A HIGH FIVE THEY'RE SMALL, THEY'RE FUN AND THEY DON'T HAVE BIGTIME REPUTATIONS-AT LEAST NOT YET. HEREWITH, A HANDFUL OF SHOPS WHOSE WORK WE USUALLY LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING: HUNT/ MURRAY

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ABOUT SIX MONTHS AGO, Minneapolis' Hunt/Murray reached a crossroads. Its largest account, Mystic Lake Casinos, a resort run by a local Indian tribe, imported a marketing team from Las Vegas with a penchant for the slick imagery synonymous with the gaming mecca. The agency's weird but award-winning campaign lived on the other end of the spectrum, with spots cobbled from stock footage of exotic animals possessed of strange behavior, all used to make comparisons between their hapless plight and that of the average bettor. In one spot, an Australian lizard runs screaming through the bush trying to scare off a predator. The campaign's theme, "You're a lot luckier than you think," put betting odds in a hilariously fresh perspective.

The client's new marketing plans just "didn't fit our culture," explains creative director Mike Murray. While the agency's decision to resign the account was financially tough, he adds, "emotionally, it was easy. If we want to continue to be a creative force, we can't do work we don't believe in."

While Hunt/Murray walked away from the account on which it was founded in 1992, the Australian lizard continued to scream its way through the awards shows, as the campaign won two One Show Pencils and 13 out of a total of 31 awards that the agency garnered at Minneapolis' The Show competition in October.

"We're constantly growing," says Murray, noting that the agency has made up for the Mystic loss, maintaining billings of $11 million. "The thing is finding the right client that understands what we do."

And fortunately, Murray says, at the same time they were resigning Mystic the agency was launching an equally intrusive, low-budget campaign for Minnesota Brewing Co.'s fledgling Pig's Eye pilsner (see Creativity, June '94, page 49). Starring a grisly spokespirate named Mr. Pig's Eye, TV spots feature the crudely animated matey offering tips on topics as random as fishing and Eastern mysticism, his face bobbing around kitschy retro footage, creating a comic counterpoint to his rasping advice. The print takes the tag, "A brutally honest beer," to another tongue in cheek level, featuring Pig's Eye next to sardonic lines like, "If I start to look good, call a cab."

Promotions for KCBS-TV in Los Angeles offered the agency equal creative leeway, with spots that take direct aim at the very programs they promote. "Fires, earthquakes and now this," reads copy next to a shot of Geraldo Rivera.

The question remains whether Hunt/Murray can put a serious spot on its reel. "Some of the spots are serious, some are emotionally driven," says Murray. "A lot of them have a sense of humor simply because it's entertaining people."

A recent effort in that direction is a commercial for Pur, a new line of kitchen water filters from Recovery Engineering, for which the agency has designed everything from the packaging to the final spot, which takes viewers on a quest for clean water via ethereal time-lapse natural water footage and a new age score.

Another attempt to broaden its scope was bringing local designer Bill Thorburn aboard to run the agency's design unit.

Other local accounts include the Minnesota Moose, a new International Hockey League team that's trying to fill the skates of the NHL's North Stars, which moved to Texas. Naturally, the ads include Texas jabs. "Our current problem," Murray sighs, "is they're not winning."

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