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TEAM WORLD: FOUR EXOTIC STOPS ON THE INTERNATIONAL CREATIVE TOUR

By Published on .

Young & Rubicam/Sydney's Dave Johnson and Jonathan Kneebone never dreamed that their spots for UV sunscreen would spark a controversy so irksome to the Colgate client's New York office that lawyers would stomp like storm troopers around Sydney, confiscating like contraband all copies of the three commercials.

Some believe that, had it not been for this tempest in a teapot, the spots would have won the Grand Prix at Cannes last summer. As many in the international ad community are aware by now, the campaign features a jolly group of black men who poke fun at whites for needing sunscreen in the first place. The blacks party hearty over their natural abundance of melanin, and jokingly apply sunscreen to the soles of their feet. Taglines include, "The next best thing to being black," and "Mother Nature must be black."

It didn't matter that sales rose to unprecedented highs or that the commercials' praises were sung by consumers and Australia's creative community alike. A handful of letters complaining about the work caused Colgate headquarters to come down hard (see Creativity, March 1996). The campaign disappeared forever, and the creatives have not been at liberty to discuss it since.

It was quite a debut for copywriter Kneebone, 31, and art director Johnson, 30, Englishmen who had arrived in Sydney a few months earlier from Howell Henry Chaldicott Lury in London. But, undaunted by the thought of what they could do for an encore, they've gone on to create more delightfully offbeat campaigns.

One, a series of radio spots for Foxtel cable TV network, has people calling in to a deranged Dr. Dream, who manages to find Foxtel-related symbolism in the totally nutty nocturnal meanderings that Johnson and Kneebone have dreamed up for the callers. When the campaign was breaking, and art was needed for a story about it in a local ad trade weekly, the creatives, always game for an adventure, traveled a few hours south of Sydney to stage a photograph of Johnson recreating one of the dreams. Dressed in a frog suit, Johnson stood in a pasture forcing a cow to eat a plate of baked beans at gunpoint.

Their most recent TV spots, for Club Keno gambling machines, which the team also directed, spoof infotainment TV shows, featuring moronic party animals, flush from hitting the jackpot, on madcap spender benders. As the hapless presenter looks on in bewilderment, they feed a dish from an expensive restaurant to the dog, buy all the toilet paper in town and pay a club bouncer $200 to kiss their feet, among other antics.

Those Club Keno spots, like the pair's other efforts down under, come off as totally Australian in tone and have the advantage of catching consumers by surprise. "They have a healthy disregard for advertising, and they share that with the large percentage of consumers," observes Tim Hall, senior copywriter at The Campaign Palace in Melbourne, of his former colleagues at Y&R/Sydney. "That's what consumers pick up, and consumers appreciate that freshness. They like to be subversive, and that gives their work an edge as well."

This has been the case since the two met at London's School of Communication Arts in the late 1980s. "It wasn't a comfortable match," remembers art director Johnson, a graduate of Bournville College of Art in Birmingham, while Kneebone had a B.S. in electronic engineering from York University. "I'd been through university and was a bit more conservative," says Kneebone of the odd match. "Dave had had a bit of a wild existence in Birmingham and lived in the real world. But we both had the same kind of outlook, in that we didn't want to do stuff that looked like advertising."

"We wanted to challenge people's views rather than reflect them," Johnson adds.

"Come at something from a slightly different angle which makes you reconsider it," rejoins Kneebone.

The campaign that became their first entry in the D&AD Annual in 1991 did all of these things. For DMB&B/London for the Royal Mail and designed to get teenagers to use the post more, the interactive magazine ads featured post cards with witty comments that teens could pull out and send to their friends.

Admirers of the work being done at Howell Henry, the creatives kept knocking on its door until the agency hired them in 1993. During their two and a half years there, they created campaigns for clients like Mazda, Tango soft drink and Mercury Communications. The team didn't particularly want to move to another London shop but became uncomfortably aware that they wanted to move on. "We could see where we were going to be in a couple of years' time," recalls Kneebone, "and we wanted to go somewhere where we wouldn't know where we'd be in a couple of years' time."

The solution was Australia, which they find more of a cultural learning experience than a professional one. "We've come here and tried to do Australia justice, as opposed to bringing our own attitudes to the place," Kneebone explains.

"If we do it right over here, people should feel uncomfortable with it when we show it back in England," adds Johnson.

Art director Tomas Lorente and copywriter Carlos Domingos couldn't fit better together-and that's especially important in an agency like Sao Paulo's DM 9, where inspiration is considered amateur's work. Agency president Nizan Guanaes, whose goal is quality creative production in industrial quantities, says, "They are a hell of a couple. Nothing is more tragic to young creatives than success. I'm very happy that Lorente and Domingos are good at dealing with it." Indeed, the pair already have a lot of top-shop experience and international awards under their belts. In his mere three years as a copywriter, Domingos, 26, has worked at J. Walter Thompson, W/Brasil, Lintas and DM 9, all in Sao Paulo, and among his awards are the Grand Prix at the Festival Ibero Americano de Publicidad in Buenos Aires, last year, Ad Age's Best Magazine Ad in 1994 and he was one of the most awarded copywriter in last year's New York Festivals.

Lorente, the senior partner at 34, has worked at Duailibi Petit Zaragoza, W/Brasil, Almap BBDO and finally DM 9. Another prodigious award-winner, he has collected prizes at the Art Directors Club of New York, the London Festivals and FIAP. When Lorente left BBDO to join DM 9 as creative director, it was only logical that he'd team up with Domingos, the agency's top writer.

"We naturally hit if off because we both love what we do, we're ambitious, and we both have an almost juvenile curiosity," says Domingos. Their work process is virtually Darwinian, as they describe it; to get to the 35th idea-the one that survives-there are 34 lesser ideas that have to die first. "Nothing is untouchable," says Lorente. "Everything is discussed and is in constant evolution."

Lorente describes himself as the print/poster/merchandising engine of the pair, while Domingos is more of a TV guy. Between them, they can really crank it out: Over the past year they produced a total of 25 commercials and 80 print ads.

One good example of how well they interact is the most recent campaign for Cuban tourism. Yes, Fidel's Cuba. With humor, they worked to change the island's negative image in Latin America. How about this headline: "Do what eight American Presidents couldn't do: Invade Cuba." Or, "You're allowed to get in and out. Enjoy it." Here's a doozy: "Catholics and evangelicals: Visit the atheists."

They also have some interesting takes on Maritima women's swimwear; a beautiful-seascape-and-bikini-babe print campaign has (agency-translated) headlines like, "It's out of jealousy that the sea wants to take off your swimsuit," and "This must be the reason why crabs move sideways and turtles move slowly."

You may be familiar with this spot: A spoiled brat offers his last Rolo to a baby elephant at the zoo, then snatches it away and swallows it at the last second with a devilish jeer. Fast forward 25 years and the boy-now an obnoxious adult-is standing beside a circus procession when the very same elephant knocks him silly with a swipe of its trunk. Tag: "Think twice about what you do with your last Rolo."

Never work with children or animals, runs the old adage, but no one told that to Marcel Frensch and Jan-Pieter Nieuwerkerk, the enterprising young team from Holland whose idea of a joke was to inflict a precocious schoolboy and an elephant on some unsuspecting director. The joke misfired, and the spot won the Grand Prix at Cannes. The two miscreant Dutchmen found themselves hoisted from cosy anonymity to the harsh glare of the media spotlight overnight, and now they have to pay the consequences.

They might have planned it that way, of course, but art director Frensch, 28, and copywriter Nieuwerkerk, 29, aren't letting on. "It was a huge surprise, like being told that you have won the lottery," says Frensch. They had received some preparation for the shock, though; the Rolo film had already won the Grand Prix at the Eurobest awards a few months earlier.

Frensch and Nieuwerkerk have a touching affection for the Nestle client. They made the spot for Ammirati Puris Lintas, but the decision to jump ship to rival IPG affiliate Lowe Kuiper & Schouten in February was clinched when they found it had some Nestle business. "This is one of the best creative agencies in Holland," interjects J.P., as the copywriting half is known to his friends. "We really like the creative work that's been done here for the last 10 years."

The two have been working together for just three years, a little longer than they've been in the ad business. They teamed up at the Academy in Rotterdam, where both were studying advertising, and are now inseparable, doing copy and layouts together, visiting the cinema together, and even-for a spell-living together when J.P. was having a rocky time with his girlfriend.

They disclaim any predisposition to humorous advertising, or any other particular genre, espousing the nerdish view that the style of advertising should be appropriate to the client. In Holland, there are a lot of food clients.

With a limited body of work available for perusal, pinning down any stylistic trademarks is tricky. But an eye for detail is certainly in evidence. In one spot, for Baksteen strawberry jelly, the Flintstonesque caveman dwelling is replete with carefully fashioned props, from the dinosaur fins on the dog's back to the crude utensils on the table. "We used a stylist who had the pieces sculpted out of a special plastic," says Frensch. For the opening credits, they designed a typeface out of bones.

"We think that the typography, the payoff, and everything has to link with the idea," he explains. The nearest they have come to the lavish, filmic, effects-driven work so vogueish in London and New York is a spot for ABN Amro bank, with some impressive space-age sequences. On the whole, though, they are left to salivate over the production budgets available elsewhere. "One of the great things about winning at Cannes," says J.P., "is that they were giving the award for the idea. Our film cost a lot less than some of the contenders, such as Nike's 'Good vs Evil.' "

It is a factor that inevitably makes the twosome ready to consider a sojourn overseas at some point, with the U.S. and the U.K. at the top of their wish list. They admire directors like Tony Kaye from afar, but they know he is beyond the kind of budget they can raise for most of their clients. Still, no one is getting downhearted here. They also have a patriotic pride in their national advertising output, whether it be Paul Mejer's "Amazing Mazda" spots or this year's Cannes Silver-winning film for Centraal Beheer insurance.

The pair claim to be workaholics, surfacing only occasionally to race go-karts, walk in the park for inspiration, or jam with their guitars inside the agency (this is Amsterdam, remember.) "Sometimes we even see our girlfriends and have to introduce ourselves again," jests Marcel. And no doubt they occasionally fight over who gets the last Rolo.

Once Finnish art director Oski Granstrom and writer Petri Pesonen decide on an idea, they don't shift gears. "If you're convinced that you're doing the right thing," Granstrom says, "there's got to be an army to make you change your mind."

Such tenacity probably explains how the pair has pulled off such an eclectic lineup of print and TV since pairing up four years ago at Hasan & Partners, a small creatively-driven agency in Helsinki.

Consider how Granstrom and Pesonen demonstrate that, oddly, "9 out of 6 women listen to Radio City," a local station, in a commercial that won a New York Festivals Silver. A sweeping view of scantily clad babes listening to portable radios while sitting in a line of open toilet stalls is interrupted by a stall with a filthy hag who's reading a magazine. After the listening statistic flashes in attractive titles, an aerial pass of the stalls shows that all the toilets are filled with bouquets of flowers except for the biddy's bowl, which is overflowing with fly-infested shit. Affecting surprise that such an execution might have trouble passing U.S. censors, Granstrom laughs and explains simply, "You have to stick out from the crowd."

Racy commercials certainly aren't the only style in their repertoire. They helped name and launch a liquor brand aimed at young women, aptly named So Long, in a tribute to a popular phrase women use to ward off barroom drunks. Then there's the thrashing nonconformity aimed at teens found in campaigns like Carrols fast food, which relies on Pop Art designs and nonsensical teenspeak to contrast with literal McDonald's ads. "Don't talk bacon-eat it. Bacon is the prettiest flower," reads the animated copy that gyrates to a frantic dance beat.

In the same vein is an international print campaign for Oxygen inline skates and snowboards. The ads look like scenes from a David Lynch movie in which people try to escape demented worlds; consider a Tupperware party where the guest's garish floral apparel clashes hideously with the floral decor.

Ami Hasan, agency president and creative director, is proud of his weird team. Granstrom owns a '58 Edsel convertible, Hasan points out: "Usually people own it because it's a rare car, and they want to preserve it's natural beauty-he has it painted like a World War II bomber with shark teeth."

Granstrom, 32, and Pesonen, 35, hit it off when they met in '89 at an Irish advertising festival, but they didn't work together till Pesonen joined Hasan & Partners in '92 from another small Finnish agency. They both skipped any formal advertising education. Granstrom decided to be an art director after high school but was rejected from art school three times, before he gave up and became a messenger. He began studying signage and design on his own, and eventually created his own typefaces. (Recently he was invited back to teach at the art school that rejected him, he says, adding smugly, "I won.")

Pesonen became a junior copywriter after leaving the army when he was 22 and worked his way around large and small agencies in Finland. He was working at Brindfors (now Lowe Brindfors) in '91, when he left with a group to co-found Hasan & Partners.

And while they work with other partners at the agency (Granstrom and another partner won a Bronze Lion for a Keiju margarine commercial in '96), they work frequently together, in a collaboration process that Granstrom can only describe as "irrational."

"We start with the most ridiculous things," says Granstrom, before moving into serious points of the campaign. "The process goes on and on, and then bang-there it is." Pesonen takes a more analytic approach. Getting ads approved isn't a problem, he says, because all their campaigns are based on research and clients are constantly updated on the work. But he's quick to add, "you shouldn't see that basic planning when you see the results, it should be invisible."

For instance, an award-winning Chap chocolate bar campaign is about two candy executives who present viewers with a string of hokey commercials-a plain teenager takes a bite from the candy bar and is transformed into the homecoming queen-trying in vain to come up with a decent campaign. The campaign, tagged "So far, without a commercial," is not only entertaining, it's also a jab at a competitor's corny candy bar campaign.

A common sense of humor and ardent beliefs about the business are two things that bind them. "Why does a client hire an ad agency to do a campaign and then cut corners until it's nothing?" Granstrom asks rhetorically. "It's a pile of compromises."

Hasan's not worried: "They're both advertising freaks-I don't think they could

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