In May, art director McCarthy and copywriter Rutherford competed against more than a hundred young American creative teams. The prize: representing the U.S. in the 1999 Young Creatives Competition in Cannes, France. The women's winning entry in the domestic contest was an ad for Cab Watch, an organization that provides New York City cab drivers with wireless phones to report emergencies (below). When David Lubars, FM's creative director, learned of their trip to Cannes, "The first words out of his mouth, even before 'congratulations,' were, 'Whatever you do, don't embarrass me.' " Rutherford grins. "Needless to say, we went looking for a few good ways to embarrass him."
But first, the competition. Once in Cannes, the women had 24 hours to create a print ad for amfAR, the American Foundation for AIDS Research. The finished ad had to be camera-ready to run in Time. After the briefing, the team came up with a few solid ideas, then confidently spent the rest of the day shopping and visiting the beach. The next day they were to actually create the ad.
Since their favorite idea was based on the concept of beauty magazine before-and-after photos, the women double-checked with a competition supervisor: was using pictures from such magazines OK? After an initial "yes," the man's conviction began to crumble. He didn't tell them to quit once they'd started, but McCarthy recalls that "he would stop by every hour or so and say things like, 'This might cause a little bit of a problem,' and 'I feel very uncomfortable about this . . .' " Finally, at 5 p.m., just three hours before the deadline, he told them that he'd checked again and they couldn't use images from magazines after all, because of copyright concerns.
With barely any time, the two pulled together a previously dismissed idea and retooled it. And at 10 p.m. (the deadline had been extended due to computer problems), Team USA handed in the ad that would get them second place among 33 teams (Portugal won the Gold, Turkey the Bronze.) It's a gloomy shot of a cemetery with headstones showing the birthdates and imminent departure dates of people in their early 20s, with the tagline "AIDS isn't going away, and now half of those infected are under 25. You can help find a cure. Become a supporter of AIDS research."
So, they won the Silver, they did Fallon and their country proud, but there was still the matter of ruffling Lubars' feathers. McCarthy did have that accidental handling of Cannes jury president Keith Reinhard's posterior during a photo op, but that wasn't really good enough. So they hatched a plan involving a staged photo of drunken debauchery featuring themselves, Ogilvy & Mather's CCO Rick Boyko, and a mock blackmail letter to Boyko. Boyko, an active participant in the joke on his old friend, then mailed the photo and the letter to Lubars pretending to be furious, and demanding to know what kind of people Lubars had working in his creative department.