McHugh, an Iowa native, has gone international before, as ECD at Chiat/Day/Toronto in the early '90s. And he made a stab at Europe at one time, too; "When Fallon opened a London office I volunteered to go over, but nothing came of it," he recalls. But it's his six years in Minneapolis that make his reel sizzle. As the copywriter on the acclaimed Holiday Inn comedy campaign, he's personally credited with the line, "What do you think this is, a Holiday Inn?" Is the disheveled layabout character who stars in the spots based on personal experience? "It's a composite of me and three or four guys I grew up with," McHugh says half-jokingly. "Most of us are familiar with that sense of entitlement, combined with a passive/aggressive do-nothingness. The campaign is going on four years, which doesn't happen much anymore." Speaking of stamina, Lee's frequently hilarious Buddy Lee "Can't Bust 'Em" campaign was launched under McHugh's tenure, as well. "He's the perfect embodiment of durability and cool weirdness," says McHugh of the little doll with the big head.
Cool weirdness is also apparent in his Nordstrom's "Make Room for Shoes" campaign, which features women doing insane things to create shoe storage space. Like having a stunning, vintage '50s Caddy crushed to nothing in a junkyard so the garage will be available for footwear. Was that gorgeous car really ruined just for a commercial? "Well, yeah. I don't think you could've faked it. It's a one-take. But it wasn't a total cherry. It looked great on the outside, but it was kinda gutted on the inside." Another Nordstrom's spot has a woman throwing everything - including big pieces of furniture - out the back of a moving van as it rolls down the highway, where a lethal obstacle course is created for the speeding traffic. This is almost European in its outrageousness; how'd he get away with it? "The client got letters, but we weren't suggesting people try this at home," McHugh shrugs.
But now he can do that really outrageous European advertising? "Yeah, that would be fun. The kind of stuff that normally gets killed here has a far better chance of making it there. Naked people, for instance." The plan, says McHugh, is he'll make the Amsterdam scene for three years, then open a U.S. 180 office. In the meantime, will he have to feign an interest in soccer? "Actually, I am interested in it," he insists. "I'm even starting to call it football."