Outshining The Past

You roared out of Cannes with a gold Lion. Your campaign dominated The One Show and the Clio Awards (owned by Adweek parent company VNU) and captured a D&AD pencil. Congratulations, you’re a creative genius. So now what? Sure, your boss at the agency and your client are thrilled that the campaign that you poured your blood, sweat and tears into won all of those shiny trophies. But that was yesterday. A creative can’t rest on his laurels for even a nanosecond before it’s time to go back to the drawing board. In fact, the maxim, “You’re only as good as your last ad,” isn’t quite accurate these days, says Leo Burnett executive creative director and copywriter G. Andrew Meyer. “You’re only as good as your next ad,” he says. With that daunting reality hanging over them, several creative teams are attempting to follow up on—and potentially top—the success of previous award-winning work. Adweek spoke with these creatives to get a sense of the pressures they face and the creative approaches they take in the shadow of a big win.

Wieden + Kennedy: Michael Russoff, Ben Walker and Matt Gooden


Michael Russoff, a copywriter at London’s Wieden + Kennedy, was part of the creative team behind Honda Diesel’s fantastical “Grrr” animated spot, which has driven off with, well, just about every major advertising award of late, including the Grand Clio and the Grand Prix at the 52nd International Advertising Festival in Cannes, France. As of last March, Russoff, Wieden copywriter Matt Gooden and art director Ben Walker—creative all-stars in their own right for the Honda Accord spot “Cog,” which swept the international awards circuit in 2003-2004—began the task of formulating a winning, if not outright spectacular, TV campaign for the new Honda Civic.

“The pressure isn’t to beat what you’ve just done. I think that’s a bit of a shallow approach to your creative life. You’ll never, ever be happy with that attitude,” Russoff maintains. “You’ll raise your bar higher and higher and end up achieving something soulless.”

Russell Davies, former head of planning for Wieden, says that after “Cog,” the agency shook up its thinking on Honda by tackling a musical challenge. “With [“Cog”] being so successful, one of the things we were concerned might happen was that we would start to institutionalize that success, and that it would be very easy to do Cog-like ads again and again and again,” says Davies, now global consumer planning director at Nike. “We asked, ‘How are ways we can make sure we don’t repeat ourselves, and do something new? What if we made it mandatory that we had to have Garrison Keillor sing?’ ”

The query proved successful. And now Russoff, Gooden and Walker are knee-deep in the creative process again. They’ve already completed their research, which involved finding out as much as possible about the new Civic through Honda, and then determining the essence of the product. Now, they are in the writing phase, Walker reports.

The last Civic ad Wieden put out highlighted the practicality of the car, asking, “Why is it that the better something does its job, the more we take it for granted?” and depicting all the wonderful things we take for granted during our day. While the voice cues Wieden has built up for the brand will be retained in the new Civic campaign, “the last ad has no bearing on the new one,” Walker says.

Wieden account director Francesca Sellers confirms that the overall advertising strategy for Honda is tied to the theme of “The power of dreams,” Honda’s tagline in the UK since 2000.

Walker teases, “The new Civic is as much about the heart as the head. We want people to feel the car—really feel it. And you can’t do that by just showing it going ’round a winding country road.”

Word is that the new Civic is a huge undertaking for Honda, marking a radical change in the design of the car; therefore, the brand requires an idea that will show it. “If we pull it off, it’ll be amazing,” Russoff muses. “If we don’t, we’ll have had an amazing journey and learned loads. And to be honest, you can’t ask for more than that in your working life.”

Leo Burnett: Noel Haan and G. Andrew Meyer


Leo Burnett svps and executive creative directors G. Andrew Meyer and Noel Haan had just returned from the recent Cannes Festival, where their TV campaign for Altoids, featuring a glimpse at a primitive land called Altoidia, won a gold Lion, when they heard from the client. Chris Peddy, associate general manager of New Confectionery Brands at Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co., told them, “I want to go back [next year]. And I want to go back with work that is eligible for winning the gold or any kind of Lion,” Meyer relates.

It was with Peddy’s high expectations, as well as their own, hovering above them that Meyer, also a copywriter, and Haan, also an art director, dove right back into the creative process for Altoids after the Cannes win, although Meyer notes that it is ongoing. “There’s always some idea percolating in your head whether you want it to or not,” he says.

Of course, Haan and Meyer aren’t the only ones at Leo Burnett coming up with concepts. To keep the campaign fresh, Haan and Meyer, who have been working on the Altoids business for 10 and five years, respectively, have taken a stream of pitches from other talents eager to work on the account. “Five or six teams are currently in the queue,” Meyer says. “You need fresh minds to bring something new to a 10-year-old campaign.”

The brand has a rich creative history. The Altoids brand has won a Grand Kelly Award, multiple One Show Pencils and many Andys, Addys and Clios, among other honors. In addition to its Cannes win, the agency’s work for Altoids gum was on the shortlist in the areas of Integrated Campaign, Print and TV at the 2005 Clio Awards.

Meyer and Haan’s directive to these teams? “We’ll look at anything as long as it’s curiously strong,” Meyer answers, referring to the Altoids tagline.

“We try to keep [the pitching process] pretty informal. With a campaign like Altoids, people generally put enough pressure on themselves,” Meyer reasons, adding, “It’s sort of a luxury to be able to just dangle it out there and see what you get.”

He and Haan are also mining the past, dusting off concepts that the client previously took a pass on. “There are always some ideas in the back of our heads that we’d like to bring back,” Haan says.

If these ideas were so good, why did the client veto them? In some cases, the client was simply “board-weary,” Meyer explains. In other instances, Haan points out, the client simply wasn’t ready for a concept that may have seemed too far out at the time.

“If you’re doing things right, you’re pushing the comfort level—not just for the client, but for yourself as well,” Meyer adds. “Sometimes it takes a while for all of us, together, to pull the trigger.”

At this point, various concepts, new and old, have made it to storyboard stage and will ultimately be presented to the client. Neither the creatives nor Peddy know precisely when that’ll be. That’s because Wrigley’s acquisition of Life Savers, Creme Savers and Altoids from Kraft Brands was just completed in late June, and “everything is being re-jiggered—budgets and schedules are being worked out,” Meyer reports. “But we are definitely going to have a lot of new work out there.”

Springer & Jacoby:

Aris Theophilakis, Murray White, Sharon Cleary and Chris Pugmire


A campaign of Olympus TV spots that ran in Europe depicting all that can go wrong in the realm of digital photography-—think blurry boys, distorted dogs and red-eyed babies—won the creative team at Springer & Jacoby Amsterdam a gold Lion at Cannes this year. S&J creative director Murray White was thrilled to see the work honored, of course. But White said they aren’t planning to follow up the TV campaign immediately, working in other mediums instead. “We aren’t setting out to make the next great TV campaign,” White says. “That’s definitely a difference between Europe and America. There isn’t the demand for TV all the time in every market.”

The TV spots, which broke via the Internet before migrating to television last year, introduced the tagline, “What you choose to remember.” White reports that the creatives devoted to Olympus, senior copywriter Sharon Cleary and senior art director Chris Pugmire, are continuing to deliver that tagline and message via other media, from print ads to the Web to point-of-sales initiatives.

Pugmire says they don’t necessarily feel pressure to top the award-winning work. If anything, he says, it helped to reinforce their belief that the “What you choose to remember” campaign is a viable one. The creative process itself hasn’t changed in the aftermath of their big win, Pugmire maintains. Like before, Pugmire and Cleary continue to have regular access to their direct boss, White, thanks to the small size of the creative department in Amsterdam (there are only a half-dozen creatives), and are able to pitch ideas as they arise. “Everyone here feels like they can say what they want to and like they are part of the process,” Pugmire says.

At press time, Pugmire and Cleary were putting the finishing touches on some print ads as well as a direct-marketing campaign. Meanwhile, S&J worldwide creative director Aris Theophilakis says the creatives are being charged with the task of not only employing various mediums but also various tonalities as the campaign, aimed at 34 European markets, grows. “This is the beauty of the concept,” Theophilakis says. “It can come at you from so many different angles. It can have the [darker] tonality of the television [spots] you saw, or it can be much more humorous or much more serious.” We will ultimately see more TV spots, by the way. But when? At this point, according to Theophilakis, S&J is actively monitoring the public response to the commercials. When they are no longer deemed fresh, the agency will embark on the process of creating another round. “If people start to have expectations of what an Olympus commercial is, then I think we’ve got to say, ‘Alright, let’s find another angle,'” Theophilakis says.

Taxi: Zak Mroueh, Lance Martin, Ron Smrczek and Irfan Khan Viagra

Toronto’s Taxi struck gold, literally, with TV spots that found Viagra users sharing graphic details of their sexcapades—mouths muffled by blue Viagra tablets— with co-workers and pals who are clearly taken aback and in awe. The TV campaign, which aired in Canada and won a gold Lion at the Cannes Festival, was honored at the first show it was entered in, notes Zak Mroueh, Taxi executive creative director and partner. The campaign has been submitted to other shows, and the agency is awaiting results.

Mroueh said the big win at Cannes was a boost not only for the creative team behind the spots (associate creative director Lance Martin, art director Ron Smrczek and copywriter Irfan Khan) but also other creative teams at Taxi.

“It inspires healthy competition,” Mroueh says. “One team does a really great campaign, and then the other teams say, ‘OK, how do we beat that and do something better?'”

So what will Taxi do next for Viagra? The agency has yet to start creative development on the next round of work but plans to embark on the process in the coming months. New work is slated to break sometime next year.

The agency will continue to target a wide demographic of men ranging from their early 40s to their 70s and beyond, and the creative team’s focus most likely will be on TV spots. Humor has long been a staple in the shop’s work for Viagra. In addition to the most recent work, previous Viagra spots were set to music, including Queen’s anthem “We Are the Champions,” to convey the sense of the joy users get due to the results of taking the medication.

“[Erectile dysfunction] is such an emotional topic that some of the other media just fall short in telling the story,” Martin explains. “And because we’re limited legally in what we’re allowed to say, TV has proven to be the best medium to bring the brand alive.” It is those legal limits, by the way, that will also result in some new creative blood being assigned to work on the account, which Taxi has had for four years. “Whenever new creative for Viagra is developed, it must then be approved by [Canadian drug authorities],” which can be a lengthy and demoralizing process for a copywriter or art director, Martin says. “So we want to make sure fresh people are on the account.”