What Happens When You Put Beer Guys on the Tampax Account?

Leo Burnett's Loew and Wyville Talk About Creating 'Zack'

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Anyone who ever wondered what would happen if beer-ad guys were tasked with shilling tampons now has an answer: A 16-year-old boy wakes up one morning to find his, um, boy parts replaced with, um, girl parts, and has to navigate PMS symptoms.

The online campaign, previously noted here and which took home a Bronze Lion from Cannes, is the product of two Leo Burnett creative directors—Dave Loew and Jon Wyville—who are better known for their work on sales-driving campaigns for Miller Lite at Y&R, Chicago, earlier this decade. (They've toiled on Buick and Norton since joining Burnett in 2007.)

But the pair insists that selling beer and feminine-care products isn't as incongruous as one might think.

After all, Mr. Loew notes, "Both are used by humans."

Adds Mr. Wyville, more seriously: "The truth is both categories are filled with clichés, and if you can avoid them and break the taboos, you can make this natural thing that happens to people a little more natural."

That certainly proved true in beer, where the pair helped to guide Miller Lite out of a period where its ads featured bikini-clad mud wrestlers and, instead—in award-winning spots like "Dominos" and "I Can't Taste My Beer"—cast the brand as an alternative to the category's traditional mix of frat-boy antics and fantasies.

Despite the relative brazenness of the work for the category, Mr. Wyville said he and Mr. Loew worked hard to avoid easy humor. "We didn't go for slapstick jokes," he said. "Even when we did beer, we tried to be a little more restrained than some other brands. . . . I mean, when we were working on Miller Lite, it wasn't like we had men in monocles and top hats, but we did try to make it a little smarter."

Feminine-care ads, of course, have their own tired tropes—an endless parade of women in white pants, women afraid to go in the water, and so on—that had Tampax and its longtime team at Burnett looking for some fresh thinking for a new online effort built, in part, on research revealing the notion that women wished men could experience a period.

"They asked us partially because we hadn't worked on the brand before," noted Mr. Loew.

As to how they got up to speed quickly in such a different field? "It helps to be married," noted Mr. Loew

And the results were unorthodox. The initial client pitch featured a brief hiccup. Even restrained beer-type humor still seems shocking in feminine care. "There was a little bit [of silence] when we started reading the script," he recalled.

The silence ultimately gave way to approval, however, and the pair set about producing a digital effort that followed its narrator, "Zack Johnson," through, as his rather detailed blog puts it, "the bloating, cramping, and my overall bitchiness level," right through a mad scramble out of French class for the vending machine in the women's room.

The taboo-busting effort didn't drive huge traffic numbers, but it paid major dividends in terms of engagement and public-relations pickup. One in 10 visitors to the site viewed an entire 12-minute film about Zack. And visitors from 130 countries spent a combined 478,978 minutes with the effort's YouTube component.

It drew coverage in 830 sites, including Time.com, BusinessWeek.com and loads of blogs, which featured some feisty debate over the effort's merits, including one on BlogHer:

"Yes, sort of funny, Tampax, but also sort of stereotypical and mildly sexist. But, some real issues are addressed and if I really strain to hark back to my first days as a 'woman,' I think my past self would find this site to be both ridiculous, funny and maybe a little helpful," noted one vote in favor of the campaign.

A less enthusiastic take said the primary lesson of the video was insulting: "All women melt down every single month with bitch-making, brain-scrambling PMS."

Of course, you wouldn't expect a tampon campaign produced by beer guys to go over quietly.

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