Chiat/Day creative duo departs to direct spots

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The creative partners who brought the Taco Bell Chihuahua campaign to life are leaving the agency business to become commercial directors.

Chuck Bennett, 46, and Clay Williams, 38, will step down as managing partners-creative directors at TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif., to open Black Box, a Marina del Rey company specializing in commercial production as well as content development for new media. Although they headlined a draft of a news release announcing their departure "No quiero Taco Bell," they said they are leaving the agency on good terms.

TBWA CEO: `I'M BUMMED'

"First and foremost, we're leaving to become directors," said Mr. Williams, the team's copywriter. Tom Carroll, president-CEO of the TBWA/Chiat/Day office, praised the team's talent and said of their departure: "I'm bummed."

The departures of Messrs. Bennett and Williams come on the heels of that of another high-profile creative, Rob Siltanen. He left late last year to form start-up Siltanen/Keehn Advertising, Santa Monica, Calif., with former TBWA/Chiat/Day account exec Pam Keehn.

Mr. Carroll said he was not yet sure who would succeed Messrs. Bennett and Williams, but noted, "Reloading the creative department at Chiat/Day has never been an issue." That's in large part because of the status of TBWA Worldwide's revered chairman and chief creative, Lee Clow.

Messrs. Bennett and Williams have worked together in the Los Angeles market for eight years, five at TBWA/Chiat/Day. They developed campaigns for Sony PlayStation and the Energizer bunny. Their "Express yourself" campaign for Kinko's showed a man convincing a woman to marry him with flow charts of his projected income and a composite photo of what their children would look like. In the past year, the duo directed eight commercials.

CHIHUAHA WAS HUGE

The team's highest-profile work resulted from the success of a 1997 spot that showed a Chihuahua snubbing a female dog in favor of a taco. The campaign's popularity led to an explosion of interest in the small dogs, put "Yo quiero" into the American idiom and gave the fast-food chain an icon to rival KFC's Col. Sanders or Ronald McDonald.

Overall, the two said they had creative responsibility for accounts with $400 million in billings. Another TBWA/Chiat/Day executive put the figure at around $300 million.

INITIAL PROJECTS

Among Black Box's first projects are an Earth Day Network commercial and ads and content for an unidentified Internet Web site.

The recent series of people moves come as the Los Angeles advertising market, the nation's third largest with 1998 billings of $8.3 billion, according to Advertising Age estimates, is experiencing something of a creative resurgence.

"In the early '80s, creatives would die to work in Los Angeles," said Terry Balagia, executive creative director at D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Los Angeles. But after the early '90s recession and the emergence of San Francisco as a creative hot spot, the city went on life support, Mr. Balagia said.

L.A. RISING, OR IS IT?

Now, with the re-emergence of TBWA/Chiat/Day under Mr. Clow, a strong economy, a flood of dot-com dollars and the success of shops such as Deutsch, some say the market is bouncing back. But the idea of a Los Angeles renaissance does have its skeptics.

"L.A. as a town has been down and San Francisco, up," said John Stein, exec VP-creative director, Dailey & Associates, West Hollywood. If anyone says otherwise, he added, "It's Hollywood hype."

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