Creative duo moves on to Y&R San Francisco

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Young & Rubicam San Francisco, which handles b-to-b clients VeriSign, ChevronTexaco Corp. and Hitachi, last month hired creative duo Brad Berg and Scott Larson. Both were given the title executive VP-executive creative director.

Berg and Larson have worked together as a creative team for 13 years, most recently as partners at XL, a San Francisco agency they founded in 2002. They started working together at Frankenberry Laughlin Constable, Milwaukee, in 1990, then moved to Foote Cone & Belding, Chicago, and eventually to FCB San Francisco.

They have worked on business-to-consumer and b-to-b accounts, including Gatorade, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Taco Bell, and have won numerous awards for their creative work.

At Y&R, which recently launched an initiative to elevate the quality of its creative work, they will oversee all creative for the San Francisco office and for Y&R’s sister direct marketing agency, Wunderman.

In a recent interview with BtoB, Berg and Larson discussed the importance of creative development in b-to-b advertising and what the industry could be doing better.

BtoB: How would you characterize the creativity of b-to-b advertising?

Larson: There is definitely room for improvement on purely creative standards. The b-to-b category is usually one of bigger-ticket items, with much more of a thought-out purchase structure. The need to convince [the buyer] in a very smart and relevant way is that much more important, but you still need to do it with surprise. That’s where creativity comes in. You have to create advertising that jumps out and grabs you with convincing and smart information.

BtoB: What are the challenges in positioning b-to-b brands today?

Berg: There is a lot more complexity in b-to-b brands. Buyers are buying not just for themselves but for a global network of individuals that will be touched by their decisions. You have to make things very clear and convincing. The products are so complex, you need to give [buyers] knowledge and arm them to make them feel they are making the right decisions.

BtoB: With the economy down, do you think there’s a tendency to forget about big creative ideas as long as clients are getting the results they want?

Larson: Absolutely, and that is from b-to-b to b-to-c. Creative is very cyclical. It’s at a high point when the economy is flourishing, but it can be dry and bulletin-like when the economy is low. That’s why it’s important to have advertising that sticks out and is noisy, surprising and memorable—even in a down economy.

BtoB: How can b-to-b advertisers get more creative?

Berg: By creating more "What’s in it for me?" for the purchaser. Rather than getting to rational things, it has to get to more emotional benefits. How will it make my job better and easier, make me a hero in the company and take away my worries? Then you can have [advertising] underpinned with rational support.

Larson: It’s all about integration, from print to online to guerilla marketing to the street level, encompassing every touch point of the brand. We talked about integration all through the ‘90s, but we weren’t backing up our promise wholly. We were on the cusp of complete integration, and we could see that was where the future was heading. In the last three years in particular, the industry has gotten really strong with integration.

BtoB: How do you measure the value of the creative work you’re producing?

Larson: The bottom line is business results—sales—in the short term, but not at the expense of brand awareness in the long-term.

At Y&R we have a proprietary tool called Brand Asset Value, which measures where a brand fits into the whole brand food chain. It’s one of the most convincing research models I’ve ever worked with.

BtoB: What do you hope to bring to Y&R in your new role?

Larson: To bring a buzz and bit of a creative swagger, without being arrogant. For creatives at Y&R, we want to make it a destination agency.

Berg: In terms of b-to-b, doing things where there is room for improvement and finding more of a "What’s in it for me?" approach to advertising. We have a full range of disciplines all under one roof, including online and direct, as resources.

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