Graf himself was early in the evening trying to fight back tears, and said that the idea to throw a funeral came from his employees, which made him feel like a “proud father.” He said later to the room, running the agency was “fun and it was really, really, really hard.”
“We were independent from investors, we were on our own, [we had] the constant fear of trying to come up with a great idea,” Graf said. “It was just hard, hard, hard.” Yet, "I think we made a special place,” Graf said, “a place that was different than any other place. We definitely did not do what were told.”
That last sentence elicited a chuckle from Walt Frederiksen, senior director of advertising at Little Caesars. Barton F. Graf began work on the Little Caesars account in 2012 and would go on to instill offbeat comedy into the brand’s campaigns, inspired by ads like 1989’s “Origami” from Cliff Freeman. Some of Barton F. Graf’s most recognizable work for the company featured consumers rejoicing over the brand’s $5 Hot-N-Ready pizza, along with other surprising things, like fish and a dachshund. The shop is credited with bringing the brand’s bizarre personality beyond TV to other platforms. Such work included an app that wrapped users’ Twitter feeds in bacon and an integrated campaign that invited consumers to lash out on social media at an inexperienced Little Caesars exec for taking away its Bacon Wrapped Crust Deep! Deep! Dish pizza.
Little Caesars is now searching for a new creative agency.
Some of the estimated 200 mourners included the walking dead—Barton F. Graf's current employees, who are wrapping up a few projects before the doors close—and some of Graf's former colleagues and peers including BBDO Chairman and Chief Creative Officer David Lubars; McCann Worldgroup Global Creative Chairman Rob Reilly; Collins Chief Creative Officer and Founder Brian Collins; and Agnes Makush Daly, a founding member of Barton F. Graf and now head of creative management and recruiting at Mother. Graf’s wife and son were also there—his daughters sent him texts, which Graf jokingly said he knows they only sent at their mothers’ prodding. (Daughters seem to provide a certain sense of humility to their creative fathers. Droga5 Founder and Chairman David Droga recalled during his keynote at Ad Age’s Small Agency Conference in New Orleans this year how when he showed off his Wall Street office, emblazoned with the family name and flag, to his son, he looked on in awe. His daughter, he said, told him to “take it down a notch.”)
“In an industry full of people who are all talk and no talent, Gerry Graf is all talent,” Collins said. “On one side it’s sad to see this chapter close but on the other side, I can’t imagine what’s next for him. He’s the real thing in the world that needs more real things.”
Graf told Ad Age he’s not sure what is next as of yet, he has “some time to think about it.” But what he did at Barton F. Graf was “worth it.”
“We never played it safe,” Graf said to the crowd. “Everyone says you have to play it safe so you don’t die … whoops. So we died, but what a fucking life, right?”