John Immesoete has his plate full, with a meal of all-American advertising grub: burgers and beer. Make that a veritable feast, considering it's McDonald's and Anheuser-Busch we're talking about. Both marquee clients, which comprise an impressive bulk of DDB/Chicago's revenue and which have maintained icon status in ad extravaganzas like the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics, are now the charge of the agency's 37-year-old VP-group creative director - quite the ladder of success for someone who wandered into advertising without much of a clue.
Immesoete graduated in 1986 from Iowa State University with a bachelor's in journalism, and says he sought work in advertising for no particular reason except he had to earn a living somehow. "To be honest, it was probably money driven," he says of dedicating his writing skills to the greater commercial good. "There was more opportunity to make a lot more money in advertising than anywhere else, so I was like, 'I think I'll try that route.' My mom also actually worked at an agency at one point (John Deere's in-house shop) and always talked about how interesting the people were."
After graduation in 1986, he worked briefly at medical agency Goble & Associates and then landed a job at Leo Burnett. "They just threw me in the pond," he recalls. The young copywriter started in the agency's training program and initially wrote radio ads for McDonald's, but then got a shocking introduction to broadcast after selling some promotion spots. "I did tons of radio, but I really had no idea about television when I joined the agency. They didn't really cover production at my college in Iowa. I was a real hick. I sold these commercials and they were telling me stuff like, 'Book your rooms!' 'Book rooms, what are you talking about?' 'You have to go make this thing,' they said. 'Where?' 'Hollywood.' And I was literally like, 'You're kidding me!' "
The young creative must have learned fast - soon he was landing coveted brandwork for the client. He eventually became a CD, and his McDonald's work made its way to the Super Bowl. He had one spot starring an animated dinosaur that comes to life, as well as a Gold Lion-winning charmer in which a baby, slowly swooping on a swing, gets alternately happy and cranky as the Golden Arches come in and out of view. Immesoete was also a CD on the notable "Any Questions," which showed a little boy hounding his father with ridiculous requests - from going parachuting to owning a monkey - until the father happily gives the nod to a trip to McDonald's.
After spending almost a decade at Burnett, where he also worked on Nintendo, Immesoete joined DDB in 1996. The move was auspicious, as he helped the agency to snatch the burger client from his former shop on the pitch that eventually led to the "Did somebody say McDonald's?" campaign. But instead of signing on to fast food he got a change of pace as a CD on the Bud Light team, where his sharp wit helped to hone spots like "Rough Choice," in which two guys short on cash are forced to decide between TP and the brew, and "Shopping," where a group of men set up beer-drinking and TV-watching camp behind a department store clothes rack while their wives buy clothes.
Today Immesoete is a GCD on Bud Light, and last year he joined Don Pogany as a GCD on the parent Budweiser brand. The double duty has involved whipping up new ideas to more clearly distinguish the advertising for the two products, at the request of the client, he says. As for the latest executions in the Bud "Truth" campaign, "It's much more sophisticated humor for beer," he explains of the brand's evolving image , reflected in cinematic spots like "Birthmark" and "Cards" (see p. 14). "It really comes off basically as the truths between men and women," he notes. "It also looks like independent film." On Bud Light, "The angle on that has been youthful exuberant fun. And that's how you keep it. It's kind of the goofy little brother in the portfolio, the jokester that's always fun to be around." So much fun, in fact, that three of the client's spots made it into the Top 10 of this year's USA Today Super Bowl poll, with "Satin Sheets" nabbing the top seat.
On top of broadcast, Immesoete also continues to rock the radio airwaves overseeing Budweiser's famed "Real American Heroes" campaign, as it goes into its third year. The series, which salutes off the wall champions in hilarious spoofs of bombastic beer advertising of the '80s, has hoarded creative radio kudos for the past two years. The campaign has won awards at the Clios and the One Show and took back-to-back Grand Prizes at the Radio Advertising Bureau's Mercury Awards. Last year, some of the spots, like "Mr. Foot Long Hot Dog Inventor" and "Mr. Really Bad Toupee Wearer" (both of which Immesoete wrote) successfully made the transition to film in a continuing TV campaign running in the U.K.
As if beer weren't filling enough, in the summer of 2000 Immesoete came full-circle, back to McDonald's, with GCD duties there as well. Conveniently, the edge he's honed on his brew work, will no doubt help his goals to contemporize the ads for the feel-good client, as a 10-spot campaign featuring subtle humor and modern music begins a year-long rollout. "It's a constant challenge, but it's also fun for me to work on it, now that I'm in a position of power," he says of McDonald's. "Things that I think could be corrected are a lot easier to change than when I was just a peon copywriter."