David Lubars Prods BBDO Toward a Life Beyond the :30 Spot

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Who: David Lubars, chairman-chief creative officer, Omnicom Group’s BBDO North America

Why you need to know him: Mr. Lubars is trying to turn a hulking agency network best known for TV spots
David Lubars came to BBDO from Fallon Worldwide, where he created the widely acclaimed BMW online film series.

into a media-agnostic creative shop -- and that means a branded entertainment player.

Credentials: Before joining BBDO last year, Mr. Lubars, 46, made a name for himself at Publicis Groupe’s Fallon Worldwide. There he oversaw trailblazing work for Citi, Starbucks, Amazon.com and, most famously, BMW. Mr. Lubars created a series of short Internet films for the luxury carmaker, shot by esteemed directors including Ang Lee and John Frankenheimer, which got people buzzing about the possibilities of original content created for marketing purposes. The Brooklyn native has also raked in just about every creative award, including the Cannes Grand Prix, the Grand Clio and the Grand Andy.

Last year, BBDO hired Jimmy Smith, creator of the Nike Battlegrounds documentary series, to help ramp up the agency’s branded content capabilities. How is that going? “He’s bringing a lot of influence and ideas so people can see how it’s going to be done. I’ve also brought in Greg Hahn, who worked with me on Amazon Theatre and BMW Films. And there are people here who know how to do it but just weren’t asked to. Now, it’s starting to become part of the fabric of what we do."

Has this way of thinking been manifesting in the work? “Here’s the dirty little secret. In my years at Fallon, which is where I got this reputation, we did three things -- one was for Buddy Lee, a very small vertical thing, and the other two, BMW and Amazon, were four years apart. I think people tag me as the guy who does things because no one else has done it at all, but I’ve only done a couple things because it was only appropriate when we did them. Now, I tried a lot stuff at Fallon that got killed. It’s not like you do it all the time. That’s a long way of saying you’ll see it here as it’s appropriate, just like you saw it there. The press has painted me as this antitraditional mediums guy. The truth is, it’s more simple and less provocative than that. The traditional mediums still play an important role. There are more magazines now than any time in history. All I’m saying is, reach consumers in other interesting ways.”

What’s your take on current branded-content executions? “I don’t see anything working. I see a lot of people talking. We have a lot of things in the works right now. I can see something happening with our Sierra Mist campaign, and we’re investigating other things, things that are embryonic right now.”

It sounds like you’re more interested in original content than product placement? “Yeah, but I look at the commercials as original content, too. To me, it’s not some new world, it’s just an extension of what we do but it plays somewhere else.”

Some creatives talk about original content created on behalf of clients outside the 30-second spot as a kind of ideal or goal. What do you think? “I don’t know. I guess I don’t look at it that way. I don’t see myself as a futurist or a seer. I try to solve problems and try to see what’s going on. In today’s world, for the first time in history, consumers can deflect things they don’t want to see. For a 100-plus years of marketing you couldn’t do that. It’s a different kind of creative revolution.”

How do you think branded content fits into that? “I don’t even call it branded content. My whole premise is to create work for clients that people want to seek out and come to voluntarily. It’s a much bigger, broader view of things. It’s just like it’s going to be branded entertainment -- it’s not a commercial. I don’t care what it is. It’s about creating an idea that people will seek out.”

So ideas come before media? “Yes, exactly. The message is not the medium.”

Do you think that discussions of genres like branded content is a way of not talking about ideas, letting the format dominate the conversation? “Yeah, that’s tactical to me. Those are weedy, executional-type things and I don’t want to get dragged down into the weeds. I want to look at the big picture of how people buy things, how people view things and how people respond to things. People love control and they love choice. That’s what they have now.”

What’s on your TiVo?Scrubs. Curb Your Enthusiasm. The original Office. Deadwood. Enterprise -- I like Star Trek, what can I tell you? Desperate Housewives.”

What books are on your nightstand? “I’m reading three books right now. I always try to have a history book, an old novel and a trashy music bio going at the same time. No Ordinary Time, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It’s about the [Franklin Delano] Roosevelt era, and how he ran the war from a wheelchair. I’m re-reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night. I’m reading the Ray Charles autobiography he wrote in the late 1970s. Seeing the movie made me want to read that.”

Anything on your iPod that would surprise me? “I have some early 1960s bossa nova on there.”
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