Despite those who see it as primarily a comedy shop, New York-based Cliff Freeman & Partners does not simply reflect popular culture; it tries to lead the way. In these increasingly testy times-think pregnant chads, "Survivor" and the XFL-the shop's work often has a hard-edged aggressiveness.
For example, the ads for sandwich shop chain Quiznos showed young men rescuing sandwiches from sidewalks and wrestling them away from dogs-not flattering, but hilarious.
Its current creative ethos calls for compelling, risky work that sometimes jibes with the brand and sometimes doesn't. Its campaign for Churchs Fried Chicken, which positioned the chain as an alternative to bad home cooking, was seen as mean-spirited by some.
Critics condemned its "Family Reunion" commercial, in which the absence of Coke causes a crusty old matriarch to go on a rampage. While eventually pulled, it showed that the agency can convince a blue-chip client like Coca-Cola to do something daring. On the flip side, a later Coke campaign aimed at teens and young adults was almost lyrical, featuring wordless shots of kids dancing all night or watching the sun rise.
The agency rounded off the year with several promising wins, including Hardee's Food Systems, Mike's Hard Lemonade and Go.com. It resigned Office.com due to a conflict with Staples and lost Churchs Chicken and Quixi. The shop won about $260 million and lost $70 million in billings, ending the year with a total billings figure of $500 million.
Coke executions for the 2001 NFL season are said to be among the agency's best work. And the shop is already sinking its teeth into Hardee's. While the agency has extensive fast-food experience, this is only the second hamburger chain Mr. Freeman has worked for. The first was Wendy's International back when he was at Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, New York, for which he penned the now-legendary line, "Where's the Beef?"
Last year's rating: 3