YOU KNOW SOMETHING'S UP WITH Simple shoes as soon as you look at the Simple catalog; they have models called the Wannabe, the Dweeb and the Mailman. Then there's the ad headlined, "They're just shoes," with a modest shot of something shoeish and callouts like "Top part" and "Bottom part." The copy: "There's no advertising agency, no video production studio, no marketing department, no copywriters, no art directors ....Just leather, rubber and some foam .*.*. anything more is just hype." The fine print under the simple Simple logo reads, "This ad was built using Quark and Photoshop on a Mac IIci with a six-pack of Samuel Adams, an egg salad sandwich and an acid jazz compilation CD."
"The people we're appealing to have been pummeled by marketing for so long they're just numbed by most of it," explains Simple president Eric Meyer, based in Carpinteria, Calif. While it's a familiar take on Gen X, Meyer has put his lack of money where his mouth is. "There's no Bartles & Jaymes here," he says. "Some think it's a made-up cam-paign, but this is all straight-up the truth."
Some say he who defends himself has a fool for a client, but Meyer, 32, seems to have an idiot savant for a creative director. A former skateboardin' dude and clothing and shoe designer at Vision, a California rad sports fashion company, Meyer, who was a design major at Cal Poly/San Luis Obispo (his hometown), indeed creates the ads on his Mac, places them himself and even drives them to the output house in his VW Beetle (yes, the DDB VW ads are his creative inspiration). And check out this tortuous approval process: "If I like it, if it makes me laugh, that's it."
Meyer launched Simple in '91 and started advertising in the trades in '92, but his simple Simple style didn't appear till early '93 in Details and Surfer. That first one was headlined "Advertisement," the copy was a string of "blah"s and the tagline was, "Marketing is just hype."
Well, things have gotten considerably more complicated since then, as '94 sales were up around 600 percent. He says he now makes about 14 ads for 14 different publications each month, double his '93 output-in a total of about six hours. "I just sort of ramble them off," he shrugs.
Sometimes he has help: an ad headlined, "Radiant love shoes," with a plain product shot of something that looks like an ordinary sneaker and copy like, "..... they are tender, luring, heated to extreme attraction by a ..... positive aura insert that radiates love affecting a radius of 6 feet around the 'happy wearer,'*" was written by his 75-year-old mother.
Though he made a deal with Deckers Outdoor Corp. in '93 (marketer also of Teva sandals), Meyer says it's no hassle, he retains complete creative control, and the Deckers people have never had any problem with his work anyway.
But what about the pale contrast his ads make with the typical MTV-styled Gen-X graphic frenzy? "Well, we sell that guy, but we also sell his dad," Meyer explains. "We're sold in action sports stores and more upscale stores. I don't want to ever put a human's face in the ad or tie myself to a demographic."
Nor is Meyer about to tie himself to an agency. They've been soliciting his business at the rate of about 10 a week, he says. "Everybody likes our ads and wants to do them for us. They don't seem to realize that that's the reason they shouldn't do them for us." Nor does he enter any awards shows. "I don't want to spread the ads around too much. I don't want to educate the hell out of everybody." And forget about television right now, even local cable. "It might make us look too big, even if the commercial was real 'simple.' Even if it looks cheap, many people will think it costs an arm and a leg just because it's there on TV. The window of opportunity has not opened for that yet-timing is everything." His radio so far has been limited to sponsorships. The general theory seems to be don't fix it if it ain't brogan. His media expansion to date consists of underwriting Moonlight Chronicles, a little quarterly book of drawings and musings by a mellow backpackin' dude. It's distributed free at coffee houses, clubs and the like, and is now lightly peppered with Simple ads.
But how long can Meyer keep up the creative pace? "It's not that bad," he says. "My wife and my friends throw ideas at me; I get ideas in the mail. And, yes, the format can wear out. It's not tired yet, but the potential is there, especially as this type of ad gets more and more popular. I have the next format pretty much nailed down anyway, but I won't change anything till I've heard from the public."
Meyer, who has Wired in his media plan, is working on a Web site with an online catalog, but he'll need to increase his staff, which is now no more than 10. He's also thinking about hiring an ad production person. "I'm getting a little