Ben Fox, exec VP at the ad network Adconion Media Group, recently walked a red carpet made of paper into a conference room doubling as a theater and watched actor Nat Faxon play a character named "Ben Fox."
It was an Adconion premiere party for "Ben & Kate," a new Fox comedy inspired by Mr. Fox's quirky relationship with his sister Dana Fox, the brains behind the sitcom. In the show, which premieres tonight, Mr. Fox's lovable troublemaker character moves in with his single, straight-laced sister Kate (Dakota Johnson) and her kid. What ensues is a series of events that are loosely based on the real Fox siblings' shenanigans.
The ad exec, who spent a number of years at Yahoo before joining Adconion, talked to Ad Age about his unique relationship with his sister, his pre-marketing days and his feelings toward the show.
Ad Age : How did your sister approach you when she told you she was creating a character based on you? What was your initial reaction?
Ben Fox: It was a little bit like [her saying], "Hey, I pitched to these executives and it went really well but they can't really believe that a character like you exists. Can we send some pics?" We sent pictures of Dana and me and growing up. [One example is ] roasting marshmallows in our living room. Then Dana said, "We have all these great stories from growing up and this obviously isn't based on you today; it's based on you 10-15 years ago. We're going to take stories and make them larger than life. Help me do that ."
I've been very encouraging and I'm trying to help her wherever I can in the background. At the end of the day I'm very proud of her. I think the show is really funny.
Ad Age : You didn't have any hesitations? Not even about the show using your name?
Mr. Fox: I said [to Dana], make this character, but you must make sure that he's true to our history and he's not someone without a plan or who doesn't know what's going on, that he has a huge amount of heart and is always trying to make the right thing happen even if it means pushing someone into a pool at a party. I didn't want the SEO to change around my name, but I think I've gotten over it. ["Ben Fox is my Manny" was an original working title]. There was a moment when I saw a billboard and was like, oh my God, this is happening. Then I went on set the next day and talked to Dana and Nat and saw the Fox team work and was blown away.
Ad Age : Do we see any of your advertising career, or the making of an ad career, in this character?
Mr. Fox: I'd say there's almost none. The character is really about the 10-to-15-years-ago character. I was flying into town, living in Europe and doing crazy things. Today it's a more benign version of me. It would make very boring TV.
Ad Age : What was the "10-to-15-years-ago character" doing before you fell into adland?
Mr. Fox: Originally, I was sort of making art and running college businesses in Saratoga Springs at Skidmore College. I took sophomore year off and went to Germany for a year. I matriculated in a German University with five Germans in the house. It was a precursor to real life. Half the house loved me and half the house hated me. Then my sister called -- she was at Stanford -- and said, "Hey, why don't you come to Palo Alto; I think something is going on in Silicon Valley." It was 1998.
From there I kind of moved into her dorm room at Stanford and kicked her out and made her live with her boyfriend. The theme takeaway from this is our relationship and dynamic and what goes into the character. I come into her life and mix it all up and she kind of can't stand it. What comes out the other end is better for everyone.
Ad Age : There must be some crossover in your career and your sister's career, since media and entertainment are closely linked. Does that help you better understand the makings of the show and its goals?
Mr. Fox: I love working with media, and it's an entertainment company so it's a natural fit for me. But if anything, there's more of the connection around the tremendously creative people on Dana's team and at Fox. When I talk to them and they talk to me we're speaking the same language. Media and distribution, in terms of our space, is more of a business connection.