IdeaConference

TBWA/Chiat Day/Los Angeles

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It was just hours after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, and Margaret Midgett, then a freshly hired assistant at TBWA/Chiat/Day/Los Angeles, went to work. Not surprisingly, she was the only one in the office that day. Seven years later, Midgett questions the wisdom of showing up to answer the agency's phones amidst toppled office chairs, scattered X-acto knives, and trembling aftershocks. "It was the very beginning of my Chiat/Day career," she recalls. "And it could have all been over pretty quickly."

But Midgett's career has gone just fine, thank you - and these days, the only thing that's earth-shattering is her work, which includes the recent groundbreaking campaign for Earthlink. Midgett, now 30 and an art director at Chiat/Day, teamed with copywriter Jeff Maki and art director Chuck Monn, both 27, to spearhead the Internet service provider's latest ads.

"Earthlink's customer base is very intelligent," claims Maki. "They're explorers - people who go away from the status quo." Accordingly, the team chose to celebrate discovery with revolutionary thinkers in history, namely Galileo, Magellan and Darwin. Anchored by irreverent taglines like "Speed up evolution" and "Curiosity never killed anything," the ads effectively link the personality of the ISP with the ingenuity of its customers. The TV campaign expands this theme with loose two-tone animation of real-life discoverers - Web navigators themselves - who muse about blazing trails through the Internet. (In one spot, two teenage girls declare: "It kinda like transports you to a different world" as they morph into astronauts). With fat black lines on a burnt-orange background, the ads establish a definitive (and needed) identity for Earthlink, which previously lacked public awareness. "They're the second biggest ISP in the country [behind AOL], yet no one knew who they were," says Midgett, who reveals the campaign was conceived and executed in just a few weeks. "We went with the orange and black to make a statement in a simple way. It's managed to garner instant recognition for the company."

Not to mention for themselves. The threesome, having also collaborated on a campaign for ABC and on ads for the Digital Entertainment Network and the Olympics, is one of Chiat's up-and-coming teams. Midgett and Maki began their careers with the industry heavyweight (Midgett as an assistant for CCO Lee Clow); they earned their stripes through late nights and endless pitches. Monn, a college buddy of Maki's at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, came on board after a stint at WongDoody. The trio quickly forged a friendship and, as Monn frames it, "the three-headed team was born."

And just how do they work together? Midgett, Maki and Monn - who describe themselves as "the brains", "the cute one", and "bigger than the other two" respectively - believe the three-way dynamic is the key to their success. "After meeting, we go off on our own and then [later] bounce ideas off each other. Chuck usually comes up with the crazy stuff," explains Maki. Monn gives a slightly different rationalization for the importance of the triumvirate: "Jeff is such a prolific writer that he needs two art directors at his beck and call." And Midgett offers yet another version of the process behind the creative triangle: "We basically just fight like brothers and sisters."