Loose animals? On lower Broadway?
Michael Dweck shrugs. Sure, it's goofy, but not altogether lacking in purpose. The process by which he and partner Lori Campbell came up with this stuff-they also have flip-book business cards that feature dolphins jumping through hoops-"proved to us that we were thinking the same," Mr. Dweck says. "We were just being a couple of wisenheimers."
Now that's something you don't hear every day: An agency's mission statement, as articulated by Moe Howard. But make no mistake, the smart-aleck chic that this 21/2-year-old New York shop likes to exude has not been without its rewards. Currently billing $15 million, Dweck & Campbell has been quietly building a client roster that mixes obscure regional brands with names like Pepsi, Swatch, Showtime and Gordon's gin.
And while they're still Lilliputian by Manhattan standards, earlier this year they worked out a deal with nearby colossus Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising to handle Dweck's media planning and placement. Enlisting Saatchi's media muscle, as Mr. Dweck calls it, was a necessity-their billings for Bob's Stores, a casual clothing chain owned by the Melville Corp., could possibly double within the next year.
Wisenheimers or not, the image of barnyard critters scurrying through their offices could soon be replaced by planners, account executives and a business-side president with a gray-flannel pedigree. Still, the mugs and flip books speak volumes about their self-image.
"They say that it's not just advertising we want to be in," Ms. Campbell says. "We want to be in the business of doing ideas, any ideas that can build a business, because we're building our own."
Some of these non-advertising activities are sort of hard to describe in a traditional sense. For Brooklyn Bottling Co.'s Squeez'r and Ice Breezin', New Age drinks marketed under the Best Health brand, the agency isn't supposed to do any ads at all. Instead, they're charged with building a cultlike identity for the brand similar to that which sprang up around Snapple.
The methods for generating that buzz run the gamut from tried and true guerrilla tactics like street stencils and snipes to more outlandish stunts like wrapping buildings in giant inflatable fruits. (They're already into wrapping-one of their projects for Swatch calls for draping buildings in different cities with enormous watch mock-ups.)
Both Mr. Dweck and Ms. Campbell firmly believe that getting consumers to talk about the agency's clients is the first step in building a post-modern sense of brand identity-and if they have to be a little on the outlandish side to accomplish that, and if they can pull it off when working with tiny budgets, all the better.
Take the agency's first client, local retailer Giant Carpet. The shop's initial TV spot promoted a fourth of July sale, featuring alternating red, white and blue TV screens, goofy music and a funny voice-over.
"It cost us like 18 (cents) to produce, and we did it in 4 hours, but everyone was yapping about it," Mr. Dweck recalls. "And it just told us that that's what advertising has to be, especially in this town."
For Oak Tree Dairies-the last milk processor based on Long Island-the agency instigated a mini milk war with provocative print ads that tweaked processors in neighboring states; the ads featured grazing cows near nuke plant cooling towers and oil refineries.
Besides generating publicity in daily papers from Trenton, N.J., to Montauk, N.Y., what it also did was satisfy the brief: The client, Mr. Dweck says, "told us they wanted people to know who they were."
Mission accomplished, but not without a little residual benefit for the agency. Admits Ms. Campbell, "Our objective was to put ourselves on the map, simultaneously with putting our clients there."
Started in the fall of '92, neither Mr. Dweck nor Ms. Campbell opened their doors with particularly well-known reputations. Mr. Dweck, a Pratt Institute graduate, had put in brief stints at Young & Rubicam and Doyle Dane Bernbach in New York before starting his own shop in 1980. Ms. Campbell started at Grey Advertising, where she worked her way up from secretary to copywriter before moving to Lowe Tucker Metcalf (since absorbed by Lowe & Partners/SMS). At Lowe Tucker she was teamed with Sean Ehringer, now working on the "Got milk?" campaign at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco; Mr. Ehringer was freelancing for Mr. Dweck, and he introduced the two.
If anything, Mr. Dweck and Ms. Campbell make for an interesting couple. Given to muttering often hilarious asides under his breath during conversations, Mr. Dweck resembles Howie Mandel on diet pills; Ms. Campbell, with her mix of self-deprecating humor and downtown sensibility, seems his perfect foil.
Together they have a penchant for producing work that has an edge, but not necessarily an attitude: a TV spot for Giant Carpet promoting a '93 New Year's sale featured a shot of the White House with noisemaker sound effects while someone doing a George Bush impression trashes the carpets ("Let's see Hillary clean that up"). Another spot for New York menswear outlet BFO uses a Marky Mark lookalike at a photo shoot whose underwear posturing is interrupted by a guy on the set who hollers, "Whattsa-mattah, yuh can't afford a suit?"
Their best print work combines the same sense of mischief. An outdoor campaign for New York Magazine employs the tag "Where would you be without New York?" to appeal to both consumers and the agency media buying community; for Brigham's ice cream, a New England brand, they talked the client into running an outdoor board backwards so backed-up rush-hour motorists could read it in their rear-view mirrors.
Before doing a single ad for a paying client, the partners spent months producing an entire portfolio of spec work. The process helped them define not only what they wanted to be as an agency but how they would work together. Their easy rapport is fueled by a shared desire to do good work and not take things too seriously.
During a presentation for a cheese account that they ultimately didn't win, Ms. Campbell interrupted the proceedings to point out that there was a stick caught in Mr. Dweck's hair. (His mop, which he describes as being more like fur than hair, is a free-form force of nature that must be seen to be appreciated.)
With a full-time staff of 14 and a steady increase in clients and billings, prospects seem good for growth. Of particular value is the relationship with Saatchi, worked out earlier this year.
Allen Banks, exec VP-director of media, for Saatchi/North America, said he believes the Dweck deal will be mutually beneficial. While helping Saatchi begin to turn its media operation into a profit center, he adds, "I believe we can help them get more business. Clearly, they'll get new business based on their creative credentials, but if our media resources can back that up, that gives them the things they need most, and that's great."
Of course, it doesn't hurt that most of the agency's clients seem as delighted with Mr. Dweck and Ms. Campbell personally as they are with the agency's work. "Not only do they take a hands-on approach to understanding our business," says Russell Mackey, director of marketing for Brigham's Inc., "but we enjoy working with them. They're wacky and fun. This isn't a confrontational relationship, and I've had those with other agencies."
Up next for Mr. Dweck and Ms. Campbell is more of the ritual dance between agency and prospective client; as usual, these guys are doing it on their terms.
"We spend quite a bit of time before we accept a client-and they accept us-sitting across tables, and we almost interview them," Mr. Dweck says.
"I think every one of our clients has talked to at least two others" before hiring them, he points out. "We encourage it, just so that they can see the evolution of the relationship. It's almost like talking to an old girlfriend."
Dweck & Campbell
New York 10012
Principals: Michael Dweck, president; Lori Campbell, creative director
Billings: $15 million
Clients: Swatch, Sun Line Cruises, Gordon's vodka and gin, New York Magazine, Showtime Networks, Brigham's, Bob's Stores, Best Health Beverages, Pepsi-Cola Co.
From: New York
Family: Wife, Robin; children, Danielle and Jonathan
Lives: New York
College: Pratt Institute
Resume: Young & Rubicam (1979-80), DDB Needham (1980-81), Michael Dweck & Co. (1981-91)
Free time: Jarts
Last movie: "Police Academy 5"
Title: Creative director
From: Park Ridge, N.J.
Lives: New York
College: University of Colorado, Boulder
Resume: Lowe Tucker Metcalf (1987-90), Lowe & Partners (1990-91), Margeotes, Fertitta & Weiss (1991-92), BBDO, Frankfurt Gips Balkind (1992)
Last movie: "Police Academy 6"