Many conversations about Crispin Porter + Bogusky in 2008 began and ended with one big mouthful of a word starting with an "M" and ending with a "soft." But other words were perhaps more significant in summing up the agency's contribution to the advertising world over the past year. Among them: Design. Utility. And Freakout.
The agency was as prodigious as ever in 2008, and as innovative. It produced a few of the most important bits of brand creativity of the year, and, equally important, it continued to evolve the idea of what an ad agency can be.
In the modern age of advertising, CPB, love it or hate it (and the agency is unrivalled in the amount and intensity of antipathy it arouses) came to represent the New Ad Agency, the idea-centric, media-inclusive, integrated creative factory whose brand campaigns feed from and create popular culture. The shop has long been recognized for incorporating media into its creative thinking and solutions and for embracing digital (CPB has twice been named digital agency of the year at Cannes, and with the acquisition of Texture Media this year, becomes a more all round digital player, producing more of its interactive work in house). Now, as more brands are realizing the benefits of a holistic creative approach, where design and communications are as one, the agency is once again doing the work to continue to evolve as a brand creativity partner -- a full service agency in the truest sense. The shop has been building an industrial design discipline, developing its own products and weaving design thinking into its client relationships, new and old (read about CPB's design efforts here).
All of this has gone on while CPB has added big clients and staff and completely shifted its polarity with a second, fully formed agency location. Launched in early 2006, CPB's giant Boulder office is now home to 550 staffers (including the shop's creative leadership and, it should be noted, an "extreme concierge," a full time tender of wheels and boards). Earlier this year, creative chief Alex Bogusky stepped... not aside, exactly, but diagonally upward, to assume the role of co-chairman, elevating Rob Reilly and Andrew Keller to co-ECDs and overseers of all client work. Both shifts have, so far, yielded continued success for the agency. Keller calls the past year one "of the most exciting on record." The agency grabbed two giant accounts this year with Microsoft and Old Navy (also adding Hulu, Save the Children and headset maker Aliph) and has remained a consistent performer by the main standards used to measure agency work—cultural penetration, awards and business results.
By all of those measures, the agency authored perhaps the most successful campaign of the year. With "Whopper Freakout," CPB and Smuggler director Henry-Alex Rubin perpetrated a cruel ruse on patrons of a pair of Las Vegas BKs—leading them to believe that the chain's famed sandwich was off the menu. Reactions among duped customers, were, predictably, extreme, and they were captured and included in an online film and cut into a series of TV spots. The campaign elicited an almost equally extreme response among the viewing public. The original Freakout had over a million unique visitors, and numerous pages of Freakout parodies litter YouTube, the pinnacle of which is "Whopper Freakout, Ghetto Version," with four million plus views and counting. Awards followed—including a Cannes Integrated Lion and, lest there be any doubt about the link between critical success, audience engagement and results, the campaign generated numbers to make any CMO freak the f*ck out—sales of the Whopper increased by double digits over the previous year, overall same store sales increased significantly, and the campaign was the most recalled in the history of campaign recall being measured.
With the burger world ablaze, the agency crossed the food court and added some heat, or at least some nifty utility to the pizza category. The Domino's BFD (Big Fantastic Deal) Pizza Builder was created, in house, in February this year, and allowed customers to assemble and view, name and register, and of course order their custom pies online. With the agency's Pizza Tracker, expectant pizza creators could also follow their future meal through its entire lifecycle—from receipt of order at the local Domino's, through preparation, to arrival at the front door via a delivery person they could identify by first name. More recently, the agency took pizza accessibility even further, launching TiVO-based ordering. That's correct—forget actually moving from your recliner. An entire world of pizza delights was now yours with a few almost imperceptible thumb movements. Never has an agency made fast food ordering so compelling or so easy (so onlookers could collectively be excused for noting the irony of Bogusky penning his own weight control book this year, The 9-Inch Diet).
For the launch of VW's entry into the most unsexy minivan category, the Routan, CPB recruited Brooke Shields and posited a baby boom, with families spurred to procreate in order to legitimize their purchase of the German engineered grocery getter. The campaign was capped with an irresistible web component, the Routan Baby Maker, where visitors could preview what the fruit of their and a real or fantasy partner's loins would look like.
The agency created another amusing online pastime with the Coke Zero Rooftop Racer, a rather challenging NASCAR-themed game where players race driver Elliott Sadler's car while attempting to keep the Coke Zero on its roof from sliding off.
The year was not without its disappointments. Nike, for example, proved a bit of a non starter for the agency. The marketer tapped CPB in mid-2007 based, ostensibly, on its desire to work with a more digitally-driven partner, but the relationship didn't produce any breakthroughs, digital or otherwise. After a big but pretty forgettable spot and the creation of some good looking branded zines for Nike Sportswear, the two companies parted ways. CPB has always been known for opinion baiting work—like the agency, like it or not, it gets discussed—but the Nike work was the exception.
And then there's Microsoft. Along with a $300 million piece of consumer products business the software giant brought unprecedented scrutiny to the agency. Here was a lumbering behemoth with an abysmal marketing track record, seemingly on a downswing, touting an almost terminally maligned product (Vista). This was surely too big a mouthful for even underdog loving CPB to digest.
Well, the meltdown of agency culture that's foretold whenever CPB wins a big piece of business (onlookers predicted the worst when the agency won Burger King and VW) once again didn't happen as a result of Microsoft. But, equally, it's hard to say if the agency will be able to have its usual impact on this client.
The shop's ice-breaker famously paired Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld who co-starred in two peculiar, amusing web films. The films and the stars elicited mixed reactions and, perhaps more to the point, an avalanche of internet talk. Agency creatives called the films a "palette cleanser" and they were—they demanded attention, they created a dialogue around Microsoft, and, for many, they created a different, more positive energy around the company. And then, Bill and Jerry went away and the "I'm a PC" campaign launched. The ads featured a global cast of real people and celebrities of varying renown, all proudly declaring their membership in the impugned Microsoft majority. They were an earnest rejoinder to the long slap in the face that has been Apple's "Mac vs. PC" campaign and on that basis were rather unexpected. Predictably, reaction among ad types has been harsh, but in the real world, the campaign has gone over fairly well. At the very least it has established something resembling a tone of voice for Microsoft and given the software maker's own army of staffers something to rally around.
We, and everyone else, will eagerly anticipate the next Microsoft gambit. In the end, though, Microsoft didn't loom that large in our decision to make CPB agency of the year. A much more decisive factor was the agency's consistent knack for pushing the boundaries of what an ad agency can be.
Read more on CPB's design endeavors, another key factor in their selection.
Read about the things from 2008 Crispinites found thrilling in Unleashed.
The Other Achievers
The Runner Up
Goodby, Silverstein & Partners was, by a vanishingly slim margin, our runner up for agency of the year. The agency distinguished itself yet again with a wide range of impeccably produced, engaging work. Among the highlights: "There Can Only Be One" for the NBA, the simple split screen campaign that became a cultural touchstone in 2008, picked up on SNL, the cover of Time and many other high profile entities. For Milk, GSP conjured hair rock god White Gold, and for Doritos, it conceived one of the most talked about sites of the year, the horror show Hotel 626. For HP, the shop created the MTV show Engine Room and enlisted designer Vivienne Tam to create a special edition laptop. For Nintendo, a banner for Wario Land that literally shook the foundations of YouTube. The agency also did good, with its "Help the Honeybees" campaign for Häagen-Dazs, which brought awareness to the plight of our disappearing bombus brethren and a series of video and print/outdoor initiatives for the Obama campaign.
Wieden + Kennedy once again created some of the most beautiful spots of the year including the Super Bowl winner "It's Mine" for Coke and Nike "Fate." It rounded out the year with work for Old Spice, Career Builder and a sweet EA viral with Tiger walking on water that turned an apparent game glitch into much online respect.
We're suckers for dogs, so TBWA/Chiat/Day had us at the heart-melting Pedigree Adoption Drive. The agency also pulled off the very difficult trick of reinventing Absolut with the expanding "In an Absolut World" campaign (together with Great Works), continued its winning ways for Apple with more delicious spot and banner installments of "Mac vs. PC" (including a bitchy rebuttal to Microsoft's "I'm a PC" effort) and did Skittles proud with the excellent "Pinata."
BBDO was the most awarded agency of the year for 2007's blockbuster "Voyeur" for HBO but the agency didn't coast in '08. It generated another awards killer with a series of spot beauties for Monster, some plot twisty spots for HBO, and, rounding out the year, a clever new take on the pie chart for The Economist.
Lastly, our 2007 agency of the year, Droga5, maintained its place as an outside the lines innovator, but this year also picked up a relatively huge new bundle of business including global AOR duties for Method and Puma and work for Guitar Hero, MTV, Coke, TNT and others (including adidas, which the agency had to resign when Puma signed on). D5's groundbreaking Million project—which makes learning tools out of mobile phones given to NYC public school kids—rolled out in pilot form this year. The shop also instigated The Great Schlep featuring Sarah Silverman and created online phenomena with Net 10 "Microwave" and the recent "Bike Hero" for Guitar Hero World Tour. A startup Sydney office now has 18 staffers and major accounts. Now, if the shop can only take beleaguered online shopping/entertainment experiment Honeyshed to viability...