It's either bravery or insanity that would cause one to tackle the 50 million-pound iGorilla that is Apple's music machine, but Microsoft's J Allard has been put in charge of doing just that. As he demonstrated on his last project�a videogame console you may have heard about called the Xbox�he is one of a few proven giantslayers in the world of entertainment technology. Back in 1999, when word got out that Allard had convinced Billy Gates and Co. to take on the mighty Sony PlayStation, many people called them outright crazy. But considering that the Xbox had outsold the PS2 by late 2004, and that the Xbox 360 has usurped's PlayStation's status as the go-to broadband-enabled console, many a curious eyebrow was raised at Allard's latest adventure, called the Zune. Apart from its anti-iPoddish retro design, the key difference between the devices of Allard and Apple is the Zune's WiFi-enabled technology, which allows users to share songs. And it's this difference that Microsoft seems bent on exploring in order to carve out its own space on the MP3 player landscape. Tech talk aside, perhaps the most inspired idea behind the Zune launch was its conscious inclusion of musicians and artists in both its development and promotion. Instead of picking a fight with the iPod head-on, the Zune chose to work its way in from the fringes. Given his big-picture proclivities, expect Allard to go several steps further with the device and orchestrate connectivity in the broader sense, in which Zune isn't just a music player but a link in Microsoft's entertainment chain. A scan of Xbox skepticism from the past is eerily familiar to that aimed at the Zune today (though granted there wasn't a brown XBox to act as a joke magnet). But if the same precedent of technology and patience is applied to the Zune as was the Xbox, Allard may again have the last laugh.
Dante Ariola, Director, MJZ
Winning the Directors Guild of America Award for commercials achievement earlier this year capped a stellar 2006 for Ariola. The four-time DGA nominee and Brooklyn native was recognized on the merits of Travelers' "Snowball" from Fallon/ Minneapolis, which brought the Katamari Damacy concept of an ever-increasing ball of objects Stateside; Johnnie Walker's "Android" out of BBH/London, a monologue delivered by a robot channeling Blade Runner's Roy Batty; and Coca-Cola's "First Taste" from Wieden + Kennedy/Amster-dam, a fun spot in which a retirement home geezer sips a Coke and begins to embrace life, getting tattoos, going off the high dive and hooking up with twin senior hotties. All podemonstrate the continuing evolution of Ariola's often mysterious, sophisticated style.
Says Ariola: "I feel more at home with any kind of storytelling, which has become a word in quotations, than with shooting a visual thing where you have to create tone or message just with visuals. Telling a story is an easier way to get a response or a laugh."
Jamie Barrett and Steve Simpson, Partners/Creative Directors, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners
Creativity's 2006 Agency of the Year, GS&P has been in a transitional stage for some years now, as so many agencies have. But last year they put it all together with cross-platform work for clients like Hewlett-Packard, Comcast, the California Milk Processor Board and Saturn. With no less than half the shop's creative output being nontraditional work, Jeff Goodby called it an agency "renaissance," led particularly by high-profile efforts for HP and Comcast. Steve Simpson says, "My favorite project of the year was 'The Computer is Personal Again' campaign. It's a global campaign for the one major division of HP we'd never worked for before, and it's been a draw for brilliant creative talent, both inside and outside the agency." It was also an amazing demo of celeb borrowed interest, with the magnetic Jay-Z to the fore, without ever showing the face of a celeb. The 2006 hit list included integrated campaigns for Comcast, with the outstanding "Comcastic" site and the comedy of the "Slowskys," not to mention the Milk Board's elaborate PlanetInNeed.com and CowAbduction.com; nor one can overlook the Google Earth-assisted "250,000 Mile Test Drive" for Saturn. Even smaller clients like Specialized bikes and Adobe got a big online treatment, the former with "Ride in Theater," the latter with "The Creative Mind."
Jamie Barrett on his proudest accomplishment of 2006: "Helping to redefine the agency and to some extent redefining myself. I'm a relatively old horse who was led to nontraditional water, and I drank. A creative director can no longer be a specialist. With all due respect to my first mentor, Tom McElligott, where is he?"
Steve Simpson on his proudest accomplishment of 2006: "Seeing the agency win recognition for the diversity of our work across all media. We've been doing it for longer than people think, but the recognition is nice, if a little late."
Cliff "Cliffy B" Bleszinski, Lead Designer, Epic Games
Watch out, Master Chief�the overmuscled epitome of badassitude, Marcus Fenix, is coming up behind you with some sort of chainsaw bayonet. Xbox 360's Gears of Warhas firmly shoved the Halo franchise from its dominance on the console, shipping three million units in the 10 weeks following its initial November 2006 release, and wresting control of the top slot in Xbox Live from the Bungie shooter. The critically acclaimed Gears is the latest triumph for Cliff Bleszinski, aka Cliffy B, lead designer at Epic Games and a principal figure behind the developer's previous bestsellers in the Unreal series. The 32-year-old Massachusetts native is a guiding force in gaming, putting a brash public face on the murky and seemingly thankless tasks surrounding the creation of a game's universe. Once he'd finished executing his vision in the Gears world, Bleszinski took an active role in the marketing of the game, which broke through the clutter most notably with the arresting "Mad World" TV spot, a decidedly emo take on the blood and guts game.
On creating "Mad World": "It was its own brand of counter-programming in the way it juxtaposed the music and the visual atmosphere of the game. It was a very girlfriend-friendly kind of commercial, which stood out from any guitar and techno music thing that might pop up. What wound up happening was that 80 percent of the gamers loved it and 20 percent couldn't stand it, and those 20 percent remixed the damn thing and put it on YouTube, so we basically won them over as well. That's one of the crucial factors behind the marketing success of the game."
Alex Bogusky, Chief Creative Officer; Andrew Keller, Executive Creative Director, Crispin Porter + Bogusky
Bogusky and Keller did little in 2006 to waver from the style of advertising their shop is known for�brash, bold and game-changing. They continued to tango with forms outside of the standard ad fare, yielding more breakthrough work and innovative approaches to the agency-client relationship. Sprite got "SubLymonal" and became part of the Lost Experience alternate reality game. The "Safe Happens" campaign made realistic in-commercial car crashes fodder for the watercoolers, the blogosphere and the newsmedia, while the agency's equity partnership with clothing maker Haggar yielded some manly life lessons from "Pete and Red," prompting more talk of the brand than we've heard since shopping the husky department of Kohl's in 1992. Furthermore, the agency pushed the limits and challenged public opinion with the digital resurrection of icon Orville Redenbacher, ensuring CP+B remains the most polarizing ad agency on the planet. On top of all this, the agency moved into its new Boulder office and produced a series of low-cost Burger King Xbox games that have sold 3.2 million copies in five months�something Bogusky cites as one of his favorite projects of all time.
Bogusky on being culturally relevant: "We describe relevancy as being part of the conversation pop culture is having with itself. There are pretty tight parameters in what we [as a culture] accept and don't accept, and the things that we accept in that process are dynamic and create a lot of talk."
Keller on the move to Boulder: "It really just gives the agency the feeling it can accomplish anything. It's important for us to take action and do unique things because it helps us build our own belief system. When someone says 'I don't know if we can get a TV commercial produced for that amount of money in that time, I say, 'Someone here was able to create an agency and move everyone out here in 10 months.' And that's the sort of thing that inspires me."
You don't have to like his music; you might be inclined to roll your eyes when he appears on your TV; perhaps you even have some strange qualms about U2 relocating to Amsterdam for tax purposes. But the artist and activist known as Bono is due credit for building a new kind of rock star brand. While other celebrities are flashing their bits and generally seeming to exist only to drive the schadenfreude-fueled fame economy, Bono leveraged his public face to bring attention and funds to those furthest removed from his privileged ilk. With Project Red, Bono has created a way to turn brands into goodwill by harnessing Western consumers' unstoppable buying urge. Bono became vocal on global humanitarian issues, founding DATA (Debt, Trade, AIDS, Africa) in '02 with Bobby Shriver. The U2 founder launched Project Red with Shriver in '06 to mobilize private-sector dollars, signing on marketers like Gap, Apple, Motorola and Converse to develop, promote and sell (Product) RED products, contributing a portion of sales to AIDS programs. Critics cite RED's disappointing marketing budget-to-money raised ratio, but the effort has raised huge awereness and marked an innovation in brand-related giving. With wife Ali Hewson and jeans guy Rogan Gregory, Bono also launched Edun, a clothing line that actually looks good and does good for developing economies. The three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee calls it "conscious commerce." We call it the tip of the socially responsible marketing iceberg and an important, if imperfect, model for big-picture creativity.
Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Founders, Google
Is it better to be loved or feared? Yes. Along with a little skepticism over the YouTube deal, Google continued to generate more awe, more terror, more envy and, well, more dollars than just about any online entity on the brand scene last year. The web Goliath's revenue grew 67 percent in the fourth quarter of '06, but that's hardly the point. After establishing itself, once again, as the master of all search engines and remaking the online ad-selling business, Google branched out into print ads and radio�building its dMarc ad platform last year. TV should be next, though the plans Google began making with big media in '06 to license content and resell TV ad inventory have been troubled. The company also mixed and mingled with advertisers and strengthened its bond with the agency creative community, offering up nifty ideas for using various Google toys. In one famous instance, Google approached its Goo brethren Goodby, Silverstein & Partners with ideas for making its Google Earth technology (up until then primarily used by slack-jawed surfers to zero in on the backyard of the house they grew up in) useful for marketers. The result was Goodby's fun and effective "250,000 Mile Test Drive," wherein viewers clicking on a banner could zoom through Google Earth all the way into their local Saturn dealership, where they could meet the real dealer and take a digital test drive. Google also worked with Nike and AKQA/London on the brilliant "Run London" site, which features a RouteFinder component whereby runners build and share bespoke trails with the help of Google Maps. It also partnered with Nike, on the football-themed social networking site, "Joga." And, of course, Google continued to be an innovator's moistest, geekiest dream, with initiatives like "20 percent time," where workers may devote a day a week to side projects (a policy which has, of course, yielded many of the company's new products).
Richard Bullock and Andy Fackrell, Executive Creative Directors, 180 Amsterdam
When 180 opened its doors in Amsterdam in 1988, it was haunted by some pretty serious controversy. Its founding partners, Wieden/Amsterdam alums Chris Mendola and Alex Melvin, former execs on the Nike account, had gotten the boot from their previous shop reportedly on suspicion of courting Nike's biggest competitor, adidas. But whether they were moonlighting or not is just dust on the history books at this point, since the agency, true to its name, pulled a 180 and went on to conceive some of the most remarkable advertising for that very brand, like the elegant "Wake Up Call" and the much lauded "Impossible is Nothing" global campaign, created with TBWA/San Francisco. Last year, under the leadership of ECDs Andy Fackrell and Richard Bullock, 180 launched the massive World Cup "+10" campaign, enlisting soccer pros to go out and form their own amateur teams, which went on to play in genuine exhibition matches. To pull it off, 180 played ringleader to about 50 partner agencies, just one example of how the shop has made art out of the tag team. In November, it joined forces with BBDO/N.Y. to win the U.S. Sony Electronics business, soon after which it ended its indie status and joined the Omnicom network. Then 180 was at it again, teaming with Hakuhodo to win Sony's global branding work. In December, the shop also opened its first outpost in L.A.; according to an agency representative, it will have 40-plus staffers by year's end.
Bullock on the relationship between creativity and real business: "It's like two north magnets that are constantly being pushed together but try and force themselves apart. It's our job to keep pushing them together."
Juan Cabral, Creative Director; Richard Flintham, Executive Creative Director, Fallon/London
After unifying Sony's electronics marketing under the "Like no other" line and bestowing the unforgettable "Balls," unto the adworld, Fallon/London didn't think to rest. Instead, in 2006, the agency shot straight into "Paint," an idea conceived in tandem with its beloved predecessor. As if choosing to throw off the mantle of a sophomore slump with sheer magnitude, Fallon and Academy Films' Jonathan Glazer executed what surely was the year's largest advertising spectacle, unleashing onto a sleepy Glasgow tower block a fireworks show of paint�70,000 liters of it, along with several hundred pounds of explosives. Fans populated YouTube and Flickr with video and photos shot from the set�Cabral got an e-mail from a friend in Argentina with video from the shoot before he had even seen the dailies. Beyond that, coming off its 2006 Outdoor Grand Prix-winning campaign for the Tate Britain, the agency conceived an inventive way to lure young visitors to the Tate Modern with the "Tate Tracks" campaign, enlisting underground musicians to compose original tunes inspired by an artwork of their choice. Meanwhile, Fallon won a dogfight pitch for Orange, and its first efforts for the client�a series of quirky, touching spots directed by Fredric Planchon, Dougal Wilson and Ringan Ledwidge�look promising.
Flintham on 2006: "Thankfully, quite naturally, we fell into the process of it being a conversation rather than a very stringent brief at the beginning of lots of projects. When we took a couple of steps back, we actually realized we had a lot of people around us who were all thinking differently."
Cabral on "Paint" as an event: "We were there in Glasgow for two days, there were clouds, you had 200 people just sitting waiting, the camera's pointed at these monstrous things with paint about to explode, but nobody knew whether it would work or not. It felt like Lost in La Mancha�we might have wound up with half an ad. But I think people would still like that half an ad. I like the fact that we got ourselves into that situation, and I'm glad that the client allowed himself to believe in that illusion."
Brian Carmody and Patrick Milling Smith, Executive Producers, Smuggler
Ambition, daring, nimble creative approaches and a family-like culture are the building blocks of this production dynamo, founded five years ago by former Satellite head of sales Brian Carmody and producer Patrick Milling Smith. The shop has rapidly grown from spitfire startup to one of advertising's most respected and sought after production players, known for bringing ingenuity and high-end creative to the job�from both its directing and its production talents. Last year was an especially fertile one for the Smugglers, yielding the Cyber Grand Prix-winning viral hoax "Still Free" for Marc Ecko and Droga5, shot by Randy Krallman, and featuring the mysterious tagger who makes his mark on the President's jet. Other moments of note came from Happy, who were behind the bizarre, possibly seizure-inducing "SubLymonal" campaign for Sprite and another green frenzy for adidas' adicolor podcasts; Brian Beletic was at the top of his game channeling MJ through various young athletes for Brand Jordan, while Ivan Zacharias turned up for adidas, Vaseline and Nike, as well as a Diet Coke extravaganza that debuted during last month's Oscars. Meanwhile, the company has been venturing online with Droga5, developing a brand-driven content portal set to go live in the spring.
Patrick Milling Smith, looking back: "I can't think of many things I would have done differently. The naivete at the beginning served us well; we weren't set in any habits of doing things. I'm also glad that we only invited people in the company that we actually wanted to spend time with. I could not imagine working in a business this hectic with people you were not genuinely friends with."