually did.
And of the many who were aware of The Andy Awards, even fewer connected it back to the Advertising Club.
Founded in 1896, it’s purpose had remained largely unchanged: to facilitate discourse, share information, champion the people of the advertising business, and provide a hub for networking (a nice bar).
It’s just that the tools to do that had gotten a whole lot better (except for the bar).
And the Advertising Club needed to reassert itself as a relevant resource and open forum for our industry.
And the best way to do that was to be that.
Relying on a variety of donated media space, PR opportunities, and very limited production budgets, the Ad Club asked questions, provoked debate, demonstrated empathy and support, and provided commentary, insight, and coffee.
The napkin is still one of my favorite productions.
One of the final attempts to help save the Polaroid photograph. Perhaps the most honest visual evidence of the truth there has ever been.
No negative. Just a picture. Un-deletable. Tamper-evident.
Brutally true. Illicitly compelling. Completely fascinating.
I was always struck by how the immediacy of a Polaroid provoked an energy and behavior that didn’t happen in front of other cameras.
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