WHAT DO ELEGANT PROMOTIONS FOR THE UPscale fashion line Matsuda and brash ads for ESPN 2 have in common?
While aiming at audiences as different as caviar and corn chips, the ads evolved from the same approach, explains Bill Thorburn, 34, creative director at Thorburn Design in Minneapolis. "Really, everything is retail," Thorburn believes. "The good thing about retail is that it's very visceral and organic-what's right today is wrong tomorrow; it's the flavor of the week thing. When you grow up in that school you tend to be much more linked to the street and to editorial, so the style should be the same way."
Indeed, Thorburn's first career steps involved dodging clothes racks. A Minneapolis native, Thorburn studied painting at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design, while apprenticing at a print shop. He opened his own design firm in the Lake Tahoe area before returning to Minneapolis, where, while working on projects as varied as haute couture promotions and marathon sale banners, he rose to become design director at Marshall Field's, Dayton's and Hudson's. There he gained international recognition in exhibitions for his beautiful but conceptual fashion work for the Dayton's Oval Room, which turned handsome spreads into illustrated stories.
Last year, deciding to expand his talents, he left to open his own firm, which has since grown to a staff of four and has become the design arm of local Hunt Murray Advertising.
Already his client roster is burgeoning in multifarious dimensions, ranging from Pop flavored ads for Benetton to wry promotions for Domtar papers and package design for a European liquor brand. Working with Wieden & Kennedy, the firm has also designed Microsoft ads and a series of trade ads for ESPN 2, the latter featuring blurred and cut-up photos with sassy headlines: "It wasn't like it was a nude bungee jumping festival from Nanaimo, British Columbia," next to a skewed, orange-tinted shot of a bungee jumper, shot mid-air from his toes looking down.
The ethereal Thorburn touch is evident in a striking invitation for Concerts for the Environment, a piece sent to musicians soliciting them to perform at events marking the 25th anniversary of Earth Day. Encased in a cardboard case bound with wooden pegs, the package, labeled "Notes from Earth," opens up to looseleaf papers containing sepia-toned photos and environmental trivia, factoids and tips on how to take enviro-action. "These guys receive three to five of these solicitations a day," he says, "so we needed to create something with a theatrical presence." At the same time, he adds, "we couldn't be remiss that this was a grassroots environmental organization." All the components combine to give the piece longevity, he says, "so it's more than just a groovy invitation."
As for the Hunt Murray connection, joining forces with this particular shop may seem a curious move for Thorburn, considering the agency's reputation for award-winning but exceedingly loony campaigns for accounts like local Pig's Eye beer and Mystic Lake Casinos.
Mike Murray, who admits Thorburn's work "is so much prettier than ours," explains that it was a move toward integrated marketing, so that the packaging and advertising will speak in the same tone and not "look like they came from different spaceships."
"I think the spirit and culture of the agency and the attitude toward the product is good simpatico," Thorburn adds, suggesting that the difference between them is indicative of the difference between the disciplines: design tends to be lyrical, promoting affinity toward a product, while advertising veers on the more hard-edged side, promoting direct consumer sales. "Stylistically, they can be different, but they work together," he adds. "It's kind of good cop, bad cop."
But more than that, the alliance enables Thorburn to put forth a cohesive identity for clients, something he strove for within the con-
fines of Dayton's, where he had overseen everything from last-minute sales promotions to video walls and elegant brochures. Currently, Thorburn Design is coordinating with Hunt Murray on an identity for Domtar papers, giving each grade of paper a funny personality that accents its utility, which will be reflected in both the packaging and the ad campaign.
"I think it's ridiculous to do it any other way," Thorburn proclaims. "There's too many messages out there, too many layers of information, and if you can't create the point of view and find it and simplify it, you're going to get lost."