WALLFLOWERS;NOT YET 30, WIEDEN & KENNEDY'S STACY WALL IS HOTTER THAN A PISTIL. BLACK STAR BEER, THE DENNIS HOPPER NUTCASE CAMPAIGN FOR NIKE....THE ONLY THING THIS GUY WORRIES ABOUT IS A SAFE FALLING ON HIS HEAD
STACY WALL HAS A RESUME MOST creatives his age would die for. In his four and a half years at Wieden & Kennedy alone, the 28-year-old copywriter has built a reel that includes some of the agency's most talked about work; Nike's controversial football spots with Dennis Hopper's psycho ref, the not widely seen Steve Martin commercials that allege Michael Jordan faked his retirement, and, of course, the ultimate fake, Black Star beer's elaborately fabricated documentary campaign that won Gold at the One Show and London's D&AD in 1993.
"I've been lucky that my work has gotten so much attention," admits Wall, with just a hint of his native North Carolina drawl. "My brother's a banker and, believe me, it would make his day to walk down the hall and have someone say, 'Hey, great report you wrote on that transaction.'*"
More seriously, Wall, like most "Just Do It" devotees, adds, "The kind of work that Nike likes and supports is the kind of work I would do if left to my own devices, and there aren't many agencies where that happens. I keep waiting for a safe to fall on my head."
But more than just the obvious perks of working on an account like Nike, and even at an egalitarian shop like W&K, Wall seems to be on the fast track, with comparisons sometimes made to creative guru Jim Riswold. Joe Pytka, for one, has shot much of Wall's work and notes that, "like Jim, Stacy has the ability to examine pop culture in a way that's very bold and spontaneous. He doesn't labor over ideas until they're overwritten and overrehearsed and all the life is squeezed out of them." Says Wall's former Deutsch colleague Paul Goldman, now a director at Flatiron Films in New York, "There's nothing immediate or one-dimensional about Stacy. His work is like a novel in between a rack of comic books."
"I wouldn't say he's the next Jim Riswold, because that's not fair to either Jim or Stacy," notes Wall's former boss, Donny Deutsch. "But Stacy's always been mature for his age. He's not just a clever young hipster; he has a special combination of innocence and savvy that makes his work cool, but also very purposeful. With great athletes, good music and lots of effects, any mediocre creative can do good work on a client like Nike. But Stacy has a kind of streetwise, deconstructive voice that always comes back to the rawness of the idea."
Pointing specifically to Hopper's character, Wall admits he'd rather create something "cryptic than clever," work he hopes that "people will talk about and argue over, and that awards show judges won't know what to do with." Based on the weirdo loner Ernest T. Bass character from "The Andy Griffith Show," the crazed ex-ref role was initially scripted for Don Knotts, but Wall says he and art director John Boiler changed their minds after seeing Hopper's similarly lonesome portrayal in the film "True Romance."
Drawing on his love of TV and faux documentaries, particularly films like "Zelig" and "Spinal Tap" (which helped inspire him on Black Star beer), as well as what he calls the "purity and feel-good appeal" of work like the recent Bruce Weber-directed Volvo campaign, Wall says he approaches commercials as "programming that goes way beyond the idea of selling." Working in a way that utilizes points of view rather than scripts, his loose improvisational style is particularly evident in much of his Nike basketball work, such as the "Ice Man Cooketh" campaign, in which an informal, apron-clad George Gervin hosts a cooking show where he prepares dishes and compares them to the talents of various NBA players.
The same goes for the talk radio format of another Nike campaign in which fans call in to chat with stars like Jason Kidd, as well as others that center around the barber shop banter of players like Charles Webb and league bad boy Dennis Rodman.
Another example of this approach can be seen (should these spots ever air; Wall himself was unsure at press time) in a new Nike football campaign that features "Paper Lion" author George Plimpton trying to recreate his gridiron exploits, now with the advantage of Nike football shoes. In the spots he's seen working out with Steve Young of the 49ers, Drew Bledsoe of the Patriots and Barry Sanders of the Lions. In each spot, the extremely erudite Plimpton manages (thanks to a stunt double) to get himself creamed.
Athletes and advertising, it seems, are in Wall's blood. Following in the path of his father, a former Hanes executive (now president at Johnston & Murphy shoes) who approved the casting of Joe Namath to star in its infamous pantyhose commercial, the Winston/Salem native graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1989 with degrees in journalism and advertising. On the advice of a friend working at BBDO/New York, Wall sent his book to the agency, where he was hired, he jokes, "because I must have caught [group CD] Dennis Berger at a weak moment."
During his year at the agency, Wall worked on HBO, Contac and Pizza Hut, for which he helped create a Clio-winning Little League baseball spot, "Right Field." Wall says many at BBDO felt he was ruining his career when he left for Deutsch in 1990, but his attraction to the agency's entrepreneurial spirit was too strong. "We were always shooting these spec films and pitching business," Wall recalls. "Donny never cared if we won the pitch, as long as we scared the client." But even work on accounts like Ikea and British Knights, for which Wall wrote the tag "Your mother wears Nikes," couldn't keep him grounded, and when Wieden & Kennedy began staffing up after winning Subaru in late 1991, he moved to Portland. If Wall has any complaints after all this time, it's that "for someone who's not a huge fan of discussing advertising, it's hard not to get burnt out on the process of trying to sell the work," he explains. "Sometimes I feel that if I never sell another commercial, it'll be OK."
Not that he's in any hurry to move on. Even while Deutsch thinks that advertising is "too limited for Stacy," and speculates that in 10 years he'll be working in television and films, Wall brushes aside these and other suggestions, at least for now. Directing spots, for example, "is out of the question, because I couldn't handle having more discussions, especially if it had to do with facilitating someone else's ideas. I'd prefer to write a book that no one would read-maybe one on advertising." (Speaking of which, Wall is spared mention in Randall Rothenberg's Subaru tome, "Where the Suckers Moon.")
"But I don't want to give anyone the idea that I'm using this job as a stepping