×

Once registered, you can:

  • - Read additional free articles each month
  • - Comment on articles and featured creative work
  • - Get our curated newsletters delivered to your inbox

By registering you agree to our privacy policy, terms & conditions and to receive occasional emails from Ad Age. You may unsubscribe at any time.

Are you a print subscriber? Activate your account.

JURASSIC SPARK PAUL MEIJER CAME HERE FROM HOLLAND TO HELP MAKE THAT 'DINOSAUR' CALLED Y&R 'SEXY,' BUT RATHER THAN PRACTICE SAFE SEX, HE FOUND A NEW DUCHY-HE BECAME A DIRECTOR

By Published on .

LAST YEAR, YOUNG & RUBICAM/NEW YORK imported creative director Paul Meijer from its Amsterdam office to shake up the creative or "make it sexy," as Meijer puts it. The only problem is that before Meijer could turn up the heat, he found himself taking a cold shower. Not only didn't the ponytailed, motorcycle-jacketed recipient of close to a dozen Lions and Clios ever seem to mesh with the towering bureaucracy there, he was also never able to exercise his forte-creating and directing sexy, smart, often in-your-face commercials. As a matter of fact, he failed to get anything at all produced.

So it's not surprising that in October, less than a year after Meijer (pronounced MY-er) landed on Madison Avenue, he's reduced his role to that of a consultant and jumped to Spots Films, New York, to direct.

"It was just bad luck," explains Meijer, 42, of the ill-fated projects he worked on, such as a campaign for an upstart music television channel that was killed when its sponsorship fell through. His commitment to the agency consumed most of his time, he says, "and I wanted to go deeper into the craft of directing. I wanted to spend 70 percent of the time directing and 30 percent on the ads-I have to create a few things a year."

Ted Bell, Y&R's worldwide creative director, admits the agreement, which allows Meijer to create campaigns and direct spots for Y&R while shooting spots elsewhere, is unusual, but then again, "he's an unusual guy. He's sort of beyond the pale." In his two and a half years at PMSvW/Y&R in Amsterdam, an office with a creative staff of about a dozen, Meijer could easily juggle roles, Bell explains, adding that the New York office isn't set up to accommodate creatives who also direct.

Production companies have swarmed around Meijer since last year's Mazda campaign won at both Cannes and Clio; it includes a gripping spot in which a sleepy driver slams his car into a phone pole so he can use the inflated air bag as a pillow. But it wasn't until last August, when Meijer was on leave in London directing a campaign for an international nonprofit group, that he took the bait. When he heard about the chance to direct a spot for British Airways and Saatchi & Saatchi/London, "I was like a horse in a stable," Meijer says as he offers a comic impression of a thoroughbred ready to bolt from the starting gate.

Created and produced in less than three weeks for a discount fare promo, the spot, which aired for five days in August, was one of the most successful in the airline's history, triggering 45,000 phone calls the night it broke. Shot in tight POV, the spot dawns in "Twilight Zone" eeriness when a business man wakes up one morning to find his wife gone and the fish tank empty. He dashes to work, discovering the train station and his office are deserted. Finally we see the exasperated fellow as a speck from above, stumbling onto a vacant street and wailing an anguished "Where is everybody?" The spot cuts to a salsa tune and title cards announcing cheapo fares to Rio, Rome and other inviting locales.

S&S copywriter Keith Bickel and art director Carlos Anuncibay say Meijer's ability to collaborate closely with them was crucial for their tight deadline. "He understands the point of view as if he were part of the team," explains Bickel, adding that Meijer's reel showed an ability to build dramatic tension, something essential to pulling off the spot's punchline.

While Meijer calls the commercial a simple director's interpretation, it's indicative of many of the spots he created in Amsterdam; work imbued with subtle humor, and a frank sensuousness that would border on the politically incorrect in the States. A spot for Mennen cologne, in which Linda Evangelista mends a sock in a slinky dress, takes on the aura of a seduction, backed with suggestive lyrics and evocative closeups.

"I always try to do something that has to do with life and entertainment," he explains. Each of the Mazda spots, for instance, deal with human relationships or predicaments. Spots like "Air Bag," he adds, "could run easily here because it's a universal story." Other stylized spots on his reel, such as a series of erotic Droste chocolate commercials, he concedes might be too much for American standards. Shot in tight POVs, backed with screaming Jimi Hendrix-like chords, one spot shows a fussy baby who refuses to nurse when offered its mother's nipple. The woman eats a Droste chocolate and soon the baby is contentedly nursing.

Meijer's emphasis on entertainment has evolved from a career that's zig-zagged between television and advertising. Just out of college in Holland, he worked as a photographer's assistant and an assistant cameraman at a Dutch public TV station before crossing into advertising. Freelancing his way from pasteup artist to art director, he finally landed at DDB Needham/Amsterdam. After seeing Meijer continually boss around directors, an editor suggested that he direct the spots himself, which led to his first commercial for an insurance company. "I thought film was magic," he says. "That was why I took over shoots, and it was very frustrating for the directors."

After six years Meijer moved to London's Super Channel to help increase its youth appeal beyond MTV, he says, working on brainy programs in news, politics and fashion. He also developed a clever station identity program to A year later he returned to Amsterdam to become creative director at PMSvW/Y&R, where he began to compile an award-winning body of work, most notably a clever demo campaign for Sony that feature animals. In one, a seemingly horny crane gets turned on by the mating call of a prospective mate emanating from a Sony speaker. The only product message is contained in title cards that read: "The box," and "Natural sound by Sony." A Mazda spot, in which an old man gets sexually charged from driving his sports car, was hailed by Richard Kirshenbaum in a January '94 Creativity review as "ingenious framing and styling" of a concept that is "one of the best things on television." The evolving campaign scored equally well for the client's sales.

And while Meijer admits crossing the Atlantic was a big risk, he adds, "I learned more here in two months than I learned in a year in Holland-about the problems over here, and the behavior of clients and agencies."

Meijer had his misgivings about coming to New York as early as this spring. He had yet to direct anything here, and had not been assigned any major accounts. Trying to push work through the agency proved painstakingly slow and difficult at best. "I miss the open way of working," he lamented then. "We'd sit around all day and talk about ideas and strategies. There was a very positive energy, and here things are going much slower, maybe because the assignments are much bigger.

"Y&R is like a dinosaur, but then dinosaurs are in style," he quips. "It's a long process; you don't change an agency overnight. I didn't come here to change myself. I came here to help change Y&R/New York."

One way he felt he could reinvigorate the agency was to work closely with juniors, so midway through his tenure he created the "creative jam sessions," brainstorming with young teams on new business and campaigns as he did in Holland.

Indeed, Meijer's boomer roots haven't busted up his Gen-X rep at all. Shortly before leaving Amsterdam last year, in fact, he directed a Sony spot that explores the aimless boredom of twentynothingness. Set to a driving guitar track, a dead ringer for James Dean pulls his motorcycle into his girlfriend's backyard, where she is swimming in the pool. When her mom isn't peeking out the back window, he drives his bike off the diving board and into the water. The Gidget beauty swims complacently by, her sunglasses and hairdo unruffled. "Never, ever get bored," goes the tag, as a boombox looms underwater and a detached hand appears to turn it on.

While Meijer is already bidding a few jobs in Europe, his European style is still untried in the States, where his reel has just started circulating. But he's not the least bit homesick. In Holland "I was big fish in a small pond," he says. "Here, I'm a little fish competing with bigger fish. But that's cool, and

In this article:
Most Popular