Then, just like that, Mr. Johnson was gone. After 15 years in advertising agencies (about two spent at McCann Worldwide), he quietly slipped away from Interpublic, leaving many wondering what happened.
'ESPN Meets MySpace'
But now he's landed, and it's in a surprising place: As chief marketing officer at GGL, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based gaming and media company that Mr. Johnson calls the "ESPN meets MySpace of video games."
"I wanted to be in a place where every decision mattered," said Mr. Johnson of his move. "Even though it seems like a small fish from the outside, I think [it's a] huge opportunity."
Mr. Johnson, 45, has had plenty of experience working with the big guys. He was an executive at Digitas before joining Interpublic in 2005 as global director-innovation for McCann Worldwide's MRM. He was then tapped to develop the emerging media lab, designed for marketers to test new technology. It was a difficult decision to leave, he said.
"The job I had at McCann Worldgroup was the best job in advertising," Mr. Johnson said. "I also felt that OK, I am turning 45 and I really wanted to make a ... significant impact on something that I felt very passionate about. I sort of bit the bullet and did it."
Now about two months into his job, Mr. Johnson, a self-described "avid gamer" said he is responsible for building out the GGL brand globally. He also does product development and integration.
Hip-Hop Gaming League
Started in the mid-'90s by Ted Owen, GGL is an online community with "tens of thousands of members," according to a company spokesman. With about 100 employees worldwide, GGL also covers gaming events and hosts live video-game tournaments and celebrity leagues such as the Hip-Hop Gaming League and the Professional Baseball Gaming League.
The company recently announced a marketing agreement with iCoke, Coca-Cola's branded online presence in China, in which GGL will host regional online gaming tournaments on the iCoke site.
Mr. Johnson said the gaming world is incredibly valuable to marketers, because it can reach the elusive 18-to-34-year-old market. But he said strategies besides in-game marketing are needed to reach them.
Mr. Owen said GGL "swung for the fences" whey they pursued Mr. Johnson, who is the company's first CMO. "The way we all looked at it is the company has a tremendous amount of potential, and I think what Greg's done is begin to organize and put together [different] pieces into a story that resonates with marketers and our gaming community," Mr. Owen said.
Mr. Johson says he's enthusiastic about the new challenge. "We really see ourselves as helping to develop the culture of video games," he said of GGL. "It's like MTV was in the early '80s, when [marketers] didn't quite know how to take advantage of it. We are positioned to be a bridge between publishers and marketers and the community."