By Published on .

You've seen them everywhere. The young Asian guy with the goofy Pan Am-style flight bag and purple pants, hoisting his shoe aloft in a kung fu pose. The sax-playin' hep cat, collecting spare change in his strapped leather mocassin. The curvaceous blonde waitress, displaying a canvas sneaker like it's a piece of strawberry cheesecake. Their saturated colors, stylized poses and generally electric presence seem to leap off the page at you, or the bus shelter, or the transit display-making the unavoidable sheen of the Airwalk campaign seem almost ubiquitous. There's just no escape from these neon dreams.

"It's all about characters and their individuality," says Chad Farmer, creative director at Lambesis, in Del Mar, Calif., and lead art director on the camapign. Shot by Moshe Brakha, the posters have an almost 3-D pop to them, partly due to the intense colors and hues, all of which were accomplished by Brakha in either the photography, lighting or printing; there's no computer manipulation of any kind on these images, Farmer says.

As for the parade of fashionably geeky men and slinkily sexy women featured therein, Farmer describes them as mostly working-class types for whom "the shoe is a part of their individual style; it's the gift, the reward, the sought-after jewel." The playfulness of the campaign, he believes, "gives the reader something back for taking up a page of their magazine."

Indeed, you can't miss an Airwalk ad in most fashion books these days. Maybe it's a combination of the stark white backgrounds, the quirkiness of the characters and their poses or the lack of pouty, artsy pretense seen in most fashion advertising; whatever, Airwalk always comes off as a breath of fresh air between the scent strips.

Appropriately, Farmer says the response to the ads has been strong wherever they've run. The brand, which is owned by Item International, has broad foreign distribution and is almost 10 years old. Previous advertising for it ran mostly in footwear trade magazines.

While Farmer came up with the campaign, others at Lambesis contribute to the character sketches, most notably art director John Davis and copywriter Jim DiPiazza. "The ads are fun and entertaining," says Farmer, "and at the same time, there's your product in all its glamorous beauty. It's really all about the product." Even if it did just pop out of the toaster oven.

In a world of oversized beauty shots and acres of sheet metal, the Nissan Pathfinder print campaign rolls into view looking like something that escaped from the remainder bin at Barnes & Noble. Running in conjunction with the African safari travelogue TV spots now airing, the print work is a collection of academic spreads and single pages suggesting a casual doctor's office stroll through National Geographic-there are lots of neat little maps and tables, interesting sidebars and wordy subheads and photo captions. Aside from funny little tidbits meant as pure entertainment value-one table, for example, gives you the odds on how long you're likely to survive a one-mile jog through an African game preserve while carrying a T-bone steak-these graphic elements are also meant to tell you all you need to know about the all-new Pathfinder in less time than it takes to collect your urine sample.

Of course, the sneaky goal here is to lull you into reading the equally entertaining body copy, which is what art director Craig Tanimoto of TBWA Chiat/Day and graphic designer Steve Sandstrom of Sandstrom Design are hoping you'll do. "This is art direction that pulls you in," says Tanimoto. "You get absorbed by the little elements in it, and before you know it, you're reading the whole thing." Adds Sandstrom, "If you pick up a National Geographic and just read the captions and the sidebars of a story, you pretty much know what it's about. With this campaign, these elements are the hook. We tried hard to make them interesting and fun."

The campaign is a followup to last year's Silver Pencil-winning print effort, and, like its predecessor, it's the product of an unusual collaboration between an agency and an outside design firm. Last year's campaign was designed by Charles S. Anderson in Minneapolis, which worked from a template designed by Tanimoto that was inspired by such time-honored outdoorsy how-to books as the Boy Scout Manual.

To get across the point that the '96 Pathfinder has been completely redesigned, however, Tanimoto wanted the print to take a different direction than last year's campaign yet still be visually distinctive-hence the pseudo geography lesson. Working with copy written by TBWA Chiat/Day's Eric Grunwald, Sandstrom spent lots of time looking at old textbooks to get a sense of how captions, tables, charts and maps should be styled. He incorporated an African motif into the border patterns and worked to get the overall look suggestive of the CSA campaign that ran last year.

The result is an info-laden execution that Sandstrom says should leave readers feeling as though they've "spent time in the library doing research." Question is, will there be a test? (Just in case, here's a tip: your chances of surviving a game reserve jog carrying a piece of meat are zero.)

Imagine you're fighting demons from hell in some futuristic spacey environment. All around you are mutants bent on destroying the earth, some of which started out as your fellow defenders but have since mutated into demons themselves. And you, like Ripley in "Aliens," are all that stands in their way.

So goes the idea behind a nasty little computer game called Doom, which, says Todd Tilford, creative director at R&D, the design-driven division of Dallas' The Richards Group, is "very addictive." Perhaps that concept is the guiding inspiration behind the campaign's creepy art direction. Most of the Doom ads look like a long night spent on cheap mescaline; tormented faces, frightening illustrations, horrific shots of weapons suggesting mayhem and chaos are typical for this campaign. Tilford says that the R&D gang told clients GT Interactive and Id software that with Doom they had an opportunity to take computer game advertising to the next level, to borrow a Sega phrase. "We felt the ads should reflect the feeling of the game, the essence of it," he explains. Which is what? "When you're playing alone in a dark room it's very scary. It's a first-person experience." So Tilford and art director Margaret Johnson, who has worked on most of the Doom executions (pardon the pun), wanted to capture that sense of pee-your-pants fear and put it on the page in a way that didn't make the final piece look like an ad.

To the extent that Doom ads look more like movie posters without the credits-and have apparently become popular as dorm room decorations-they've succeeded. What you won't find in Doom ads are grainy screen shots, cheesy Dungeons & Dragons style illustrations and white type reversed out of black boxes-all the usual visual cliches of the category.

In the screaming face ad, the photo, shot by Richard Reens (an R&D junior art director who agreed to shave his head served as the model), was heavily manipulated to give it a Matt Mahurin-like feel. The type treatment similarly was fiddled with in an interesting manner: initially produced as metal stamps, the copy was inked onto paper, then the paper was scanned into a computer and was manipulated further.

The goal here, says Tilford, was to give all the elements of the final piece a sense of integration, a seamless look. "It's not like you just laid down some type over a photograph," he claims. "We think it's more organic this way." Organic, huh? In the warped world of the Doom-slayers, this kind of touchy-feely

Most Popular
In this article: